Industrial hemp production in Georgia

Summary

Since 2019 We have been leading applied research efforts for production of industrial hemp in Georgia through multiple trials located across the state.

Situation

Industrial hemp was legalized federally with the 2018 farm bill and in Georgia with the passage of House Bill 213 in May 2019. The market for CBD-related products derived from industrial hemp is projected to reach $24 billion in the U.S. by 2023. In 2020 Georgia planted its first legal hemp crop in many decades. Approximately 80 farmers were granted licenses to produce hemp during the 2020 season. While acreage is generally low (<400 acres for the state), the input costs are quite high for this crop. Per acre investment ranges from $6000 to more than $14,000 based on informal discussions with growers. Based on estimates from agricultural economists at The University of Georgia (https://extension.uga.edu/topic-areas/field-crop-forage-turfgrass-production/hemp.html) an average investment of $10,000/acre is likely. Therefore, despite limited acreage, the overall investment is significant for growers. Georgia previously did not participate in the hemp pilot program as authorized by the 2014 farm bill and we only have one season (2019) of trial information available for growers. Further, many people interested in hemp production are new to agriculture and are unfamiliar with many common practices. Therefore, a robust program to develop research-based recommendations for variety performance, fertility programs, pathogen and pest management and general production practices is necessary to help with this young industry.

Response

In June 2019 variety trials for industrial hemp grown for CBD production were initiated at 3 University of Georgia research sites (Blairsville, Watkinsville, and Tifton). These 3 locations represent unique climate zones within the state. In 2020 trials were expanded significantly and focused on Northeast and Southwest Georgia (locations with most interest) to include the following: Use of chloropicrin, which has an “all crops” label as a preplant fumigant under plastic mulch and under solid tarp applications in North East (Watkinsville) and South Georgia (Moultrie) locations in partnership with Triest AG group. This trial included multiple rates of Pic-Chlor 60 applied under plastic mulch and broadcast applied to fields under a solid tarp for bareground production. Variety trials were conducted in in both locations as well featuring over 30 unique varieties. Fertility studies (nitrogen levels) were conducted at Fort Valley State University in a joint collaboration. Planting date and population studies were conducted at the Watkinsville site as well. Further trials evaluating drying technologies and heavy metal uptake are also ongoing. Approximately 5 acres of hemp were grown in field trials in 2020. In addition, Dr. Coolong conducted more than a dozen county and regional meetings were held in the winter of 2020 with close to 1,000 attendees discussing hemp production and economics and published 2 extension bulletins for hemp production.

Impact

Variety trial work conducted in 2020 indicates that there is significant variation within given variety for phenotypical characteristics. Some varieties that performed well in 2019 and had very distinctive phenotypes, were highly variable and appeared different in 2020. This suggests that even within a named variety that genetic variation is substantial, leading to challenges when making variety recommendations. This also suggests that farmers will have difficulty in planning production and should not limit themselves to a single variety based on prior experiences. We are also evaluating the variation of cannabinoids within a population, which may provide data for those breeding Cannabis. The fumigant trial results suggest that preplant fumigation in both bare-ground tarp and plastic mulch systems are effective for disease and weed management. However, the cost associated with each may limit their use in typical field situation. Planting date trials suggested that Georgia growers can use autoflower types of hemp in early planting windows (March-May) to take advantage of the long growing season. While these types tend to grow poorly in warm weather, they grew quite well in the early spring. Growers could use autoflower types in combination with common daylength sensitive types to produce several crops per year in Georgia, ultimately increasing revenue for Georgia farmers. The data generated from these trials is the only research-based information generated for Georgia production of industrial hemp and is important for this small, but growing industry.

State Issue

Plant Production

Details

  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: State
  • County: Oconee
  • Location: Coastal Plain Station, Tifton
  • Program Areas:
    • Agriculture & Natural Resources
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Author

    Coolong, Tim

Collaborator(s)

CAES Collaborator(s)

  • Kichler, Jeremy M
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Research Impact