For a large portion of history, hemp or marijuana has been the top crop cultivated by the human race as it happens to be one of the most beneficial plants to grow in terms of efficiency, cost, output, etc. But unfortunately, in the past century, hemp has faced many challenging factors on multiple fronts such as legalization, profit margins, modern processing, and of course, irregular demand and supply.
It was once the most popular crop to cultivate, but cotton eventually took over due to a much simpler processing method that saved time and energy. After it was first prohibited officially in the 1930s for reasons stemming from the backlash of unregulated substances (morphine) in medicines and wrongful prejudice related to Mexican immigrants who smoked “marihuana,” it has always faced problems in the industry.
After the initial ban, it was once again used during World War II to produce marine cordage, ropes, parachutes, and other military necessities. Due to this change, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its "Hemp for Victory" program, which encouraged farmers to grow hemp by distributing seeds and granting draft deferments to those who would stay home and grow hemp.
After this, the outlook on the plant was more relaxed. Even though recreational use was still frowned upon, America’s cultural climate regarding the plant was far more tolerant, and it became widely used amongst upper-middle-class white people. However, it was still only decades later that it was finally legalized under certain terms.
In 1996, California passed Proposition 215, which allowed for the legal sale of medical marijuana for those suffering from conditions such as AIDS, cancer, and other serious diseases.
Since then, the hemp market is slowly growing, with more and more states legalizing the drug. Modern times have also made it legal for recreational use in some parts of North America, so naturally, with an increase in the number of people who want to use it, there is now a larger demand for the product.
More North American farmers are planting hemp crops to meet that demand and gain another revenue source that could be very profitable in the long run. According to a report by Vote Hemp, hemp farming quadrupled the year after the crop was made legal by introducing the 2018 Farm Bill in the United States.
As mentioned earlier, hemp is a very useful crop to cultivate and does not require too much regarding space, soil conditions, growth, and other such factors. But though the societal, cultural, and political outlook of hemp has progressed significantly so far, the industry is still lagging in transferring that same progressiveness to hemp harvesting equipment and tools that are modern enough to meet the growing demand efficiently.
Starting the cultivation of hemp can be profitable, no doubt, but it is a cumbersome and labor-intensive process, so you need to make sure you have access to the right type of equipment and technology to make it a worthwhile investment. Let’s take a look at what hemp harvesting equipment you would need.
If you want to get into industrial hemp farming, you will first need high-quality hemp seeds to grow crops that yield a good outcome. Once that is done, you would need to look into industrial-grade hemp harvesting equipment that’ll make it easier, more efficient, and less time-consuming to grow large batches of hemp crops. This equipment can help you right from laying the dirt and sowing the seed to drying the harvested crop and extracting the necessary components.
They help create a controlled outdoor (or indoor, in some cases) environment that gives growers the ability to monitor growth factors like water, fertilizer, and temperature and also decrease the chances of other weeds, soil erosion, and diseases.
Raised Bed Shaper
The first step to take care of while growing hemp crops is the tilling process. Incorporate raised beds to yield a better quality of crops and more potent CBD concentrations in the flowers. You can do this with an industrially raised bed shaper that produces raised crops that are uniform in size and shape. These shapers create tight, even beds and are good to use when you have many acres to work on.
Plastic Mulch Layer
This is a tractor attachment that puts down strips of stretched plastic along farm beds, securing them with soil. It also aids growers in saving water, maintaining a more consistent soil temperature, and controlling unwanted weeds. They are available in single row and multiple row machines and can be easily adjusted for different plastic widths. The machine can also remove previous sheets of plastic.
A transplanter is a simple tool that can be used on plastic mulch, uncovered planting beds, or bare, flat ground. It is also used while growing crops such as tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, etc. They help set plants straight and provide consistent plant-to-plant spacing, so each crop has enough space to grow properly. Using this hemp harvesting equipment can decrease the amount of time it takes to transplant seedlings into the soil and allows for more harvesting time.
Suppose you are not using a transplanter and want to seed your fields directly. In that case, a seed drill will make the process faster and more efficient as it will help you plant the seeds at the correct depth in the soil and also cover the seeds, protecting them from external factors like weather and insects.
Hemp crops do not require as much water as crops like cotton or flax, but they still need 15-20 inches of rainfall on an average, so you would need an irrigation system.
Research from Colorado State University found that well-irrigated hemp fields produced nearly three times as much yield compared to non-irrigated fields in Colorado.
Common irrigation systems such as pivot irrigation, micro-sprinklers, and drip irrigation can also work well for hemp. However, the preferred type for hemp is drip irrigation.
This type of irrigation provides water directly to the root areas of the plants using applicators placed on or below the surface of the ground. These applicators are usually porous tubes or perforated pipes.
Additionally, drip irrigation can reduce your water consumption by 60% and increase crop yields by 90% when compared to other types of irrigation methods. This is beneficial to farmers who don’t have sufficient access to enough water. It also reduces the chance of weeds and mildew on the surface as it goes directly to the roots and can help manage nitrogen levels in the soil.
The harvesting process of the hemp crop is extremely cumbersome. The plant’s fibrous stalk is tough, which could destroy machinery used for other crops, so growers need to use machines built specifically for hemp. Moreover, the hemp harvesting equipment differs based on what the end product is.
If you are harvesting the crop for the flowers, it needs to be done by hand using machetes, shears, or appropriate knives to cut the stalks.
Using a combine to harvest it for other products such as fiber and biomass is an easier and faster process. For grain crops, combines with big cylinders would be best. Heavy machinery, similar to combines, such as trucks, augers, and grain cleaners, need to be completely dry and clean before usage to maintain purity levels and avoid contamination.
For most hemp farmers, straight combining is the preferred method to harvest seed. The hemp crop is cut just below the seed head, which reduces the volume of fiber processed by the combine, reducing fiber wrapping chances.
Most growers use single rotary combines with large capacity and conventional cylinders greater than 1.25 meters to help manage the large, fibrous volume going through the combine. Dual rotary combines are not as favorable as the risk of fiber wrapping and the opposing rotors' higher plugging.
Feeder chains, shafts, and exposed moving parts should be regularly checked for wrapping as wrapped fiber, and fine dust on moving parts can possibly start a fire.
Combine speed should be set to provide uniform crop flow through the combine to avoid fiber wrapping as much as possible and keeping knives nearby can come in handy to cut away the fiber in case it does get wrapped.
Nowadays, newer combines come with modifications to prevent fiber wrapping, such as sheet metal pr puckboard used to shield moving parts and avoid wrapping.
Mobile Hemp Decorticators
Hemp decortication is a process that involves the use of a specific machine called a decorticator to separate the tough, woody interior of the hemp plant from the soft, fibrous exterior. Hemp farmers in North America deal with challenges such as scarce processing facilities.
Moreover, suitable equipment is expensive or not easily available to these farmers – each combine can cost as much as $500,000.
Mobile hemp decorticators allow hemp growers to process their crops and maintain the quality without being forced to transport them elsewhere. They are loaded onto trucks and driven across the country, providing hemp production services to growers.
The growers are charged based on the size of the farm or acres to process, quality levels of the hemp, and manufacturers available to purchase the harvested product. This hemp harvesting equipment can process about 10 tons of hemp per hour and be easily leased or rented to reduce farmers' high processing costs.
In addition to being cost-effective, they also work as a safe option – in situations where the crop fails, or the farmer changes their mind about cultivating the crop, the decorticator can easily be moved and rented by another.
The invention is pulled behind a combine to collect additional leaf and plant material that can be used for a second stream of revenue.
The material can be emptied directly into the truck, making the process all the more efficient, clean, and ready for transportation. With new hemp farms arising more often nowadays, these convenient decorticators prove to be a blessing.
After the crop goes through a combine, it needs to be dried properly. A barn, shed, or warehouse with good ventilation can work as a drying facility. The drying process has multiple methods to it - some farmers use racks or screens.
One method includes hanging hemp plants upside down from wires. Another drying option is to use a mechanical dryer. Heating can occur within two hours of combining, so it must be dried and aerated immediately.
After the product is dried well, it needs to be stored and preserved properly. If it is not stored in adequate conditions, it can get moldy, causing wastage of the crop. The heated or moldy seeds stick together and form clumps, leading to an increase in the free fatty acid content of the oil resulting in deterioration of oil quality. Ultimately, it would lead to a loss of profit.
Storage systems need to be chosen with factors such as cleanliness, handling, conditioning, and aeration capabilities in mind. Hopper bins with adequate aeration are optimal. Another good choice is flat metal bins with aerated flooring.
Grain bags are not recommended to store hemp produce properly. The crop should be regularly monitored in storage to check for hot spots and ensure quality before the final delivery.
No part of the hemp plant goes to waste as each component can be used for some product or the other. The flower buds can be used for medicine and extracts; the bast fiber can be used for fabric, and so on.
So growing hemp is a good investment, provided you have the necessary means and hemp harvesting equipment to yield a good quality batch. The hemp industry is only continuing to grow, and current challenges with hemp harvesting equipment would soon be solved, opening up more opportunities for the market to expand.