Using a Hemp Transplant vs. Direct Sow
Why Using a Hemp Start is the Best Practice When Farming This Crop
Transplanting, for most crops, makes for stronger plants and better yields. The ancient Egyptians started doing this thousands of years ago, so it’s a well-established practice. As the farming industry begins to rotate in hemp, new standard operating procedures for this crop are being created and vetted.
We look to our own experience farming this crop over hundreds of acres, best practices of sister crops, scientific studies and interviews we’ve conducted with hemp farmers across the U.S. to evaluate which method produces the most extracted points which measures its end value.
THE REASONING BEHIND USING TRANSPLANTS:
It’s no secret that this a high cost/high margin crop so doing everything to maximize yields while minimizing expenses is key. The average cost of producing a hemp transplant is:
Average Cost of Seed: $0.75/seed
Average Cost of Germination: $1.00/plant
Total Average Cost: $2.25/ hemp transplant
Total Average Gross Margin of Hemp: $15/plant on points of extraction
Using transplants greatly reduces the attrition rates due to unexpected weather.
Transplants can survive most weather events where seeds fail. By starting your germination in a greenhouse instead of taking a chance in the ground you avoid potentially catastrophic loss of margin due to unexpected weather events. One large rain, heavy wind late frost after seeds are planted can lead to a potential of 90% failed germination. Our transplants are hardened off before shipping which means they are better prepared to withstand the harsh conditions of the field leading to significantly less attrition compared to direct sown seed. For one acre planted with 3,000 seeds, that could mean loss of more than $3K/acre in hard costs and a potential margin loss of $40.5K in non-harvested biomass.
Using transplants increases the opportunity make higher margins by adding an additional planting cycle during the year.
By using transplants, you gain 90 -110 calendar days over the course of year to continue farming a new crop due to the time the starts are produced in the greenhouse, not on the ground. This allows farmers the opportunity to put in rapid crop successions with auto-flowering hemp as the ground is not “tied up” with developing seedlings which provides a full, additional harvest per season.
Transplants produce less weeds than direct sown seeds which reduces risk to the farmer.
Transplanted crops have a better chance at outcompeting weeds than seeds sown directly in the ground. Hemp cannot utilize traditional herbicides as it remediates the soil, pulling heavy metals and chemicals effectively into its tissue, so the use of preemergent herbicides as the seedling grows in the nursery reduce competition from many weedy species.+++ This is a huge advantage to the farmer, as hemp biomass cannot be harvested with large amounts of foreign plant material, devaluing the overall crop.
Hemp plants grown from starts produce more biomass than direct sown seeds.
Transplants are grown for 4 to 6 weeks before they are planted, this gives them that much longer in the field in which to mature and develop higher content per plant. With the market price per point of biomass so high, each point counts.
Using transplants makes maintaining and harvesting the crop easier due to precision planting.
By starting a hemp crop with transplants, the farmer can be sure of where plants are placed. Additionally, transplants reduce the labor of needing to thin the crop and can have an additional positive effect on female flower production and consequently yields. Finally, precision planting of hemp offers an easier, machine-led harvest.
200,000 square feet of seeds germinated in a nursery will cover approximately 4,600 acres of a hemp farm. The efficiencies of watering and nurturing each seed in a small space as it grows is evident. More importantly, actions can be taken to maximize the growth potential of transplants in a nursery setting that simply cannot be achieved for direct sow across an acreage setting. For example, at the nursery each hemp transplant is grown with a highly enriched soil mix and specialized fertilizers perfect for germinating the seed but which would not be cost effective to use across wide parcels. Additionally, it allows for the introduction of inoculates which proves highly valuable during the growth cycle.
Germination rates vary by cultivar but growing a transplant from a seed offers a vastly higher germination rate due to the inputs, watering and care given to this high-value plant in a small setting. In interviews over the past year, farmers utilizing a direct sow method for this crop saw, on average, germination rates as low as 65% compared with the nursery rate of 90%.
In one acre of this crop, this equates to a potential total additional revenue gain of $12K per acre for those farmers using transplants.
Transplants produce an initial plant with more fibrous roots and is which is more likely to have a strong root structure which you cannot guarantee with a seed alone. According to agricultural scientists at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln in giving information to farmers on best practices, hemp seedlings should be produced in a greenhouse for transplanting in order to garner the most positive results.*