cultivation cost control

A 2020 Look at Advanced Hemp Processing and Cultivation Equipment

by | Jul 20, 2020

cultivation cost control

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Well into 2020’s hemp growing season, the demand for hemp and CBD continues to skyrocket around the world. According to a global market prediction by Markets and Markets, the industrial hemp market had already reached $4.6 billion in 2019 and should quintuple to $26.6 billion by 2025.

Finally, the hemp supply is catching up to this unquenchable thirst for all things hemp-derived. This is especially true in the US, where American farmers reportedly grew 280,000 acres of hemp in 2019. But despite unprecedented demand and increasing supply, the industry is still facing challenges.

Since Cannabis Tech’s last piece on “Processing and Farming Equipment in the Hemp Industry,” much has shifted in the hemp cultivation industry. Hemp Processing and Cultivation Equipment is rising to meet the challenges specifically related to farming and processing for CBD.

Hemp Cultivation Faces Pinch Points and Profitability Challenges in 2020

One of the main pinch points, as reported by 10News in Tennessee, is the lack of processors. In many parts of the country, there are not enough processors open to accept the supply of hemp, meaning many farmers have been unable to sell their crops from 2019. 

While it is possible to place harvested hemp within storage facilities, the CBD content isn’t stable, and over time the crop is no longer profitable. Matt Cyrus, president of the Deschutes County Farm Bureau in Oregon, calls hemp a high-risk crop. As he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It’s not like corn or wheat or other commodities, where you just go down to the local grain elevator.”

Forbes highlighted several more issues modern hemp farmers have reported from the field. Most notable for hemp processing equipment is the labor-intensive nature of the crop. Especially when it comes to CBD-specific hemp crops, new-to-hemp farmers must invest in brand new equipment or spend tens of thousands retrofitting other equipment designed for corn or wheat.

Both hemp processing and cultivation equipment need an update in 2020, to help shore up this fledgling industry before the dream dies.

Hemp Transplanting Equipment

Hemp, when grown for fibers and industrial applications, is traditionally planted by seed. However, with the focus of the hemp industry now turning to flower-forward hemp cultivars plus the strict requirement for low THC content, many farmers have turned to clones and seedlings in lieu of seeds. The dilemma is the manual labor expense required to transplant starts by hand individually. With many farmers transitioning to hemp from soy, corn, and wheat (seed-based crops), this is an unexpected and unsustainable cost.

Checchi & Magli (C&M) equipment has transformed several vegetable transplanting machine models to suit the needs of the hemp industry. The TRIUM model is one of the most efficient transplanters on the market, with several configurations possible, including three- and five-row options. The tractor attachment supports three or more workers, feeding the machine in unison to exponentially speed up a once entirely manual process.

The TRIUM sets and packs tall seedlings, like hemp, direct in soil. The Wolf and WolfPro models can pack through plastic and even automatically water. On average, C&M equipment can hit between 1,200 to 1,500 transplants per row per hour.

Hemp Harvesting Equipment

Although farmers can adapt conventional crop harvesting equipment to industrial hemp grown for fibers and stalks, the flower-forward CBD hemp crops create a new problem.

According to USA Hemp Harvester, a company producing equipment most suitable for industrial hemp, “If harvesting wet, you will lose around 1-3% CBD and 3-5% CBD when harvesting dry crops. You will see higher potency losses on very potency plants (15-19% CBD) and lower loss on less potency plants (8-12% CBD).” Today, most hemp harvesters destroy the most profitable aspects (the flower), which means manual harvesting is often required.

Yet, for larger hemp farms, there are a few new pieces of equipment focusing on CBD cultivars. As Amanda Luketa explained in Cannabis Tech’s 2019 piece, “The CBD hemp harvester carefully cuts each hemp plant and loads it onto a trailer, without damaging the plant’s structure.” This protects the CBD, thus protecting the profits. There are now several new options beyond the Triminator KIRPY CBD Hemp Harvester mentioned last year.

Henry’s Hemp Harvester, an award-winning invention from The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) 2020 annual conference, is notable. It is specifically designed to protect CBD content by harvesting flowers and cutting stems (instead of shredding the entire plant). It’s a double-module, front-loaded attachment weighing only 350 kilograms. Its small size means it fits in the back of a pick-up truck to move between fields or share between farmers easily.

Hemp Processing Equipment

Processing has become a massive pinch-point between suppliers and CBD purchasers across the country. As such, on-farm processing and mobile processing are critical updates to hemp processing equipment in 2020. Several companies are stepping up to fill the void.

Mile High Labs moved to on-site processing with the launch of their Mile High Monster in 2019. Based on-farm, the Monster transforms up to 50 acres of hemp a day into full-spectrum CBD oil. This removes the expense of transport, decreases problems sourcing an open processing facility, and reduces delays that can lower final CBD content.

Another innovation comes from North Dakota. This is not so much a change in processing machinery, but a share structure. Prairie Products LLC is the state’s first CBD processing facility but goes beyond processing to help farmers bring their CBD oil to market. In an innovative profit share, the company gives farmers two options post-processing: take the finished CBD oil back, or allow Prairie Products to market it later. This split contract, based on final potency, is typically a 50/50 split. If the crop’s CBD content tips over 10 percent, the farmer increases their returns.

Hemp Processing and Cultivation Equipment Still High-Risk, But Industry Adjusts

American farmers leaped at the chance to earn up to $50,000 per acre on CBD-rich hemp in 2018. But two seasons in and the initial returns aren’t living up to this prediction. It turns out that profitable hemp requires specialized equipment, processing facilities, and more accessible routes to market than what is currently available.

Slowly, the kinks in hemp cultivation are working themselves out thanks to better hemp cultivation and processing equipment, and new ways of thinking about this old crop.