Industrial Hemp Vs. CBD Hemp: Defining the Differences

by | Jun 10, 2019

Written by Keilah Keiser

As a renewable source for raw materials, hemp is incorporated into thousands of products from paper and textiles to trending health foods, holistic body care, and CBD. While the boom may seem like a sole characteristic of the modern legalization era, hemp has deep roots in both world and American history, but its most recent policy reforms have spawned an interest in agriculture like never before.

Pair consumer demand for a wide range of hemp products with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, and you have the most significant opportunity the American agricultural market has seen within the past fifty years. Now that American farmers can grow this cash crop within a more relaxed legal framework, there’s a wealth of individuals lined up to try their hand as hemp farmers

However, desire doesn’t necessarily translate to know-how. And while much-needed R&D is right around the corner, for now, hemp producers share a colossal commonality: they are all learning on the go.

Growing Hemp: Fiber, Seed, and CBD

Henry Ford gave the world a glimpse at the possibilities of hemp when he unveiled his plastic car in the 1940s—a vehicle whose recipe called for 70 percent of cellulose fibers from wheat straw, hemp, and sisal.

Hemp’s broad range of uses holds true today. And as one might expect, hemp is just as diverse in varieties as it is in applications. Traditionally, hemp farming has been divided into three main categories: fiber, seed, and high-cannabinoid (or CBD) producing. Different varieties perform better in differing environmental conditions. High-CBD varieties, for example, are better suited to create flower for extracts, where fibrous strains are used in textiles, building materials and more.

Farmers looking to enter the hemp market for the first time will need to understand their options and wisely choose which hemp variety they should grow.

Industrial Hemp for Seed and Fiber

Hemp for fiber is the easiest form of hemp farming. However, since fiber varieties are typically grown for industrial uses, farmers need an infrastructure to support the development process, large scale harvesting, and transportation. There are three primary considerations when it comes to farming hemp for fiber:

  1. Establish a processor.
  2. Identify the source and quality of seed.
  3. Have the right equipment to handle the crop.

Hemp seed varieties are grown for food and nutritional applications due to their high protein, fatty acid, and fiber content (i.e., a $15 bag of shelled hemp hearts from Whole Foods). As with any grain crop, the proper harvesting, processing, packaging, transportation, and storage are crucial components to make sure your investment doesn’t spoil. Doing so will make sure hemp grain can be sold at its highest value.

Hemp for CBD Yield

Unlike industrial hemp grown for seed and fiber, hemp for CBD requires significantly more labor. Some farmers even consider it to be more labor-intensive than tobacco. That said, CBD is also the most lucrative of hemp varieties.

Hemp for CBD yield has numerous applications as a pharmaceutical and dietary supplement, so it presents several regulatory challenges depending on the product’s end use. In addition to the lack of FDA oversight, farmers must stress the levels of THC to remain clear of regulatory violations. Hemp for CBD yield should contain no more than .3 psychoactive THC. If the CBD yield grows too high, the crop may no longer meet the legal framework for hemp and need to be destroyed.

Furthermore, to produce the highest yield of CBD, within regulatory THC levels, growers need to understand and master the effects of stress, and growing variables like soil makeup, moisture content, and PH levels. Once the plants are growing, farmer options are severely limited—meaning no herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides allowed.

High-CBD varieties are also grown only as female plants since male plants can pollinate an entire crop, triggering seed production in females and a reduction in CBD yields. When hemp reaches sexual maturity, vigilance is required to check fields for male plants to prevent the loss of an entire crop.

The 2018 Farm Bill marked the dawn of a new era, but American farmers have their work cut out for them, especially when hemp cultivation is largely based on trial, error, and observation. So much is needed regarding infrastructure, education and genetics and those in the trenches can speak to this first hand—urging caution whether a new grower is planting hemp for CBD, seed or fiber. Regardless, there’s a very exciting future for those who want to be a part of the hemp community.