By Clint Thompson
Growing hemp is not for the faint of heart. It’s expensive and labor intensive. The market bottomed out last year with excess production.
For those Georgia producers growing hemp for the first time this spring, they best be ready for long, unpredictable days, believes Dougherty County hemp producer Harris Morgan.
“Growing hemp is not an easy process. It’s not easy to grow this cannabis plant. We’re going to grow it again this year. We’re looking forward to it, but it is a very intense. You can’t just put it in the field and let it go. You’ve got to watch it pretty much on a daily basis,” Morgan said.
He compares it to growing tobacco, a venture he was part of back in the 50s and 60s when production was done by hand.
“Growing the hemp is pretty much like growing tobacco. You’ve got to take care of it like a new baby. Then you’ve got to watch it and make sure disease and insects don’t get in it. You can’t just spray anything on the stuff,” Morgan said. “Hemp is an extractor plant, so it will take up whatever’s in the soil. You’ve got to be very careful about what you put. If you go to do all that stuff with it, it won’t pass the test when it comes time to harvest it. You’ll lose your crop.”
Then there’s no guarantee that you’ll meet your yield goal. Morgan was hoping for 1,000 pounds of biomass per acre last year but managed only about 700 pounds. Some plants did not mature like they were supposed to.
But even with high yields, a saturated market won’t mean a successful sale. Morgan is still holding onto his 2020 inventory in hopes the market will rebound.
“So many people planted this stuff nationwide last year. It saturated the market with inventory. It’s just like a supply and demand thing, price of the hemp oil bottomed out,” Morgan said. “When we started looking into doing this, the price of a kilo or liter of distillate was about $3,000 or $3,500. But it’s down to about $600 now. You’ve got to make a good yield in order to make any money.”
Morgan estimates that it costs between $10,000 to $12,000 per acre from planting to harvest, with an additional $8 per pound to extract the oil.
“By the time you get through it, you’ll have $20,000 an acre in it. You’ve got to make the yields,” Morgan said.