Photo credit: Melissa Nelson, 2022 Grow out data Pennsylvania

Photo credit: Melissa Nelson, 2022 Grow out data Pennsylvania

Projects start because there’s a problem to solve. In the case of industrial hemp, there wasn’t any national database for farmers to access. Farmers make decisions based on yield, ease of production, profitability, and how a new crop will fit into their existing farm operation. The Global Hemp Association identified this need and started hemp seed research to aid farmers in making those decisions.

Supporters of Friends of Hemp and the Global Hemp Association helped fund the 2022 Fiber Hemp Seed Trials. These trials give farmers data from grow-outs across the country – all using the same protocols. 10 different locations, 10 fiber hemp varieties – same protocols.

How were those varieties chosen? How were the locations chosen? And most importantly – How was a protocol determined?

It Starts with the Idea to Create a Nationwide Hemp Varieties Database

But idea generators aren’t necessarily the experts who can move an idea into reality. So, the idea person connects with seed trial experts. For these trials GHA created a research team of agronomists, farmers, processors, and seed trial experts. The GHA expert team developed protocols based on the metrics desired from the hemp industry.

A list of objectives, cropping considerations, and assessments was created. They included everything from agronomic indicators to layouts of randomized research plots. When the protocol guideline was completed, it was reviewed by numerous supporters and researchers who gave opinions and suggestions.

With these new insights the team reworked the protocols. The goal was to create a protocol that would give unbiased results. The team also wanted to create a protocol that would be applicable in all locations and across multiple seasons. As we all know, the weather has a way of interfering with a successful harvest. So multiple years of data need to be examined to see the outliers and the trends.

How Varieties and Locations Were Determined

The industry was asking for data on fiber hemp yield. Varieties that had traditionally been grown for yield in the United States and overseas were evaluated and 10 were chosen as the most likely candidates to scale in the US.

GHA sent out an RFP (Request for Proposals) to the National Association of Crop Consultants. Consultants were chosen who had experience in growing industrial hemp or seed trial management, preferably both. The geographical location of each Consultant determined the site in that part of the country. Each consultant had their own land that was used for the 2022 Fiber Hemp Seed Trials.

The GHA contracted with each Consultant and Melissa Nelson of Performance Crop Research LLC. coordinated all research activities and data analysis. She oversaw 3rd party testing of seed germination and cleanliness prior to sending seeds to Consultants.

Seed Trials Costs Money – Lots of It

It’s amazing how much it costs to buy seeds, do germination and cleanliness testing, prepare field test plots, get all the equipment ready, and pay the farmer/researchers.  With fiber hemp seed trials there are the added costs of hemp grower applications, governmental regulations, and testing for THC.

The established protocols were followed throughout the growing season and at harvest. Measurements were taken of planting date, germination rates, growth, vigor, date of flowering, and numerous other metrics.

In agriculture it’s not just the plants that are the subject of research but also the weather, soil type, health of the soil, farming practices, and many other factors. According to protocol, everything was documented, including how much, and what type, of fertilizer was applied, irrigation/hour or rain amount, and temperatures.

Measurements at Harvest

The same farmer/researchers who’d been in the fields all season measured yield, dry and wet weight, diameter of stalk, and quality of the raw product for its intended use. Some varieties showed real promise, others hadn’t been able to out compete weeds. The plots were harvested and measured following a strict protocol so the compiled data was as uniform as possible across all research sites.

As with all research, some varieties did as expected, while others surprised – either positively or negatively. The hot, dry growing season in the Western United States showed which fiber hemp varieties could handle the heat, while delivering a high-quality raw material. And it’s only going to get hotter in many parts of the country. That’s a good surprise.

Fiber Hemp Seed Trials Start Answering Questions

Farmers have questions. In order for the industrial hemp industry to thrive farmers need answers. That’s the reason the fiber hemp seed trials were undertaken. Farmers need data. They need to see fiber hemp can grow on their neighbor’s field – maybe on theirs.

All the parameters that determine if a crop will be successful for a farmer were measured in the test plots. The measurements can be extrapolated out into acres so a farmer can get an idea how profitable hemp would be at scale.

Without farm profit there isn’t a hemp industry. Farming is a business, after all.

It’s a difficult job putting together an unbiased seed trial. It takes a lot of highly skilled individuals. From the seed producers to the farmer/researchers to the farm machinery inventors and manufacturers – everyone plays an essential role. And for everyone it’s an exciting opportunity.

The Role You Play in the Fiber Hemp Seed Trials

You made that opportunity a reality instead of a dream. Each donation paid for a piece of the GHA National Fiber Hemp Trials in 2022. Bringing a new crop to the marketplace is an expensive endeavor. But Friends of Hemp and the Global Hemp Association are committed to bringing as many varieties as possible to trial so farmers can choose those varieties that will thrive on their acreage.

An unbiased seed trial is a massive undertaking. You’re a huge part of the success of our work this season. Our mission of bringing hemp to the mainstream of American agriculture also solves some of the greatest climate issues we’re facing as a human civilization.

It’s a crop we gravely need. Hemp is a plant that can sequester carbon, be used as food, fiber, and bioenergy. It’s a crop that can enrich farmers, the earth, and us all. Thank you for being a Friend of Hemp.

Be a part of the successful 2023 Grain and Fiber Hemp Seed Trials. Click this link and make your tax-deductible donation to Friends of Hemp. It’s exciting being a first adopter, isn’t it?

And thank you.

Mandi Kerr
Author: Mandi Kerr