The Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health at Rutgers University hosted its second annual educational event on the nuances of growing hemp last night.
As part of its mandate to foster agriculture, Rutgers and the Institute and their partners in local government are committed to fostering the growth of hemp in New Jersey.
“I’m an avowed hempster,” said moderator Connie Pascal, a lecturer at Rutgers studying cannabis information for a doctorate. It was noted hemp can be used to create better building materials, batteries, seeds, oil, food, and improve soil.
“It’s a really interesting crop,” said Tom Gianfagna, a Plant Biology Professor at Rutgers.
The event was sponsored by the Hemp Industry Association and the law firm MG Miller which specializes in assisting start-ups along with Middlebrooks Shapiro.
New Jersey is late to hemp but eager to catch up. Bill Bamka, an Agronomist and Cooperate Extension Agent for Burlington County said that 37 states had hemp programs before New Jersey did. This was due to former Governor Chris Christie’s prohibitionist stance against all things related to cannabis.
Across the country, hemp growing is thriving. The Tennessee and Kentucky hemp markets are booming. It has similar potential here.
“We spend an awful lot of time looking for crops to make money,” said Steve Komar, an Associate Professor and Agricultural Agent for Sussex County. “This is the first time the numbers make sense.
He added that the beauty of their program in conjunction with Rutgers was that the mistakes they make can help the industry know what to avoid.
“All my colleagues have been working on this for five years now,” Komar said.
“Capitalism seems to be working,” he added regarding the success of growing. However, he does not think hemp should be too commoditized and that there should be room for artisanal hemp in the market.
No Marijuana Talk at Rutgers
It was noted growers must carefully monitor the THC levels. Otherwise, the crop must be destroyed. Twenty to sixty percent of a grower’s crops have been destroyed in part because of that. The percentage of moisture the plant is exposed to is key to controlling the level of THC. So, crop irrigation is important.
“They’ll take permit away if you’re hot too much,” said Maire Ullrich, Agriculture Program Leader for the Cornell (University) Cooperative Extension.
Hemp grown for seed oil or fiber is easier to grow without it going “hot” versus hemp that is grown for CBD.
Because hemp and marijuana are the same plant the way poodles and rottweilers are both dogs, those terms were designated by the government to designate between cannabis that gets you high and cannabis that does not. The details of marijuana are not often discussed in an academic setting because they are afraid of losing federal funds.
It was noted that China, France, Canada, and a couple of Eastern European countries such as Romania are major hemp producers. Chinese hemp fibers are very popular, and fiber elsewhere often.
“We don’t care about their background. We’re a university trying to enrich everybody’s education and future,” Gianfagna said when asked about educating those who were previously convicted. He added that USDA guidelines have been changing in this aspect. However, the principal license holder for hemp growing cannot have a conviction. It was suggested in that case to put it in someone else’s name because it’s not an issue if a felon works in there.
Growing Hemp in Jersey
While New Jersey might be small, growing in different in parts of the state varies greatly. Also, growing hemp for fiber and seeds is different than growing it for CBD, and often easier. When asked for advice, experts on the panel said, “go small, learn how to grow the crop.
“Growing CBD is like growing tomatoes,” said keynote speaker Marie Ullrich, an expert from Cornell, explaining that it was not that difficult.
Ullrich explained that when growing hemp sanitation is key, especially when you’re growing in a greenhouse. One of the best ways to maintain high sanitation standards is by using panda film in your greenhouse, as it can prevent ground moisture from disturbing humidity levels and can stop soil-borne pathogens from rising up into the grow area. Also, the weak roots of hemp must be considered when growing due to disease. Sometimes the roots are so weak due to disease that the plants fell in a storm. Drying and harvesting equipment can also be very difficult, she said.
It is not easy to be a farmer in the industry. Buyers of hemp might not purchase the amount of hemp they initially promised. Due in part to the industry’s youth, farmers are not sharing information on the disreputable buyers in the industry which allows them to continue operating.
“There are many bad actors out there,” Ullrich said. She said growers should be wary of strangers with large gifts and weird deals. In addition, as in every business, negotiating the details of contracts is very important.
“There’s no boilerplate for this yet,” she added.