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Farmscale Hemp Production for Flower, Grain & Oil

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 October Issue Newsletter

By Caro Roszell, Education Events Coordinator

Dr. Heather Darby, inspecting a hemp crop ready for harvest at the UVM research field. Image by Monica Donovan for Heady Vermont.

The knowledge of agricultural hemp production, once a common and lucrative crop in Massachusetts, has skipped over more than a generation of farmers. For the past 81 years it was illegal to grow, leading to the loss of local strains of crop genetics, regionalized cultural practices, and an interruption in the handing down of crop knowledge from parent to child and farmer to apprentice. With a new Massachusetts policy authorizing the commercial production of sun-grown agricultural hemp in the state, local farmers are interested in integrating agricultural hemp into their farm businesses.

This is why NOFA/Mass is presenting a full-day intensive workshop on growing agricultural hemp in the Northeast on November 19 in Amherst. The focus of this particular workshop is growing a hemp crop through flower into the seed phase for farmers wishing to produce an oil, seed or grain crop. We will cover genetics, soil preparation, fertility needs, pest and disease management, harvesting and extracting CBD oil on the farm with an eye to what the proper harvest windows and crop quality should be for a legal, marketable product.

Agricultural hemp is a variant of the Cannabis sativa plant with less than .03%

tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound most widely associated with cannabis use. Prior to the use of cannabis as a drug or medicine, low-THC cultivars of hemp were grown for textiles, rope, and paper.

The plant is a vigorous soil-builder, improving soil health and acting as a beneficial addition to cash crop rotations. Modern applications of agricultural hemp include biofuels and eco-friendly component replacements for concrete and plastics. However, the strongest current market for hemp is in the production of medicinal CBD oils, which can be used as a non-addictive remedy for wide-ranging health issues including pain, anxiety, depression and neurological disorders.

Distilled CBD oil can sell for thousands of dollars per kilogram, and can gross over $100,000 per acre. However, the regional knowledge gap in crop production from basic hemp agronomy to seed sources and expectations for harvest quality presents significant challenges to local farmers hoping to participate in this competitive and rapidly developing market. Making matters worse, agricultural hemp producers are more reticent than the wider agricultural community about sharing knowledge. Local CBD oil producers, struggling to find high-quality local hemp, have been forced to order their raw product from Kentucky, Canada and even China.

To help restore local knowledge about this important crop, NOFA/Mass is working with Heather Darby, lead agronomist on the University of Vermont Industrial Hemp Research Program and Brenden Beer, a northern Vermont hemp farmer currently with eight acres in hemp production, to bring you an information-dense intensive workshop on agricultural hemp production for grain and oil production. In addition to information on hemp agronomy and farm-scale CBD oil extraction, Taryn Lascola (MDAR) will provide a thorough overview of the application and permitting process, including what farmers need to know to prepare their farms to grow this regulated crop, and will also offer comments along with Marty Dagoberto, NOFA/Mass Policy Director, and other local activists about the future of hemp and cannabis advocacy in Massachusetts.

A working knowledge of and experience with farming and food production techniques is assumed for this intensive. Participants will leave this intensive workshop with the knowledge needed to prepare for and plan their agricultural hemp enterprise.

To find out more about the workshop and to register, visit


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