by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
SYRACUSE, NY — Hemp is a fast-growing plant with many industrial uses — from cloth to fodder to fuel — and has been known as a “mop crop” to help clean up environmental damage to soil. Until recently, hemp has been imported, but researchers now want to develop a hemp growing industry in the U.S., including Jen Gilbert-Jenkins, representing Morrisville State College at the recent New York Farm Show.
She presented “Opportunities on the Horizon for Industrial Hemp in New York State.”
Though hemp (cannabis sativa) is from the same species as marijuana, it contains almost none of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Despite this, its cultivation was banned in the 1970s. But that is changing.
Since the 2014 Farm Bill left the decision up to states, 34 of them have approved growing hemp and in 2017, 25,541 acres nationwide were planted to hemp.
Gilbert-Jenkins hopes more farmers will consider hemp as an income stream.
“It grows like a traditional grain product,” Gilbert-Jenkins said.
Hemp likes nitrogen, so she recommended applying 150 to 200 pounds per acre. It should be planted at one half inch deep. Hemp takes 90 day to maturation and less for hemp varieties grown for fiber production.
In 2016, the first year, Morrisville researchers Morrisville used 30 organic acres in New York. They learned that plant size directly correlates to nitrogen in the soil.
In 2017’s hemp project, tilling incorporated a lot of weed seed.
“We learned a lot about competition,” Gilbert-Jenkins said.
The group planted variable rates strip trials in three plots.
“It is such a baby when it comes to water,” Gilbert-Jenkins said. “It has to be pampered. It doesn’t like poorly drained soil. Weed suppression is key. If I have a good plant established, it suppresses weeds, but weeds were out-competing hemp when they were established at the same time. Hemp won’t out-compete weeds.”
At a different plot, Morrisville researchers tried a cover crop and no-till method. They also used a vinegar-based, organic weed product and experienced no problems with weed competition.
The cover crops included rye, alfalfa, rye/grass mix, and forage mix. The fields were heavily covered in manure.
“Hemp planting dates may be flexible, depending upon the season,” Gilbert-Jenkins said.
2017 provided a good example. As the early part of the season was cool and wet in New York, the hemp wasn’t planted until July 26. During mid to late August, the weather finally became consistently hot and dry, which boosted plant growth.
Pests included Japanese beetles, which Gilbert-Jenkins said are problematic in industrial hemp.
Diseases included fusarium, especially in wet years, and sclerotina sclerotiorum, a fungus especially devastating for growers of industrial hemp for fiber, since it attacks the stem.
“If you’re growing for fiber, that’s the last thing you want to see,” Gilbert-Jenkins said.
The group observed that it took seven frost cycles to really cause damage to the hemp plants.
“Frost is no match for this crop,” she said.
Last year, the first killing frost came Oct. 17. The plants persisted through Nov. 9, the first crop scouting for harvest readiness.
Gilbert-Jenkins said the thicker the stalk, the fewer seeds existed in the plants.
“Stalk size didn’t relate as much as you’d think to fertility,” Gilbert-Jenkins said.
Since testing facilities don’t exist in New York, the researchers sent hemp to labs in Kentucky, Colorado and Canada.
The researchers used a traditional grain combine. The only issue with using the equipment was keeping track of how much seed they took up and how much stalk was left behind.
The researchers harvested seeds, but left the stalks to stand two more weeks before mowing and baling.
The average grain yield was 16 bushels per acre, or 704 pounds per acre. The fiber yield was 36 large and nine small square bales.