From the Field to the Market
The final steps in the growing process include harvesting and drying. This is the most crucial aspect for a CBD hemp grower because it can go terribly wrong if not done properly and mindfully. They can spend an entire growing season watching it grow from small plants to large Christmas trees successfully yielding an abundant and healthy crop, but a mismanaged or failed approach to drying plant material can completely ruin months of hard work. This is an expensive error that could cost farmers thousands of dollars depending on the cultivation scale.
The majority of the problem arises from the lack of knowledge or resources for the post-harvest step, not from the actual harvesting. This is due in part to the ease of successfully harvesting crops from the small scale to the large, compared to the final step of drying. However, this is not to say that there aren’t issues and hardships to the harvesting process as there are significant challenges farmers have to contend with, but the task of drying faces more risks. Farmers need to balance the needs of making a profit while ultimately ensuring clean and safe plant material for consumption. Drying hemp flower requires patience, knowledge of the phytochemistry, and many resources in order to successfully complete the postharvest process.
What It Takes to Dry Properly
When growers understand the complex nature of the cannabis plant, they are better able to provide it with the necessary conditions to help it thrive. This truly benefits the farmer for being able to produce high-quality material and the consumers appreciate a product rich in flavor and cannabinoids. Growers achieve quality hemp flowers by understanding cannabis’ basic plant structures, namely the trichomes (resinous glands that hold the prized cannabinoids and terpenes), because it helps them to determine the harvest time and ensures the trichomes remain intact during the harvest and drying processes. When these plants are dried properly, their flavor and potency integrity are maintained. The texture of the flower is also crucial for producing a high-quality product. One should not be able to crumble a flower bud by merely picking it up, and if that occurs, then a consumer knows the grower botched the drying process (Morrow, 2020).
Once gathered from the field, the plants need to be moved into a space that can control the elements. These plants are full of moisture when they are harvested and the drying process makes sure that the moisture is removed and makes for a quality final product. The drying area needs to have good airflow, have the ability to block sunlight, and be able to mitigate climate factors. The reason that sunlight needs to be blocked is due to the UV rays, since they impact the cannabinoid content by causing degradation and also affect the terpene content, which is an important feature in both the smokable market and extract market. Airflow is a crucial element because it circulates the moisture that is released from the plants, for it reduces the possibility of bacterial growth caused by stagnant air. The climate needs to be in a specific range of temperature and humidity. The temperature needs to be between 60 and 70 degrees, meanwhile the humidity range needs to be around 60% (Hemp Logic, 2019). Anyone growing floral hemp needs to invest in equipment and tools to monitor the climate and modulate the humidity. Mold formation and other issues can easily occur if the drying environment is not properly set up and managed, which would ultimately damage the crop. When the drying space has all of the right components, growers will have a much easier time managing their crop because they won’t have to worry about their plant material getting ruined.
Besides the drying room environment, another factor to be aware of is the physical step of breaking down the actual plant and ensuring a large enough space for the operation. The size of each one will determine how much to dismantle. People can dry their whole plant as is by hanging it upside down, but that will cause it to collapse into an umbrella shape, which impedes the ability to release the moisture from the flowers in the center of the plant (Place, 2019). It is best to break down the plant by cutting its branches into manageable pieces, since this ensures airflow and allows the crop to dry evenly. It is also very important to consider the amount of space the drying area possesses. The size of the plants and the scale of the crop dictates the location and options for drying. Warehouses, greenhouses, barns, and other large facilities may be necessary to house the plants; if the scale is smaller, then garages and tents could be adequate. The reason for this factor is due to the water content each plant possesses. The larger the plant and the number of plants will require a lot of room to release the moisture, since it could provide suitable conditions for mold growth. Each plant needs proper spacing from its neighbor otherwise the risk for mold increases.
How to Avoid Drying Issues
Unfortunately, there are many ways people can mismanage the post-harvest step, from not understanding how the plant dries to not providing the proper environment. Some suggestions to avoid drying issues involve knowledge, patience, proper equipment, and other supplies. The first recommendation is to start small if growers are new to working with this plant. The room for error is not as grave if the scale of the operation is small. Only grow an amount one can harvest, dry, and store properly, for this ultimately saves farmers money, time, and stress (Drotleff, 2020).
Another piece of advice is to determine when the crop needs to be harvested in order to get the drying space prepared. Do not wait until the last minute because it risks the integrity of the crop. To be prepared for drying, a lot of wet material requires providing the right amount of space, supplies to hang up or lay plants on screens, and the equipment to ensure appropriate climate conditions. In regard to the drying room environment, the space needs to be kept meticulously clean. If there is dirt or dust in the room, this will get circulated around the plants and blanket the trichomes. There is no way to clean off plants that have been coated with this contamination, thus ruining the crop. Ensuring a clean space also significantly reduces the possibility of hosting mold and other bacterial growth.
The other important factor of drying is the speed in which it takes to dry the plants. Do not rush this process because it impacts the quality for the final product. The flowers need time to release their moisture without hosting suitable mold conditions. There is a balance to the appropriate amount of time to derive flower material that is dense (meaning it holds its shape without crumbling or feeling too wet), so the final product should not be too dry or too wet. It is important to maintain the cannabinoids and terpenes with this step because this produces a superior product. The plants are ready when they yield a snap from bending their stalk.
Farmers need to consider where they are going to dry their crop as well as contemplate how they are going to dry it. They need to think about their options in terms of which resources they possess and lack. It is an important starting point to figure out if drying can be done outside under a tent, in a barn, or in a warehouse. Farmers need to be involved throughout this process to check on plant material as time progresses, so as to maintain airflow and other climate conditions. Being hands-on reduces mistakes by observing the process and modulating certain components.
Farmers and any grower of floral hemp need to understand that it is not just about growing these plants in the best way possible, for there are many steps that follow the growing process. The harvesting step needs to be undertaken with care and requires skilled laborers to gather the material efficiently and carefully. Finally, the drying process can ultimately make or break the crop. All the hard work can go to waste when drying is rushed or if the drying space did not have the right climate elements, therefore making the crop unsellable. It is important to understand the many nuances of this crop as there is a lot of room for error. It requires a deep understanding of the plant, the growing environment, and ultimately the drying conditions. In order to make a profit selling the biomass or flowers, the drying step cannot be rushed and requires full attention.
Drotleff, L. (2020). Insiders share harvest, storage tips to avoid costly mistakes in hemp farming. Marijuana Business Daily. Retrieved from https://hempindustrydaily.com/insiders-share-tips-on-harvesting-industrial-hemp-and-storage/
Place, G. (2019). How to Harvest and Dry Hemp for CBD Production. Retrieved from https://catawba.ces.ncsu.edu/2019/02/drying-hemp-for-cbd-production/
Morrow, K. (2020). The Problem with Drying Cannabis. Cannabis Business Times. Retrieved from https://www.cannabisbusinesstimes.com/article/the-problem-with-drying-cannabis-craft-quality-at-scale/
Hemp Logic. (2019). What’s your Plan? How Are You Drying Your Industrial Hemp Crop?. Retrieved from https://www.hemplogicusa.com/2019/08/01/whats-your-plan-how-are-you-drying-your-industrial-hemp-crop/