What is one of the biggest issues for fiber hemp growers? Getting quality seed with genetics suitable for their growing region and end use.

The Global Hemp Association (GHA) in partnership with Friends of Hemp (FoH) is addressing the genetics issue by conducting fiber hemp seed trials across the United States. The long-term goal of these trials is to create a national hemp agronomic database for farmers and processors. At this time there are numerous regional seed trials creating databases but they have different protocols. This makes it hard for farmers nationwide to compare seeds that may be appropriate for their region. The variety data collected from the GHA’s national fiber hemp program will be available to farmers to determine which varieties grow best in which locations. 

It’s important that farmers have data collected across the United States using the same protocols. Otherwise, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Regional research programs are collecting data valuable for that area and specific end-uses of industrial hemp. The research in North Carolina, for example, is focused on fiber hemp. A farmer in that region who is interested in growing grain hemp has limited research-based data to support a growing decision.  

How Will These Trials Benefit Farmers and Processors?

Farmers are our primary concern. If no one grows fiber hemp successfully, and with a quality that meets the specifications of the processors and end-users, then there is no fiber hemp industry in the United States. The CBD boom and bust left a lot of farmers leery of growing hemp again. 

According to a PEW Stateline article many growers, like Matt Cyrus in Oregon and Hepworth Farms in New York, are still sitting on thousands of pounds of CBD hemp flower, unable to sell at a breakeven price. The industrial hemp industry has grown and CBD is only a fraction of the industry, and not the most lucrative hemp product for farmers.

Fiber hemp has a much larger market, including both woven and non-woven uses. Processors and farmers need to know the hemp grown will have the quality, and quantity, needed for profitable production. End-users are as diverse as automobile manufacturers, builders, and Haute Couture fashion houses. 

The hemp industry needs national research-based varietal information so farmers can grow industrial hemp as a cash crop. The industry has grown to a point where processors are building facilities, consumers are interested in sustainable hemp products, and farmers need to know industrial hemp will pay on their farms.

For these reasons the GHA and sponsors are trialing fiber hemp varieties throughout the United States. Farmers need to know which genetics will work on their farms and processors need to know what genetics can be delivered to them for processing. 

What Grows Best Where?

That’s one of the key questions addressed with these trials. The weather is impacting all crops, hemp included, and some varieties are showing promise in arid conditions. This is a good sign because the changing climate is making more United States farmland arid or semi-arid. 

The trials are taking place in all geographical and climate regions in the US. Fiber hemp seed has been planted in 7 states and 10 varieties are being grown. The same varieties in each state, so weather and soil type will have an impact on what grows best where. Everyone is hoping for some pleasant surprises. The weather is challenging and which varieties will end up surviving, or even thriving, in the drought of the Western US is beginning to become clear.

Some varieties are much shorter than others. If that turns out to be a trait across all climates and soils then these trials will show it’s a genetic factor. Until these trials are completed, we won’t have a good picture of fiber hemp plant structure and how it’s impacted by abiotic and biotic forces.

Regional Trials Create Valuable Datasets

Across the country universities and state or local hemp research organizations are undertaking hemp research programs. The varieties that are being trialed and the results are specific to the soil and climate of a region. 

The focus in different parts of the country is on hemp farming and processing within the infrastructures that already exist. This limits the scope of these research programs but a great deal of genetic information is being accumulated.

North Carolina, for example, has a robust textile infrastructure and regional testing is underway on fiber hemp genetics that grow well in that state. The research in North Carolina is all geared to the textile industry because it means more jobs.

The Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania is doing grain hemp seed trials. Their research incorporates hemp into organic regenerative field rotations and revolves around maximizing farmer yields with hemp. They hope to show industrial hemp can improve the soil and be a cash crop. 

The Global Hemp Innovation Center at Oregon State University is researching hemp genetics for the western corridor of the US from Mexico to Canada. Their research will determine hemp varieties that perform well in semi-arid and arid conditions. 

There are many more research projects underway. The one thing they all have in common is a scarcity of domestic high-quality seed. That may be the biggest problem the GHA fiber seed trials will solve. In the coming years grain and dual-purpose hemp seed trials will show which industrial hemp varieties will thrive in the United States. With research-driven hemp genetics U.S. farmers can become seed producers filling the domestic seed gap.

With Proven Genetics Fiber Hemp Can Become an Agricultural Staple

When the genetics are proven stable for an area a farmer can consider incorporating hemp into a crop rotation. Industrial hemp is a growth market and farmers need the certainty proven and certified genetics can give them. 

Processors, as part of the supply chain, can contract with farmers and know the crop will meet the specifications required for their application. 

It matters a great deal, also, how the hemp is grown. Most hemp varieties don’t need a lot of fertilizers, pesticides, or irrigation. That said, this growing season has been difficult to start trials. Which may be for the best because it will show how varieties perform in non-perfect conditions. We know more drought and flood years are ahead.

Infrastructure is Key to Farmers Integrating Hemp in Crop Rotations

Farmers are risk averse as a general rule. In 2021 only 12,690 acres of fiber hemp was grown. The low acreage is partially a result of an immature supply chain. The infrastructure from farm to consumer has many moving parts. Genetic information is the first step in developing industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. 

The science shows industrial hemp in a crop rotation benefits the soil. With the information generated by the GHA seed trials farmers will know seed quality, performance and tonnage/acre. In 2021 the value of fiber hemp per acre was three times greater than corn, according to the USDA. Corn sold at $1,062/acre while fiber hemp sold at $3,262/acre on average. In rotation, industrial hemp can be a valuable cash crop for American farmers.

How You Can Make a Difference

To learn more about the exciting world of hemp and to become involved visit the Friends of Hemp website. Become a sponsor and receive seed genetic data by end of year. Tax-deductible sponsorships start at $10K. Getting genetic information in December is a holiday gift for greater ROI on your farm in 2023.

The genetic data from 2022 field trials will be available to GHA and FoH members in May 2023. For non-members the information is available for $1,000.00. Become a member and get the results as a benefit of membership. Donations, at any level, help to further the hemp industry. 

Donate $55.00 and show your support of hemp with a 55% hemp/45% cotton t-shirt. Visit the FoH website for more “swag.” 

The Global Hemp Association in partnership with Friends of Hemp, a 501(c)3, encourages collaborative connection between farmers, processors, manufacturers, markets, and consumers.

Mandi Kerr
Author: Mandi Kerr