For farmers preparing to tap into the vast potential of the United States’ growing hemp industry, it’s essential to have the right tools for the job. And, if you’re planning on farming hemp on an industrial level, you’ll need more than a shovel and handful of seeds. What you’ll need is industrial hemp farming equipment and genetically superior hemp seeds.
You’ll want industrial hemp farming equipment for tilling, planting, and harvesting. Thankfully, if you’re already in the grain farming industry, you’ll be able to repurpose at least some of your equipment to handle your hemp crops.
As the hemp industry gains traction in the US, more and more companies are designing equipment to meet the specific needs of hemp farmers. However, the industry is still lagging, which means that most hemp farmers are still working via trial and error to develop custom modifications to prevent bushy plants from clogging their machines.
Taking Care of Tilling
Though it’s tempting to go for maximum biomass if you’re focused on hemp fiber or seed crops instead of the more finicky and lucrative CBD market, you’re still better off creating raised beds rather than broadcasting seeds throughout your entire field. If you’re planning on tapping into the CBD market, you won’t even have the option, as raised beds will yield higher quality crops with more potent flowers for producing CBD.
The key to effectively creating raised crops is to make sure they are consistent in size and shape. This is best done with an industrial raised bed shaper — the same that you would use as a tomato farmer. Thankfully, you won’t need to be modifying the device for creating hemp beds.
If you don’t already have a bedder in your tool kit, one brand to look at is Kennco Manufacturing, which has taken a special interest in designing industrial hemp farming equipment for the US market. Kennco’s SuperBedder Bed Shaper produces tight, even beds and is touted as having “durable ‘sweeps’ to cut and roll the soil into press pan, and push finer soil to center of the bed where you plant.” It’s designed for hemp farmers working more than 100 acres. Depending on the shaper, it’s possible to create beds about 3 feet high and about 30 inches wide.
Another piece of equipment you’ll want to consider bringing on board for your hemp farm is a plastic mulch layer. What it does is puts down strips of plastic mulch on your beds, securing them with soil.
Again, Kennco specifically markets its high-speed plastic mulch layer to the hemp industry, claiming that it is an “extremely cost-effective, versatile, and durable money saving too for all growers.” However, there are many other plastic mulchers out there that will do the trick.
Planting Your Hemp Crops
As with tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, strawberries, tobacco, and many other crops, a transplanter is going to be an important piece of equipment for your hemp farm.
C&M transplanters, which have been in the North American market for more than 25 years, are proving to be particularly popular with hemp farmers. They are designed to set plants up straight, provide consistent plant-to-plant spacing, and have no slippage. Though this particular brand is well-liked by hemp farmers in the United States, really any reliable transplanter will do the trick on your farm.
Though hemp is often pushed as a drought-resistant crop, you’re most likely still going to need an irrigation system as the crop needs at least 25-30 inches of rainfall during the growing season. This is slightly more than corn and soybeans.
According to researchers from Colorado State University, irrigated hemp fields end up producing almost three times as much yield when compared to non-irrigated fields in Colorado.
There are a variety of irrigation systems you might want to explore for your hemp fields, including center pivot, linear move, traveling gun, solid set, micro-sprinkler, and drip irrigation.
The center pivot irrigation system is one of the most commonly used, and they are often fitted with an end gun to extend the radius of the system. As with most irrigation systems, the name gives a clear idea of how it works: basically, a center point is established and the irrigation system pivots around that point in order to cover your entire field.
Many hemp farmers transitioning from other crops lean on systems they already have the gear for, though there is also a push among farmers to use drip irrigation. This irrigation system can reduce your water consumption by as much as 60 percent and increase crop yields by 90 percent when compared to conventional irrigation methods, which is why it’s quickly gaining traction. It’s also possible to use it to help manage the nitrogen levels in your soil.
The industrial hemp farming equipment you’ll need to harvest your crops with is what you’ll need to start thinking about with regards to customize your machinery.
The tough, fibrous nature of hemp makes it a particularly difficult crop to harvest, as hemp can easily get wrapped up in any machinery with rotation, pickup heads, or rolling bearings. It can get so bad that you’ll have to stop to cut or burn it out.
Experience has shown that a haybine has weak results with hemp crops, while a disc mower ends up with hemp balling up at the ends. One solution is to use a sickle bar mower and leave the crop on the ground for about a month to allow it to dry before flipping it with a rotary rake.
For grain crops, newer models of combines are going to be well-suited for hemp harvesting, as they have bigger cylinders and cleaning areas. Additionally, headers can be operated at a higher level to accommodate for all types of hemp.
If you are wanting to avoid buying new harvesting equipment only to have to modify it, Hempflax has released their double cut combine, which “is suitable for harvesting hemp and other bast fiber crops.”
In a single stage, the machine is able to divide the stalks, seeds, and leaves of your crop.
If you’re planning on focusing on fiber hemp crops, a bailer will also be a necessary piece of equipment to have in the barn.
Final Thoughts: Industrial Hemp Farming: Equipment You’ll Need to Get Started
If you’re already growing grain or fiber crops at the industrial levels — or those focused on raised-bed crops — adding hemp to your field rotation shouldn’t require a great deal of new equipment.
Nonetheless, until more companies in the US begin manufacturing equipment specifically for hemp, you’ll need to be prepared to experiment a little and make modifications when necessary in order to maximize your yield.
No matter what kind of equipment you settle on, make sure you talk to the experts about the best seeds for your fields.