By: Dan Glenn, Director of Nursery Services
The First Step to a Good Grow is a Good Start
It’s been quite a long time since cannabis was legally grown in the fields of South Georgia, but 2020 is the start of a new era. There hasn’t been a cash crop with as much buzz as hemp in quite some time, and the opportunity to bring this potential money maker into the rotation is exciting for Georgia farmers.
Second Century Ag brings together an experienced team that had a highly successful grow on 130 acres in Tennessee in 2019. From breeding to dry down, the farmers overcame the challenges of the heavy soils and hills of Appalachia to produce a hefty crop with amazing CBD content. Utilizing existing infrastructure and equipment from the tobacco industry helped make the season less complicated and mitigated the unknowns of unproven equipment and technology. We brought this very model to South Georgia and have brokered key relationships with successful tobacco growers to add another crop to their offering.
In 2020, Second Century chose a handful of farmers with whom to partner to blaze the path of hemp in Georgia. We contracted around 150 acres on 10 different sites stretching from the Flint to the Ohoopee River basins. Our goal in year one is to have our partner farmers gain experience with the crop and understand the fertility, water, and pest management strategies for a successful grow. In addition, they will gain experience with timely testing, harvest, and dry down. There will be many challenges with growing a new crop in a southeastern climate, but we have talented support staff and some of the most knowledgeable and experienced farmer-partners to mitigate these obstacles together.
The first step in a successful grow is a good start, and by that I mean a good clone. Choosing a variety that will thrive in South Georgia heat and survive the pest stress of our area, with a cannabidiol profile that won’t climb too fast after flower, is critical to having a successful and legal harvest. Presently, in order to meet national and state testing guidelines, hemp plants must maintain a threshold below 0.3% total THC. Most hemp varieties that have been developed to date will exceed this limit if allowed to reach full maturity. Therefore, it is imperative under these stringent requirements to frequently test the plant for THC content shortly after the plant enters the flowering phase of growth. Our prior experience breeding varieties with content that climbs consistently will help our testing protocols and steer our farmers to a legal harvest. Our breeders have bred in-house varieties with content that climbs slowly and predictably and has a great ratio of CBD to THC. These varieties have also been chosen for their ability to handle the challenges of South Georgia, and are excelling in the field.
One advantage that Second Century Ag and their constituent farmers have over most hemp operations is that we supply full-season scouting and grower support. Our team of scouts are walking each farmer’s field at least twice per week and monitoring plant health and addressing irrigation, disease, and pest pressures-as well as communicating recommendations on timing. The further into the season we get, the more we appreciate the strength and experience of the farm team we have assembled to execute our first-year goals.
Second Century has also created a relationship model that supplies clone plants at the cost of production to lower the input cost to the farmer. This greatly reduces the financial risk for our farmers and allows our contracts to be nationally competitive to purchase biomass for our processing facility at a lower cost. We believe this model will allow us to be a low-cost producer of CBD and compete in an international marketplace. We further this advantage by utilizing the expertise of the tobacco model. Our farmers plant, fertilize, cultivate, harvest, and dry similarly to practices used in tobacco production. The risk of new methods is mitigated by modeling decades of successful seasons in a similar industry.
Halfway into the season we see our top farmers producing outstanding crops, meeting and sometimes exceeding our expectations. As we carefully record the data points behind their success, we will continue to improve our protocols to see improvements in quality and yield for 2021. We look forward to expanding our footprint, continuing to refine our varieties, and putting Georgia and her farmers on the map for CBD hemp production-and hopefully creating a bright new start to the next century of agriculture.