Seeded hemp acres sharply increased in Canada between 2018 and 2019, with an estimated 80,000 acres seeded this spring for production of hemp hearts, hemp oil and livestock feed, according to a MarketsFarm report.
Though hemp production is gaining momentum, there’s still some uncertainty surrounding best practices, including harvest methods.
In Eastern Canada, hemp is mostly grown in Ontario and Quebec, particularly the Saguenay region, says Patrice Dery, eastern Canadian territory manager for CLAAS. But an increased interest in a wide range of hemp-based products for textiles, cosmetics, CBD oil, and even health foods, plus an opening of cannabis laws, could change that. “Producers see hemp as an opportunity for new revenue streams, and the industry is willing to pay a premium for hemp leaves,” he says. “It’s also an opportunity for crop diversification.”
Hemp is an attractive crop for other reasons. It’s easy to handle, Dery says, if producers keep a few rules in mind. Hemp can be fertilized with nitrogen, although herbicides should also be applied pre- and post-emergence to maximize crop competitiveness.
“The important thing is to have as uniform a floor as possible,” Dery says. “Hemp needs good implantation because its roots, which are similar to those of the carrot, are relatively small for the size of the plant.”
Erin Atkins, a marketing specialist for CLAAS of America, says research and testing is underway for hemp harvest methods.
“Hemp is, physically, a very tough plant to harvest,” Atkins says, noting that harvest equipment must be well equipped to handle the crop’s tough fibres, and should be able to separate the seeds gently, with minimal losses.
When it comes to harvesting the seed, one method is to use a modified combine to handle the plant’s height, which far exceeds corn, Dery says. Harvesting the hemp crop for fibre or CBD oil is best handled with equipment like the Jaguar self-propelled forage harvester, which can cut the crop at the optimal height to collect the entire plant and maximize oil content.
“The grower needs to complete harvest of the leaves, seeds and straw in three different passes, and the straw usually has to remain in the field for four weeks before being picked up and baled,” he says.
Hemp might be a new venture for producers, but with the proper information and equipment, it can be profitable crop.