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One big misnomer about CBD farming is that hemp is an effortless crop to grow. Or, as the saying goes, “hemp grows like a weed!”
Well, hemp is indeed easier to grow than many other crops. And even in just about the worst conditions, the plants will produce. But, there is a vast difference between a hemp planting that has something to harvest and one optimized to an abundant and profitable harvest.
In most conditions, CBD hemp will indeed need to be irrigated to reach its yield potential. On hemp farms in Colorado, farmers growing hemp for the fiber and grain market have found that they need to irrigate their hemp to produce a viable crop in Colorado’s droughty conditions. Considering that CBD hemp is even more persnickety when it comes to ideal growing conditions, CBD hemp farmers include irrigation into their grow plans.
When considering setting up irrigation for your CBD farming operation, the expert growers at Colorado Breeders Depot advise all new hemp farmers to think about:
There is still a lot of variability in what is considered “ideal” water needs for CBD hemp farms. Still, Purdue University‘s Hemp Project reported that most hemp cultivars need about 25 to 30 inches of rain through a growing season. That’s more than most regions receive during the summer growing period.
Other growers have found their hemp plants each need about six gallons a week to thrive.
When and how you water in a CBD farming operation can make a difference. Like most crops, young CBD hemp transplants are vulnerable to water stress as they get established and grow their root system. Most growers water at the time of transplanting, either using a waterwheel with their transplant machinery or irrigating the field right before or after planting.
A steady and reliable watering schedule in the first six weeks of a hemp’s plant growth is critical to establishing deep roots to help the plant reach for water as its older. That said if your conditions dry out as summer progresses, meeting adequate water requirements is critical.
If stressed, your hemp plants will respond with yellowing and even dropping leaves and may look droopy during the warmest part of the day while perking up overnight. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to irrigation, it is always better to water your plants BEFORE they get water-stressed than when you noticed they are thirsty. Any stress to your hemp crop can result in those plants more susceptible to disease and pest outbreaks.
Checking in with a hemp farming consultant can help you to identify water stress in your crop and develop best practice strategies to avoid it.
Individual climate and soil type will determine how critical irrigation is for your CBD hemp farming operation. But, for the most part, most growers will need to water their hemp plants at some point or another. Many of the best hemp-growing areas in the United States are also subjected to summertime drought. Colorado hemp farms reap the benefits of warm summers and dry falls, which help promote dry conditions for optimum flowering conditions. Still, those farmers will need to support their hemp crop with enough irrigation.
In some regions that receive more rainfall, CBD hemp farmers might be able to forgo frequent irrigation. But, as all farmers quickly learn, it is better to be prepared to irrigate than count on rainfall that may, or may not, ever appear!
Soil conditions also will affect how much you need to irrigate. Deep, well-draining loamy soils are great for planting into — and preferred — but water will move through that soil quickly. Clay-based soils are mucky to work within the spring and may require special attention when it comes to field prep but have the advantage of retaining more moisture through the season. If you are lucky enough to grow in an area where your fields are sub-irrigated, then you may be able to reduce your water needs, especially once your hemp plants are established.
Now that you know you’ll need to irrigate your CBD hemp farming operation to some degree, consider what sort of irrigation method would work best for your farm
Most CBD hemp growers use one of three ways to irrigate their crop:
Flooding a field is an ancient way to irrigate a crop and can be very effective. Farmers create a “flood” be either pumping or releasing stored water into a field. The water flows through the field and soaks into the ground all around the plant roots.
Flood irrigation is water-intensive, using a lot more water than is needed and you need the correct drainage and a field that doesn’t have any drastic slopes in it. Plus, flood irrigation (like pivot irrigation below) will encourage weed germination so, make sure to have your hemp crop weed strategies well in hand if you plan to irrigate with either of these two methods.
Many large farmers growing other crops such as soy, corn or grains, have access to pivot irrigation equipment they can utilize for their hemp crop. Pivot irrigation works via a sprinkler pipe or boom that pulls water from the source and delivers in via a row of hanging sprinklers. The pipe slowly rotates through the field. Pivot irrigation can be set up to be automated.
Pivot irrigation uses less water than flood irrigation, but it applies water from overhead to the leaves and (potentially) flowering buds of the hemp crop. This can promote mold and disease-favorable conditions. Be very careful about not watering close to flowering time if you choose to irrigate with a pivot system.
The most popular and effective method for watering a CBD hemp crop is using a drip irrigation system.
Drip irrigation only applies water to where it is needed at the soil level. This means low water use and less risk of encouraging disease and mold issues. There are different methods of drip irrigation. Flat, single-use “drip tape” is rolled along a row of plants and emits water every so many inches and is a popular method for irrigating under plastic-mulch beds. Another type of drip irrigation requires a single flexible pipe with emitters placed at the base of each plant.
Drip irrigation can also be used in low water pressure systems and because it only applies water directly to your hemp plants, you won’t encourage unwanted weeds to germinate. The disadvantage to drip irrigation is you have to lay it down and pick it up every season and, especially if you are using drip tape, you will probably not be able to reuse it from one season to the next.
If this is your first year growing hemp, you’ll undoubtedly need to make some irrigations as you go along. Each farm has different conditions and there is no “one-size-fits-all” irrigation system for growing CBD hemp. But you still need to start with an irrigation plan. There is nothing worse than getting your crop into the ground and realizing now you need to figure out how you’re going to water it!
If you need help coming up with an irrigation plan for your hemp crop, reach out to our customer service desk at Colorado Breeders Depot. As long-time hemp growers ourselves, we have seen it all and are happy to share our experiences with you to develop a best-laid irrigation plan for your hemp farming operation.