Image of Heartland's tractors in action planting hemp in Michigan

Heartland Increases Hemp Fiber Farming in Michigan and Beyond

The Basics on Hemp Fiber Production

Hemp production in the United States is on the rise, albeit still on a small scale compared to staple crops like wheat, corn, and soy. But any increase in hemp and more specifically industrial hemp is a good thing! Not that many years ago (4 years ago to be exact) hemp was coming out of the dark ages here in the United States. Crushing regulations since the middle of the 20th century on cannabis, and by proxy industrial hemp, kept most production at a minimum. However, since the Farm Bill of 2018 took full effect in 2019, the stigma of growing hemp has been eroding fast. 

With more states legalizing hemp production, farmers are now able to cultivate this versatile crop and reap its many benefits. Industrial hemp acreage has increased significantly in recent years, and it is expected to continue to grow as more farmers become aware of its potential. The differences between hemp and cannabis are vast, in fact, many botanists have been lobbying for the two to be separated into their own specific subspecies. However, both are still classified as different varieties of the species, Cannabis Sativa.

A real quick recap – 

  • Cannabis is grown for the high THC levels and used for its psychotropic effects
  • Industrial hemp is grown for long stalks, which include fiber and hurd (woody core) that are commonly used in industrial applications. It has virtually no THC. 

Industrial hemp historically was used for cords and ropes, and verified carbon dating has shown its use all the way back to about 4,000 BC (some estimates are even back to 8,000 BC!). It is now experiencing a well-deserved resurrection due to all the benefits it offers.

Hemp production in the United States is still a highly regulated industry due to its close association with marijuana, and the USDA has set up strict regulations to ensure that hemp production is done in a safe and legal manner. From cultivation to manufacturing, every step of the process is subject to strict rules and guidelines including licensing requirements, testing standards, and labeling requirements.

USDA Data on Industrial Hemp

The latest report on hemp statistics comes from the USDA and gives us a look a quite a few data points. The USDA fortunately, divides the types of hemp into three main categories to clarify the farming data: 

  • Floral Hemp: This term refers to hemp plants that are grown specifically for their flowers, which contain high levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, as well as other cannabinoids like CBD. These types of hemp are often grown for the purpose of producing medical or recreational cannabis products and can be cultivated using various techniques such as indoor or outdoor growing, hydroponics, or other specialized methods.
  • Industrial Hemp: This term typically refers to the non-intoxicating varieties of the hemp plants that are cultivated for industrial purposes such as fiber, seed, and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBD. These varieties are often characterized by their tall and sturdy stalks and have been used for thousands of years to make products such as rope, paper, textiles, and building materials.
    • Industrial Grain: Refers to strains of the hemp plant that are cultivated for their seeds, which are rich in protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients. These seeds can be eaten whole or processed into various forms such as hemp oil, protein powder, or hemp hearts. Grain hemp is typically grown for industrial purposes and is legal in many countries, including the United States, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Grain hemp is also used for animal feed, fuel, and a variety of other products, and has gained popularity in recent years as a superfood due to its many health benefits.
    • Industrial Fiber: Refers to strains of the hemp plant that are grown specifically for their long, strong fibers, which can be used to make a variety of products such as textiles, paper, and building materials. These types of hemp are typically taller and thinner than other strains, with less branching and smaller flowers. They are harvested before the plant produces seeds to ensure the highest quality fiber, and the stalks are often processed using specialized equipment to remove the outer bark and separate the fibers for various uses. Fiber hemp is legal to grow in many countries, including the United States, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp fiber is considered to be an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to many traditional materials and has a long history of use in various cultures around the world.

The USDA reports yields on industrial hemp of 530 lbs of seed and about 2,600 lbs of fiber per acre. Heartland has seen similar numbers on grain and a bit higher fiber yields, as high as 5,000 lbs. per acre in our most productive fields. The report also shows that nearly every state has some industrial hemp production, with only Idaho reporting zero, and Alaska, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island not disclosing individual data. However, their totals are included in the national numbers.  

Heartland is Increasing Industrial Hemp Production for 2023/24

In Michigan, we are increasing the production of industrial hemp annually. For 2023, we have about 2,000 acres dedicated solely to grain and fiber hemp. To put that into perspective, the data from the USDA reported just four states (Colorado, Montana, Minnesota, and Utah) harvesting over 2,000 acres of industrial hemp in 2021. With some Heartland showcase test fields (Michigan and other states) planting as early as April, we will see a full 90-day + grow cycles that will produce plants in excess of 12 ft. tall. 

Most of the crops, however, will be planted in July to coincide with the end of the summer harvests in Michigan. By following the summer cycle, land that was either fallow or growing a non-revenue-producing cover crop will now be earning money for the farmers. By planting industrial hemp, the farmers not only produce a phenomenal cover crop (hemp is one the best at restoring soil and nutrients), but they will also be able to sell the biomass through an established offtake path provided by Heartland. 

If you think 2023 looks good, for 2024 we’re planning for over 10,000 acres in Michigan alone! Again, to put that into perspective, the USDA counted only 33,480 harvested acres of industrial hemp total (all 50 states) in 2021! Year over year we will see exponential growth in industrial hemp acreage, in Michigan and all over the country. Where else do we see expansion for Heartland? Places like Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and a host of others. The potential reach of Heartland’s hemp-growing regions are almost endless, as hemp can be cultivated in so many places. 

Where Exactly Can Hemp Fiber be Grown? 

Since hemp is such a robust plant it can essentially grow in a wide range of climates and environments including:

  • Temperate regions: Hemp grows well in temperate climates with well-distributed rainfall or adequate irrigation. Examples of these regions include North America, Europe, and parts of Asia such as China and Russia.
  • Tropical and subtropical regions: Hemp can be grown in tropical and subtropical regions. Of course, factors like high temperatures, humidity, and intense sunlight can impact hemp growth. it can still be cultivated successfully with proper adjustments to the planting schedule, irrigation, and choice of cultivar.
  • Altitude: Hemp can be grown at various altitudes, from sea level to high elevations up to 6,000 feet.
  • Soil: Hemp can be cultivated in a variety of soil types, and many times prefers well-drained, nutrient-rich, loamy soils. But the best news is that it is highly tolerant of even less ideal soil conditions. Hemp has a very long tap root, and seeks out water to thrive in very dry conditions. It can also be good for the soil. In fact, hemp is used widely as a cover crop, to help regenerate nutrients after damaging crops and/or years of monocropping. 

So in essence, industrial hemp can be grown almost anywhere. In fact, maps show hemp growing from the 55th parallel south to the 55th parallel north. The area spans from southern Canada down to Argentina; Russia to New Zealand. It can be grown virtually on all known farmland on the planet. Contrary to popular belief, hemp can even be grown in equatorial zones – known for their high temperatures, high humidity, and intense sunlight throughout the year. 

Successful hemp farmers will consider the following:

  • Choosing the appropriate cultivars: Select hemp varieties that are better adapted to the specific environmental conditions of the chosen region. Most strains like to be planted where they were grown, from a latitude perspective. 
  • Planting schedule: In the equatorial region, the day length remains relatively constant throughout the year. This can impact the photoperiod response of hemp plants. Adjust the planting schedule to take advantage of the optimal growth conditions and to avoid potential issues related to flowering and maturation.
  • Irrigation: In many regions, water distribution can be irregular. While hemp can grow in wet or dry conditions, farmers need to ensure proper irrigation and drainage to avoid water logging or drought stress.
  • Managing pests: Warmer and humid climates can make hemp plants more susceptible to pests and diseases. Hemp is a natural pesticide (most insects just don’t like it!). However, farmers should implement a proactive pest and disease management plan to minimize any potential risks.
  • Monitor and adjust growing conditions: Regularly monitor soil conditions, temperature, and humidity, and adjust your cultivation practices as needed to optimize hemp growth.

With proper management and adjustments, it is possible to grow hemp just about anywhere. This will allow Heartland to expand production to meet our customers’ demands, with few restrictions on regionality. 

Industrial Hemp Farming is Helping US Farmers Make a Comeback

Hemp farming is quickly becoming a viable option for US farmers looking to make a comeback. Since the legalization of hemp in 2018, farmers have been given the opportunity to grow and sell hemp products, which has created entirely new markets for them. Heartland is working towards the commoditization of industrial hemp in a variety of manufacturing sectors including automotive/mobility, packaging, building products, and a host of polymer (plastics) applications. 

Because hemp has so many new uses, it’s helping farmers make a comeback in a variety of ways:

  • Diversifying crops: Hemp is a versatile crop that can be used for a variety of products, including fiber applications for materials, and grain used as protein supplements. By adding hemp to their crop rotations, farmers can diversify their income streams and reduce their dependence on traditional crops such as corn and soybeans.
  • Improving soil health: Hemp has deep roots that can penetrate and break up compacted soil, and it is also known to absorb and remove toxins from the soil. By rotating hemp with other crops, farmers can improve the health and fertility of their soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Creating new revenue streams: Hemp is a high-value crop that can be sold for a variety of uses, including food, fiber, and medicine. By growing hemp, farmers can tap into new markets and potentially earn higher profits than they would with traditional crops.
  • Providing opportunities for small farmers: Hemp is a relatively low-cost crop to grow, and it can be grown on smaller plots of land than some other crops. This makes it a potentially attractive option for small farmers who may not have the resources to grow large-scale commodity crops.
  • Promoting sustainable agriculture: Hemp is a crop that can be grown using organic or regenerative farming practices. By promoting the use of hemp, farmers can help reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and promote more environmentally friendly practices.

From providing an eco-friendly alternative to traditional materials to creating jobs and boosting the economy, hemp production has the potential to revolutionize the way we live. Hemp can be used for everything from textiles and paper products to food and fuel. In addition, hemp can help reduce pollution levels by using fewer chemicals during production than other crops, not to mention its spectacular carbon sequestration prowess. The benefits of hemp production are far-reaching and will have a positive impact on US consumers, farmers, and businesses alike.

Join us in creating a carbon negative future.

Heartland Team