CHRISTIANA, Pa. — A Lancaster County seed distributor invited the public to check out its trial of nine industrial hemp varieties.
The Aug. 16-17 field days at King’s AgriSeeds attracted about 70 people.
Of the varieties being tested at the company’s research farm, some are for fiber applications, some are for grain and some are dual purpose.
The seeds were provided by New West Genetics, International Hemp and Verve, three of the nation’s leading producers of hemp seed.
Sarah Mitchell, hemp specialist at King’s Agriseeds, said the event was an opportunity for farmers to become familiar with the varieties and discuss growing strategies, including weed control.
America’s reborn hemp industry is young, so there’s a lot to learn about this new but ancient crop.
“That’s why we need to be working together to figure this out," said Tim Fritz, owner and president of King’s AgriSeeds.
Fritz is a weed scientist with a focus on ecology, and he is keen on overcoming weed pressure in hemp. He experiments with nurse crops and forecrops.
A nurse crop is something you would plant around the same time you’d plant your main crop. In this case, Fritz had success planting a winter wheat variety at a 1-inch depth, and then planting hemp at half an inch in the same field. The two plantings emerge around the same time, encouraging the hemp to compete for water and sunlight. Eventually the hemp grows taller than the wheat, which begins to die back, leaving the understory with fewer weeds.
Because there are no herbicides labeled for use on hemp in the U.S., there is much interest among growers to find ways to suppress weeds without chemical sprays.
Another technique under development at the facility is forecropping, which hemp specialist Sarah Mitchell put like this:
“If you know where you’re growing hemp next year, you can positively impact that crop this year” by planting forecrops, which can actually increase yields.
Field day attendees split into four groups that visited stations around the field. Fritz lead the discussion at the nurse crop station. He pointed out that king seeds in hemp, which are the first seeds in the plant to fully ripen, are especially loved by the birds. So, when you see the yellow finches in the hemp, you know it’s time to harvest.
Terry Moran from International Hemp talked about dual cropping, certified seed and harvesting.
Moran predicts the grain and fiber industries will eventually go to a certified seed model, much like the rest of production agriculture. There has to be money in the supply chain all the way through, he said.
Jeff Kostuik, agronomist from Manitoba, Canada, and general manger for Verve Seeds, talked about the history of the hemp industry in Canada, where hemp has been legal to grow for grain since 1998.
He said it’s imperative that the hemp industry promotes the nutritional value of hemp in order to separate it from the marijuana stigma.
“We need to make consumers aware of the protein and rich omega profile” in hemp grain, he said.
He also said that large food companies are very interested in getting hemp grain into their foods. Think breakfast cereals, think hemp Cheerios, he said.
Some field day participants traveled a significant distance for the insight. Fedel Phillips and Irene Ferrell came all the way from Albany, New York. Ferrell is the owner of Thee Vivacious Vegan and is interested in hemp as a source for plant-based foods, such as hemp milk.
Haeli Gustafson and Darryl Glotfelty drove over five hours from Garrett County in western Maryland, where they own and operate Meadow Mountain Hemp.
There were also many from Pennsylvania, where the crop is still a cause for excitement among farmers despite the bad taste left by the boom and bust of the CBD market.
The industrial applications of hemp fiber and grain hold vast amounts of untapped potential here in the state, and the key to unlocking that potential is education—of consumers, policy makers and farmers.
Watch the video below for more from King's Agriseeds Hemp Field Day.