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All great points on what a hemp farmer should look out for and do.
We do have some comments though. Most people associate any mechanical harvesting process with combines. The reality is combines are just one type of machine used and each individual type can produce significantly different results.
The purpose of using a combine is to separate (shuck) the stalk from flower/leaves. material. Combines do not chop your whole plants and blend that into biomass. The decision to use manual labor or equipment to shuck depends on growing region, access to labor, budget, operation size and other factors. One combine can replace 1,000 human laborers in a 10 hour period. The cost of hand shucking is also drastically higher. 25 workers can shuck 1 acre (1800 plants, 6′ tall) in 10 hours, A combine can do 20-30 acres in that same time period with 4 laborers. As far as potency loss, how much you’ll lose depends on how you run the material through the combine. For dry material (sun-dried or hung dried), expect to lose 3-5% CBD points. If running wet material through the combine (which will then go through a dryer), expect to lose 1-3% CBD potency and an additional 1-3% depending on the dryer being used. We’ve seen a lot of biomass that ran through combines and still tested 8-12% CBD after it was all said and done. It’s also worth noting stock combines won’t work well. They’ll produce low-quality biomass, will get plugged up and jammed often, and the chance of the machine catching fire increases drastically.
Your statement of whole plants being chopped up normally means you’re talking about a silage/forage harvester. These machines are pretty much a large woodchipper that mixes everything in its path with the biomass without actually separating anything. The advantage to it is efficiency, with many units capable of harvesting 50-90 acres/day. The downside is low-quality biomass with low CBD potency because of the crop being diluted with stalk waste.
The third option are modified bean pickers. They’re not a bad option for doing 5-10 acres a day but there aren’t too many of these machines around the USA and not many shops know how to work on them. As with combines, modifications are required prior to working with hemp.
A few more notes to keep in mind…
1. Securing purchase contracts is easy. Most farms (including ourselves) we worked with had 10-20 different purchase contracts in place for the 2019 season for rates between $1.25-2.5/% with 500k-1.5m lbs demands. Not a single one of those came through after the market crashed. Moral of the story, don’t expect most purchase contracts to go through with this commodity. Prices in July are very different than prices in November. We speak from experience growing 300 acres ourselves, custom harvesting another 700 acres, and close connections with other farmers doing combined 8-9k acres. This industry is not black and white. There are too many shady brokers ripping off farmers.
Be careful with doing splits. 8 out of 10 split models don’t end well for the farmers. It can be a combination of things from lack of lab experience, changing market conditions, false promises, or larger labs just swindling out mom-pop farms because they know litigation is expensive and a lengthy process.
If a farmer wants to sign a contract with a lab and their entire investment will be on the line, do your research. Ask for references of farmers that lab has worked with, ask to see what kind of purchase contracts they have in place for their oil, check with Facebook hemp blacklist groups, etc.. Again, the nightmare stories we hear daily are painful and 90% of the time, it’s the farmer being stuck with the bad end of a deal.