Hemp, including that grown for its CBD-rich flowers, has strong and resilient stalks. While that strength is a plus for hemp’s industrial uses, it can create issues at harvest for cultivators seeking to produce high-CBD smokable flower or biomass for processing. A Pennsylvania hemp grower told Hemp Benchmarks in the summer of 2019, “I’ve personally burned up three combines in the last three-and-a-half to five years, processing ripe material.”
Farmers seeking to preserve hemp flowers to sell as a smokable product typically need to hire manual labor to hand-harvest their plants. Hand-cutting is especially important to protect not only the flowers, but also their trichomes: small, sticky, glandular outgrowths that cover hemp flowers and contain much of the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes.
Meanwhile, many of those growing high-CBD varieties for processing into extracts and other products have taken to grinding up entire plants – flowers, leaves, stalks, and all. Although more efficient than hand-harvesting, this practice lowers the cannabinoid potency of the resulting biomass.
Both approaches are necessitated by the lack of specialized hemp harvesting equipment available currently, and neither is ideal. Our Hemp Benchmarks price assessments have shown that smokable CBD flower typically fetches significantly higher per-pound prices compared to CBD biomass, but hand-harvesting is expensive and time-consuming. Biomass producers, on the other hand, could demand higher prices for their crops if they could easily separate the cannabinoid-rich flowers and surrounding leaves from fan leaves and stalks.
Technology may now be catching up to the painstaking task of harvesting CBD-rich hemp. Agricultural engineers in the U.S. and Europe have recently debuted practicable mechanical hemp harvesters that can reportedly handle hemp flower safely, and in a quick and cost-efficient manner.