There are multiple types of hemp that can be grown in Ohio. Photo by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Our Ohio Magazine.

Hemp update

By Matt Reese

Hemp production is labor intensive, costly and unpredictable, but the challenge is being accepted by some Ohio producers.

After being prohibited for many years, commercial hemp production was legalized in the U.S. by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. Then on July 30, 2019, Senate Bill 57 was enacted to legalize hemp production in Ohio. Hemp produces three main types of crops — fiber, grain, and metabolites — each end use requires very different genetics, production practices, processing methods, and end users. Hemp is coming off of a lower production 2021 in Ohio compared to 2020.

“In Ohio and nationwide, the total number of registered acres and acres planted decreased significantly in 2021,” according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “In 2020, there were 2,067 acres registered with 555 planted in Ohio. In 2021, there were 1,498 acres registered with 272 planted.”

The Ohio Department of Agriculture Hemp Program is currently accepting applications for the 2022 growing season through Thursday, March 31, 2022. New applicants and renewals can apply at the hemp licensing portal on ODA’s website. All current licensees must also complete the annual update form by March 31, 2022. 

A key challenge for hemp producers is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in the plants. Each type of hemp is a cousin to marijuana and has a risk of reaching illegal (in Ohio) levels of THC which causes hallucinogenic effects. Hemp crops with levels of THC over .3% must be destroyed. Under current law, hemp growers and processors in the state must have a license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which oversees the testing of THC levels. If the THC levels are acceptable, the hemp must be harvested within 15 days of the test.

“In 2021, 25% of the lots sampled were in excess of the legal THC limits,” according to ODA numbers. “Other than trying to successfully select and cultivate a compliant hemp crop, the biggest challenge is trying to find a processor to buy the crop. There has been a vast overproduction nationwide and the market seems to be correcting itself in that manner.” 

Nearly all of Ohio’s hemp production in 2021 was for oil production.

“The overwhelming majority of the lots planted in Ohio are small plantings — less than 1 acre — of floral varieties which are extracted for CBD/CBG oil or sold as smokable flower. Very few lots have been planted to grain or fiber,” according to ODA. “Ohio has set up a robust regulatory program to help ensure that the hemp products made in Ohio are produced in an inspected facility just as any other food. Some states do not regulate the production of hemp products, while Ohio has devoted considerable resources to ensuring food safety in these facilities.”

In 2021, Hondros Hemp Farms near Centerburg harvested its second hemp crop and first fully organic hemp crop. The last couple of growing seasons offered plenty of challenges growing for the oil market on the farm. In spring of 2021 wet weather created planting issues.

“It has been raining a lot and we typically use equipment to plant but we don’t want too much compaction in our fields so we are hand planting. We need to get them in the ground. It is a race to not let the clones and the seedlings get root bound in the pots so they are ready to get going and we need to get them in,” said  Courtney Nugen, farm manager, back on June 10 of 2021.

Among the largest hemp growers in the state, Hondros planted 20 rows on 2 acres — 4,000 plant clones. The clones come from South Carolina. Good genetics are essential to successful hemp production.

“Genetics are a big thing. They are not as developed as corn and soybean genetics here in the U.S. You have to be really careful about what genetics you are buying in order to have a high potency hemp with a low THC value,” Nugen said. “THC is a regulated substance. With the ODA’s hemp license we have to keep our hemp below .3% in order to legally grow it without having to destroy our harvest at the end of the season. Genetics are really important to us because we need low THC, but we also want a really potent oil product at the end of the season.”

The hemp fields are irrigated with drip tape, but 2021’s abundant moisture was a problem for the Hondros hemp crop. They have also faced pest issues with red-headed flea beetles and aphids that must be treated with a certified organic pest spray. The labor intensive crop is hand weeded and harvested before being hung in barns to dry before market. Once it is dried, the Hondros hemp is shipped to South Carolina for use by Motive CBD.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) recently released the results of the 2021 Hemp Acreage and Production Survey in its National Hemp Report. The 2021 Hemp Acreage and Production Survey collected information on the total planted and harvested area, yield, production, and value of hemp in the United States. By value, the top utilization for hemp grown in the open was floral at $623 million. The top utilization for hemp grown under protection was floral at $64.4 million.

The planted area for industrial hemp grown in the open for all utilizations in the United States totaled 54,152 acres. Area harvested for all utilizations totaled 33,480 acres. The value of U.S. hemp production in the open totaled $712 million. The value of production for hemp that was grown under protection in the United States totaled $112 million. Area under protection totaled 15.6 million square feet.

“The release of this landmark report provides a needed benchmark about hemp production to assist producers, regulatory agencies, state governments, processors, and other key industry entities,” said Hubert Hamer, NASS Administrator. “Not only will these data guide USDA agencies in their support of domestic hemp production, the results can also help inform producers’ decisions about growing, harvesting, and selling hemp as well as the type of hemp they decide to produce. The survey results may also impact policy decisions about the hemp industry.”

Broken down by utilization, U.S. totals for hemp grown in the open in 2021 were:

Floral hemp production was estimated at 19.7 million pounds; utilized production totaled 15.7 million pounds. Area harvested for floral hemp was estimated at 15,980 acres. The average yield for floral hemp was estimated at 1,235 pounds per acre. The value of floral hemp totaled $623 million.

Hemp grown for grain totaled 4.37 million pounds; utilized production totaled 3.96 million pounds. Area harvested for hemp grown for grain was estimated at 8,255 acres. The average yield for hemp grown for grain was estimated at 530 pounds per acre. The value of hemp for grain totaled $5.99 million.

Hemp grown for fiber was estimated at 33.2 million pounds; utilized production totaled 27.6 million pounds. Area harvested for hemp grown for fiber was estimated at 12,690 acres. The average yield for hemp grown for fiber was estimated at 2,620 pounds per acre. The value of hemp grown for fiber totaled $41.4 million.

Production of hemp grown for seed was estimated at 1.86 million pounds; utilized production totaled 1.68 million pounds. Area harvested for hemp grown for seed was estimated at 3,515 acres. The average yield for hemp grown for seed was estimated at 530 pounds per acre. The value of hemp grown for seed totaled $41.5 million.

Broken down by utilization, U.S. totals for hemp grown under protection in 2021 were:

Production of hemp for transplants and clones totaled 20.2 million plants; utilized production totaled 18.0 million plants. The value of hemp grown under protection for transplants and clones totaled $23.8 million.

Production of floral hemp was estimated at 310,421 pounds; utilized production totaled 256,124 pounds. The value of floral hemp totaled $64.4 million.

Hemp grown for seed totaled 4,059 pounds; utilized production totaled 3,121 pounds. The value of hemp grown for seed totaled $23.7 million.

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