WATERLOO, NY – Early hype about the reintroduction of hemp in New York has focused on CBD products, but demand for hemp grain and fiber varieties is growing.
Sarah Mitchell, hemp specialist at King’s AgriSeeds, explained at a Certified Organic meeting Feb. 8 in New York City.
From 2019 to 2021, the amount of licensed CBD hemp land in New York increased from 510,000 acres to 200,000, and harvested acreage increased from 130,000 to 23,000.
“As you can see by the planting rate, hesitation is setting in,” Mitchell said.
At the same time, interest in hemp grown for grain and fiber, rather than the reputed medicinal benefits of CBD, is growing.
Grain and fiber hemp could provide food and oil, building materials, fabric, paper, animal litter, cat litter, and plant growing media.
Still, Mitchell said the industry needs clarity on federal rules for grain and fiber hemp, expanding local processing and increased access to harvesting equipment.
Homebuilders using hempcrete, a promising building material, have to import hemp from France because there isn’t enough household hemp that meets industry specifications, Mitchell said.
“The demand for grain hemp is high,” she said. “The demand for fiber is high. We need more decortication equipment.
Decortication separates the hard and soft parts of the hemp plant so they can be used in manufacturing.
As demand and prices for grains and hemp fiber have increased, “I think we’ve bottomed out in CBD prices,” Mitchell said.
In addition to the lack of clear federal hemp guidelines, Mitchell said the upfront investment required for processors has hampered the industry along with limited farming experience and a lack of harvesting equipment.
Like corn, hemp has higher boron requirements than other crops, so a soil test is helpful, she added. It is also important to plant hemp as early as possible.
“Each day of fiber growth adds height, which increases yield,” Mitchell said.
And it is important to consider the method of planting.
“When planting in a live canopy, it competes for nutrients,” Mitchell said.
Strip tillage can provide the benefit of a cover crop for weed suppression while reducing competition. Overcrowding of hemp can limit yield. Row width should be seven to 15 inches for grain and fiber. For CBD hemp varieties, it is 15 to 30 inches.