Guidelines for Hemp Farming in Ireland
The current Irish Hemp industry is hugely under capitalised and will require up to 1 billion Euro over the next 5 years to position Ireland as a leading hemp growing and carbon sequestering nation. A position it could most definitely occupy. With the collapse of the meat industry imminent, hemp offers a realistic alternative in the medium term. For now it’s time to start small and get familiar with the crop.
Kama as a processor
Our company policy is to only accept either certified organic material or material from farms which are at least under conversion to organic practices. While there is a global demand for hemp products it is stressed that this is for processed materials. There is little to no infrastructure on either Irish farms and/or hemp processing plants. While Ireland is an ideal climate for hemp growing the infrastructure must be in place before an industry can expand. Please try to avoid ringing Kama Hemp offices for hemp growing advice. The information you need is in this document.
Kamaceuticals ltd is currently not in a position to offer contracts to farmers but the company expects to be able to accept either well dried hemp tops later in the 2019 year and or fresh hemp tops from 2020 onwards. Please check this website again as the situation develops.
Before embarking into hemp farming please consider the following points: Do you have a market/processor for the crop? If not, consider dropping any idea of growing hemp, apart from a small (1-2 acre) trial plot to gain experience. If you want to grow hemp despite the lack of processing then consider growing hemp to dry, or to combine for seed.
- Hemp will thrive is a wide variety of soils but there are limits as follows:
- Hemp prefers a loamy open soil with good moisture holding capacity.
- Hemp will grown in sandy soils but drought is a risk and organic matter is important.
- Avoid heavy clay and poorly aerated or compacted soils.
- Avoid permanently saturated soils or those prone to prolonged summer flooding.
Hemp can generally be sown from May onwards. The key consideration is soil temperature. The absolute minimum temperature for sowing is 10° C but ideally the cultivator should wait until soils reach 15° C. Typically sowings in the 2nd half of May and early June are ideal.
Early sowings can be harvested from August onwards. Frost will accelerate the drying of the crop and bring the season to an earlier end. All harvest possibilities cease towards the end of October/early November.
Hemp is an annual crop and our preferred variety Finola is ideal for the Irish Climate. The Finola variety is a short season variety. The time from sowing to flowering is short and Finola is thus a ‘dwarf’ variety when compared to other main crop varieties. It is also a heavy seed bearing variety and it is possible to combine the seed.
Virtually all the other varieties are longer season varieties and take much longer to flower and seed. These varieties are not practical for seed currently as then cannot be combined. However there are suppliers developing equipment to harvest hemp tops from these varieties.
Varieties such as Felina, Fedora, Futura, Santica and Kompoli are biomass varieties but also have good CBD content. These varieties require earlier sowing. Because they take longer to flower the window for hemptop harvesting is narrower. For example Kompolti has a high CBD content but it takes 150 days to mature which means that harvesting will be taking place in October. Of course they will all produce a heavy crop of biomass: so if the goal is biomass then these are ideal varieties.
Fertile soils will yield good crops of hemp. Check for lime and apply as required. For organic nutrition use a quality rock dust as either a soil or compost amendment. Rocks dusts will provide long term stable nutrition of P, K and trace minerals. For N a combination of strategies includes:
- Compost made using the Indore method
- Nitrogen fixing companion plants such as clover, peas or vetch
- Green manures in rotation
- Returning canes to field to increase organic matter
- Using biochar as a soil amendment and the encouragement of azotobacter
- There is no need to over fertilize hemp as this can cause the crop to lodge and also increases the likelihood of moulds in the flower heads.
Hemp is a tillage crop with a short growing cycle. The crop can easily be incorporated into other farming activities either as part of a tillage rotation or as a break where ley ground is being re-seeded and a cash break crop is taken. Hemp requires the normal tillage operations of ploughing, harrowing, leveling and sowing. Hemp germination benefits from rolling immediately after sowing. Hemp has thrived in both the wettest and driest of Irish summers. However drought is a risk and try avoid sowing into dry ground and sow after rain or when rain is expected to get a good strike.
As a vigorous crop hemp can generally out-compete weeds. This is particularly true of the taller varieties however the Finola variety is slightly more vulnerable to weed competition. Earlier sowings can suffer more from weed competition. If it is the case that there is a high weed seed population in the ground to be sown in, it is better to allow weed seeds to germinate and establish a stale seed bed. Sowings in late May and June are less likely to suffer from weed competition.
Denser sowing will also close the canopy and compete with weeds. Fat hen and red shank are the strongest competitors. If hemp is grown as a horticulture row crop as opposed to a grain crop a wide range to hoeing equipment is available. This is well worth considering as hemp can be a lucrative crop if infrastructure is in place.
Hemp is not susceptible to terminal disease causing organisms. However, grey mould (botrytis), can be a common problem in hemp flower heads towards the end of the growing cycle particularly in a damp, wet autumn. Avoid over fertilization particularly with high N manures.
This is the greatest challenge and depends greatly on the end use and planting area.
For growers new to hemp it is strongly advised to start small. It is quite feasible to hand pick hemp on a small scale. Areas from 1 to 5 acres can be hand harvested if help is available. If you plan to hand harvest consider a lower sowing density and wider row spacing. This reduces the seed cost and establishes larger individual plant which can be more rapidly harvested by hand. Experienced can pick 50 kgs per hour if equipped with picking bags. Hand picking provides quality material. It also facilitates gradual drying in open airy covered spaces.
Like any other green crop hemp will quickly ensile quickly if not processed immediately. Finger bars will easily cut hemp and there are systems available to cut and convey hemp tops to a trailer. People with an engineering background may well be to construct their own equipment.
If you are planning to become a fulltime hemp farmer please consider the following infrastructural assets which will allow you to enter the market with security:
- Drying Floors. There is a good demand for dried hemp tops which will fetch €5-15/kg at 10% MC and depending on CBD levels. Hemp can be easily dried as the stiff cane allows the air to pass.
- Heating equipment. Some farms may already have cheap or economical sources of heat which can be used to dry biomass or have the capacity to put this in place.
- Tillage equipment. Many farms will have this equipment in place. However farmers exiting the beef/dairy industry may want to consider investing in tillage equipment.
Supplying Kama Hemp:
In order for us to consider a request for a contract you must already be:
- Registered with an Organic certifier in Ireland.
- Registered with the Dept of Agriculture.
- Be capable of harvesting and chilling hemp to under 5º C have covered transport and be within 30 Km of a Kama Hemp processing plant in Co Monaghan.
Click here for notes on hemp cultivation.