This growing season is an experiment for farmer Bryan Harnish. He’s trying hemp for the first time on his 600-acre grain and specialty crop farm in Pequea, Pa.

His success, or lack thereof, will determine whether hemp is a good fit for the future. American Agriculturist is following Harnish all summer in his quest to grow a successful crop.

“Back in January when the farm bill passed, we thought it would be a good opportunity, a new crop to try,” Harnish says.

His first goal was to secure some seed. The internet is loaded with sources of info on hemp, whether it be different varieties, growing methods or other things.

Harnish says he researched seed and listened to different podcasts before settling on a seed dealer in California.

“You got to be careful and you got to know how to read people. That’s the biggest thing,” he says. “That’s what we’ve learned. You got to know and interpret what other people are saying and sort through what’s fact and what’s fiction, and there’s a lot of fiction out there.”

Deciding on CBD

Harnish is growing hemp for cannabidiol, or CBD, production. He’s trying three varieties: Youngsim 10, Stormy Daniels and Cherry Blossom.

Harnish says he investigated growing hemp for fiber but felt that it didn’t fit his operation since he doesn’t have the mowers, rakes and balers necessary for a fiber hemp operation.

Photo courtesy of Bryan HarnishClose-up of Harnish's water-wheel planter in action planting hemp
A FIT FOR CBD: While he investigated growing hemp for fiber, Harnish says CBD is a better fit since he already has the equipment available to grow it.

The market for CBD has exploded with many stores now carrying CBD oil. Harnish says he has a few buyers in line to buy his crop, but like seed he says it is crucial to find someone you trust. He’s also taking a bit of risk since there is no contracted price for CBD and the price fluctuates constantly.

“The market is out there,” he says, “it’s just a matter of figuring out who you can trust and who you can’t.”

Planting the crop

Even though this year’s growing season got off to a wet start, Harnish says Mother Nature didn’t deter his plans.

The field he’s planting is a well-drained, irrigated field with nearby well water.

“There is no shade, and it’s a fine, loam-type soil,” he says.

He chisel-plowed and disked the plots before laying down 3-foot-wide plastic. Since there is no herbicide currently labeled for hemp, he thinks the plastic will help control the weeds. He plans on using a hoe or backpack spray in between the rows.

Harnish also laid down drip irrigation to ensure the plants get plenty of water and fertilization.

The first plants were put in June 1 using a water-wheel planter pulled by a John Deere 6410. The rest of the crop will be planted in two weeks.

Chris TorresHarnish stands beside his water-wheel planter pulled by a John Deere 6410
TOOLS FOR THE JOB: Harnish used a water-wheel planter pulled by a John Deere 6410 to plant the hemp.

Harnish put down 300 pounds per acre of 14-0-40 fertilizer to get the crop started. He plans on fertigating weekly along with doing tissue testing.

Hoping for success

“We’re going to try different production techniques and we’re going to find several markets for it,” he says. “Our goal basically is to grow a good crop to be able to help different farmers and maybe be able to buy their crop and be able to help market their crop.”

Tracking the crop will be crucial, especially toward the end of the season.

“We’re going to do testing every week for CBD and THC levels and try to max out the CBD before our plants get hot,” he says.

The plants will be harvested by hand when they’re ready.

For drying, Harnish is kicking around a couple of ideas, one of which is drying the plants in a room with a dehumidifier, a fan and a small electric heater. He’s also thinking about drying the plants in his GSI grain bins since they have a false floor that you can force hot air into.

“It’s all an experiment this year. We’re just going to try to see what works,” he says. “We’re cautiously optimistic at this point. This might be pretty big for us.”

Source: Chris Torres, Delta Farm Press