Nevada’s hemp industry: Farmers tour greenhouses in Lovelock
Nevada News Group
LOVELOCK, Nev. — Last month, farmers thinking about hemp had an inside look at a local source of hemp seed and seedlings.
During a March 7 open house at 5 Star Botanicals, seed producers explained the risks and benefits of a potentially lucrative but demanding crop and offered to share their expertise with new growers.
Hemp requires precise planting and harvesting to yield high levels of CBD. If the crop is not handled correctly each step of the way, it can become “hot” with high levels of unwanted THC.
As of March 7, hundreds of female hemp plants in the company’s two greenhouses in the Lovelock Industrial Area were on tap to be pollinated to produce high-CBD, low-THC hemp seed and seedlings, said 5 Star co-owner Rich Thompson.
He uses rigorous genetic tests to determine which hemp plants will provide the best pollen for seed production.
“I tested all of these plants to prove they are type 3 CBD cannabis,” he said. “A few failed the test and were removed. When the test came up negative, that indicates type 1, 2 or 4 which we don’t want. We want to grow type 3 for the highest level of CBD and lowest level of THC.”
THE POLLINATION PROCESS
Thompson’s passion for hemp was obvious as Thompson showed off one of his best pollen producers.
“This plant has so much pollen, it could literally pollinate both sides of the greenhouse,” he told a visitor. “But, we have five plants that are the best and we’re going to combine all that pollen to give us an excellent mix of genetics to pollinate the whole greenhouse.”
Bees will be deployed inside the pesticide-free greenhouses to assist with pollination, 5 Star co-owner David Graves told visitors; seeds were scheduled to be available in April.
Thompson recommended farmers start with seedlings and take advantage of their hemp expertise to increase the chances of success.
“With the seed or seedling purchase, you get all of our assistance — the drone assistance, soil testing, up to five free cannabinoid tests,” he explained. “When we buy an in-house machine and a chemist that can do the testing, then we’ll do more than five tests. We’ll be out there when the Nevada Department of Agriculture collects crop samples to make sure they do it correctly.”
The company — which is a subsidiary of Seed Money LLC, headquartered in Incline Village — will help growers nail down reliable markets for their hemp, Thompson said.
“A lot of farmers ask the same question. What about getting rid of the crop?” he said. “I don’t want to grow acres and acres of this and then sit on it. We are working on those avenues to sell the products so it makes sense to grow 30 acres or a hundred acres of hemp.”
‘EASILY COMPETING WITH THE ALFALFA MARKET’
If handled correctly, hemp could be more lucrative than alfalfa, Graves told visitors.
“Even if you’re only hitting 7 percent biomass, because you had to harvest early, but you’re still at 4,000 pounds per acre, you’re looking at $14,000 per acre,” he explained. “Profit for alfalfa right now is $600 an acre. We’re talking about easily competing with the alfalfa market.”
Any irrigation system will do the job as long as water is correctly delivered to each plant.
“The seedlings need to be watered by sprinklers for about two weeks. We would do that in trays,” Thompson said. “Flood irrigation would be applied after you plant them in the field, if that’s the system you have. We don’t recommend any type of irrigation system because any way you can give the plant water will work, whether it’s flood, drip or pivot irrigation.”
Aerial robots, meanwhile, will monitor plants at the company’s CBD hemp farm near Gerlach.
“We’ll be using drones to help keep an eye on hundreds of acres of hemp. It’s impossible to do it precisely without some assistance,” Thompson said. “They will be outfitted with a multi-spectral camera to monitor plant health, soil moisture and to detect male plants. Even with feminized seed, you are going to have a few males.
“The drone will log any problem areas whether it be a male we need to kill, an area that’s not getting water or that might need some special nutrients.”
Hemp must be harvested before THC exceeds the level allowed by the state, Thompson said.
“Once it gets close to harvest, we’re going to be testing that crop regularly, almost by the day, so we can harvest it in that perfect window to avoid going hot but with a decent amount of CBD,” he said.
Alfalfa farmer Brian Engelson of Lander County said he might plant hemp on a small section of land but he knows the risks after another farmer’s hemp crop failed due to a weed infestation.
Bill Ferrall, of Incline Village, who owns the business’s parent company, Seed Money LLC, said new hemp growers like Engelson and others could benefit from his staff’s hemp expertise.
“The learning curve is steep,” Ferrall said. “If you have help on your first or second grow, you’ll be much better off.”
After the Gerlach harvest, workers may be needed to process the hemp in Lovelock.
“That farm is right on the Pershing County border,” Ferrall said. “We’ll be growing 260 acres of hemp. Our goal is to process it ourselves and keep it for our own hemp products. It will be all organic. During the growing season from June to September, we’ll have a lot of people that work out in Gerlach.
“Once we harvest then we’ll bring that work here so we will need some help.”
The Lovelock operation could eventually include production of “all things CBD” such as tinctures and gummies, lotions and soaps. But, the company needs hemp farmers, Ferrall said.
“Our focus is farmers first,” he said. “Without that, we don’t have anything in the future so we want to make sure farmers are successful and not being taken advantage of like what is happening all over the country.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.