The 5 Myths of Hemp Growth

By Portia Stewart

Myth 1: Hemp will grow itself—just throw some seed out and expect it to grow.

“It will grow, and a lot of people will point to the ditchweed and say, ‘See there, it does just fine.’ But nobody’s trying to make a living off that ditchweed,” he says. “This is something that we’re trying to make economically feasible on a large scale, and it’s going to take some management to be successful.” 

Myth 2: Hemp thrives on marginal soil. We don’t need to use our good crop land. 

“If you want a good economic return, it needs to be on better land,” he says. “Yes, it will grow on marginal land, but not grow and produce a profit.” 

Myth 3: It does not require a lot of fertilizer. 

“It does require some fertilizer if you want those economical yields,” Pearce says.  Studies are underway to determine the specific fertilizer needs for hemp production.  

Myth 4: There are no pests of hemp, and you don’t need to worry about insects or disease. 

“In certain situations that may be true, depending upon how we grow it,” he says. “However we’ve already identified a number of diseases and insect pests on hemp here in Kentucky. Your farming situation might be different. But in a humid environment like what we’ve got in Kentucky disease like powdery mildew are common. What we really don’t have a good handle on, is how much these disease and insects are costing us at the end of the season.” Currently there are no federally labelled pesticides to help us mange these pests.   

Myth 5: Hemp will be a direct replacement for tobacco in the ag economy. 

“It’s part of the solution for growers facing a declining tobacco market, but it’s not a plug-and-play,” Pearce says. “We can’t just take hemp seed and put it in the same place and try to make it work just like we would tobacco. One of my first experiences with growing hemp after the 2014 Farm Bill, I was going to produce some transplants. So what did I do? I went back to my experience with tobacco. I’ve been a tobacco specialist for 25 years. So I thought I would just put those hemp seeds in a tray on a float system. That didn’t work very well for hemp. I figured that out pretty quick.” 

|Yes, he says, we can use the previous knowledge and infrastructure we have from growing crops like tobacco, but it’s going to take some additional work as well. The agronomic challenges Pearce sees ahead include the lack of appropriate varieties adapted to regional climate, soils and day length conditions, lack of registered pesticides, and improvement of seed quality and planting methods to insure reliable stand establishment.

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