Hemp Production in Catawba County

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In the last 3 months, the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Catawba County office has received scores of questions about hemp production. Hemp fever seems to be in full swing. This article is to give you an overview of the current hemp situation since the passing of the Farm Bill which removed hemp from Schedule 1 controlled substance status.

Hemp is defined by having a level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, at or below 0.3%. Hemp can be grown for its seed, fiber, or floral biomass. The vast majority of the 433 licensed growers in North Carolina are growing hemp for floral biomass, from which cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted.

The federal legalization of hemp means that hemp farmers will be able to apply for federal crop insurance, mitigating some of the enormous financial risks that come with growing hemp. It will be easier for farmers to work with banks and get loans for hemp production. Hemp legalization will also pave the way for more pesticides to be labeled for hemp production. Currently, there are only two products, Aleo is a fungicide and Ecotec Plus is an insecticide, labeled for pest management in hemp in North Carolina. Although hemp is federally legalized, the FDA still regulates CBD products. It is currently unlawful under the FD&C Act to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce or to market CBD or THC products as, or in, dietary supplements, regardless of whether the substances are hemp-derived. Additionally, you still need to apply for a license to grow hemp in North Carolina.

We recently held a hemp information session that was attended by over 100 people. It seems that I am hearing about a new hemp business every week and on most days I am contacted by at least one person that wants to grow hemp in Catawba County. The following is a very abbreviated version of the advice that I offer.

If you are serious about growing hemp in North Carolina you should apply for a license immediately. That application requires a copy of your filed taxes that show your profit/loss tax filings from your farm operation in the previous year. Currently, hemp production is for farmers (those filing taxes as farmers) only. Your license will also require you to list who you will be sourcing your seed or clones from and an official THC test for each variety (the vendor will have that paperwork). If you are growing hemp for CBD you must have all female plants. Even one male can cause pollination that will greatly reduce CBD production in the field. Feminized seed will still have some males. For that reason, we recommend that you plant female clones. Female clones are expensive – $5 to $10 each. Farmers currently growing hemp for CBD are spending $14,000 to $15,000 per acre with clones and labor as the top expense.

Growing hemp for CBD is a major investment so my biggest piece of advice is to start small. Education is expensive. It is better to lose a few thousand dollars on a quarter acre instead of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on a 10-acre operation. I do believe that hemp can offer opportunities to farmers in Catawba County but this crop is not a panacea. It is certainly not a get-rich-quick crop. I have heard from a lot of experienced farmers around the state that lost significant money on hemp last season. Keep in mind that more than 10% of hemp fields were destroyed in NC last year because the THC levels tested too high. This crop is expensive to grow with lots of risks. If you have never farmed before, this is not the crop to learn about agriculture. If you want more information on hemp call our office (828-465-8240) or send me an e-mail at gtplace@ncsu.edu.

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