A Seed’s Course
From Seeding to Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods
Producing a high-quality hemp crop starts well before the seed goes into the ground. With the right planning, hemp helps break weed, disease, and pest cycles. Proper planning also means minimum crop inputs are needed.
At Manitoba Harvest we have a dedicated Farm Services Team that partners directly with over 100 Western Canadian farmers. We contract both certified organic and conventional acres. Our Farm Services Team provides agronomic advice, shares quality tips, coordinates field trials, and helps foster information-sharing networks. Over the past five years, Manitoba Harvest has consistently contracted the majority of all Canadian hemp acres.
Hemp is a photosensitive plant. Around mid-to-late May, farmers plant non-GMO certified seed that they’ve bought from a certified seed grower. There are about a dozen different seed varieties to choose from, each with slightly different characteristics. For example, some varieties produce a small sized seed whereas other varieties are shorter and easier to harvest.
Seeding into a clean field is essential for hemp. Once hemp starts growing it can outcompete weeds so herbicides are not needed. Seed is planted using what’s called a seeder – equipment that uniformly and mechanically sows the seed. Seed is planted shallow, with good seed-to-soil contact to ensure seedlings are protected from the environment. Uniform placement helps with rapid establishment of a healthy vigorous plant stand that can outcompete weeds.
With good growing conditions, emergence will occur within four to seven days. Seedlings can generally withstand mild spring frost during this initial growth period. The only thing seedlings really don’t like at this stage is excess water.
In-Crop Growing Cycle (Grow Baby, Grow)
By July, hemp crops will already be a few feet tall and starting to look a bit like mini lush trees. Hemp has a broad leaf that naturally suppresses light, further helping to outcompete weeds. Throughout July and August the hemp plants will grow quite quickly. Depending on variety, hemp that is grown for food purposes can grow four to five feet during this period. You will also start seeing seeds developing at the top of the plant, hidden under the leafy part.
Hemp is commonly dioecious, meaning that there are distinguishable male and female plants. The male plant pollinates the female plant and then dies off, leaving only the female plants for harvesting. At this stage you will see green (female) and brown plants (males).
Hemp reaches maturity after around 100 to 120 days. Farmers will know it’s time to harvest by the colour of the plants, maturation of seeds, and grain moisture (something farmers monitor frequently close to harvest). Harvest is often the trickiest part of growing hemp.
For hemp food crops, farmers only want the top foot or two of the plants where the seed is and use a combine to harvest. Straight-cutting is the recommended approach. Hemp fibre is among the most durable in the world, so farmers want to limit how much of the hemp plant stock goes into their machines. Farmers should slow down equipment speeds and carefully watch that stock or fibre is not wrapping around any parts of the equipment.
Before harvested seed is stored in grain silos, seed gets dried and cleaned (a process that removes foreign materials like twigs and other kernels that may have made their way into the equipment). Hemp is a food product that receives very little processing. Excess moisture during storage can cause bacteria, yeast, and mould. This is why farmers need to frequently monitor the moisture levels of stored hemp seed and aerate bins as needed.
At Manitoba Harvest we ask for seed samples right after harvest and again right before we have seed delivered to our manufacturing facility. Our Farm Services and Quality Control Teams work year-round with farmer-partners, monitoring the on-farm stored seed quality. The Farm Services Team also works year-round, coordinating seed deliveries into our facility so products are made fresh to order.