Growing hemp for grain
Last year, hemp joined the cornucopia of crops – potatoes, corn, commodity and high-fiber starch-resistant wheat, commodity and food grade-soybeans, sugar beets, and edible beans – grown by Sproule Farms, Grand Forks, North Dakota.
“We were looking for a niche crop that could generate extra revenue,” says Paul Sproule, with Sproule Farms. Hemp, though, has had its ups and downs.
Sproule Farms first received a permit to grow hemp in a 2017 pilot program. They didn’t jump on production, though, until Sproule and his son-in-law, David Gorder, met Monte Robertson, founder of the Colorado-based processor San Luis Valley Hemp Company, at a January 2019 meeting.
“The next week, I was in Del Norte, Colorado, talking with Monte,” Sproule says. This meeting led to Sproule Farms growing hemp grain for a product called Hemp Hearts.
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Hemp grain ranks high in nutritional value, says Sproule. It’s packed with protein, contains essential amino acids, and is a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and others, he says.
Hemp shares similarities with many crops. Sproule Farms drilled hemp with an air drill it also used for wheat. Differences exist, though. In 2019, hemp had no labeled herbicides. However, the hemp soon smothered emerging weeds.
Adverse weather plagues hemp, too. Rampant rainfall in September followed by more rain and even snow in October plagued the Upper Midwest in 2019. Hemp harvest proceeded, but the 821-pound-per-acre yield across 1,092 acres was just one half of expectations due to the crop breaking down under heavy snow, he says.
The Sproules harvested the hemp at around 19% moisture and dried it down in Meridian bins with an AirMax aeration system. “Had we not had track combines, we would not have been able to harvest in the right harvest window,” he says.
Hemp markets are in flux, too. Since Sproule says hemp grain has a better market outlook than other hemp forms, they plan to grow hemp grain in 2020.
“A lot of growers who grew it for CBD oil (medicinal purposes) are finding it’s a rush to the bottom,” he says. Farmers in Minnesota and North Dakota who grew hemp for the CBD oil market were plagued with low (2% to 3%) oil content, he says. This left them with few or no market options. He adds that the CBD market would be helped if federal CBD purity standards were enacted and processors licensed.
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Hemp also has promise for fiber, he adds. “For hemp acres to grow, though, we need processing infrastructure throughout the country,” he says. •