Farmers all over the country jumped on the opportunity to grow industrial hemp when the federal government legalized it in 2018. Back then, it seemed like hemp would be the cash crop that made every farmer rich. Unfortunately, things did not work out that way. A lot of farmers discovered that producing industrial hemp wasn’t as easy as they had thought. They discovered that drying harvested plants is just as important as growing them.
Industrial hemp isn’t the only agricultural product that has to be dried before it can be processed. What makes it somewhat unique is the many uses the plant enjoys. Growers getting into industrial hemp over the last couple of years have been focusing largely on the CBD market. In other words, they were not growing the plant in order to sell it to rope makers. They were looking to sell to processors who make CBD oil, tinctures, etc.
The thing is that hemp plants contain over a hundred cannabinoids and dozens of terpenes. Processors want access to as many of them as possible. Why? Because a full array of cannabinoids and terpenes allows them to make many different products based on different formulas.
Drying Methods Matter
To a processor, drying methods matter. How plant material is dried influences its cannabinoid and terpene makeup. Drying influences plant quality, consistency, and stabilization. In short, being able to sell large qualities of hemp biomass to processors requires being able to produce consistent crops. Processors have to know what they are getting with every single load.
Drying is also critical to controlling mold and mildew. Just like hay, tobacco and other agricultural products, the slightest bit of mold or mildew is a non-starter for processors. Entire crops are rejected for just a little bit of mold. Growers cannot afford that. It is why they dry hemp biomass to begin with.
Ideally, dried hemp should have about 20% moisture content. Any more than that and mold and mildew is a significant risk. Anything less and the quality of a crop’s cannabinoids and terpenes could be compromised. Knowing that, it should be easy to understand why drying is as important to farmers as growing.
Different Ways to Dry Hemp
A good way to understand hemp drying is to compare it to raising cattle. You can do everything right with a herd of beef cattle. You can work hard to ensure that your animals are worth top dollar. But if they get sick and die a week prior to auction, all your hard work goes out the window. Dead cattle are worthless.
Likewise, even the best growing methods can be for nothing if harvested plant material isn’t dried properly. Your typical growing operation utilizes one of two drying methods. The first is hang drying. This method involves hanging plants upside down in a well-ventilated barn for up to a week. The general rule for farmers is to have 20,000 square feet of barn space for every acre of harvested crop.
The other drying method is machine drying. Growers invest in a hemp dryer capable of processing thousands of pounds of product per hour. Houston-based CedarStoneIndustry says that large-scale industrial operations can generally pay for the cost of hemp dryers fairly quickly. They are well worth the investment to farmers looking to produce large volumes of dried biomass.
One way or the other, proper drying techniques are as important to hemp farmers as their growing techniques. Master the drying process and you maintain the integrity of a properly cultivated crop. That is how you make money in the industrial hemp business.