Hemp is a top choice for regenerative farming practices. What are the benefits and challenges of growing this crop?
Hemp in the US market
Since the Farm Bill was passed in two-thousand eighteen, federally legalizing the production and transport of hemp, the US has become one of the largest importers of hemp fabric, seed, and oil in the world. In addition to its multiple uses as food, fuel, fiber, and medicine that allows hemp to become an alternative to almost anything used in our daily lives, the crop has the ability to become a solution to climate change. Hudson Hemp, one of the first companies licensed to grow industrial hemp in New York State, has tapped into these qualities of hemp to make it part of the organic regenerative agriculture it practices.
Hudson Hemp’s transition to regenerative farming: Abby Rockefeller
In 2012, the farm was bought by Abby Rockefeller with an intention of converting the conventionally farmed land which had been left dormant at the time of purchased into a regenerative organic system. Hudson Hemp uses regenerative farming techniques which is a closed loop system putting more into the soil than it lets out. Freya Dobson, Brand and Partnership Coordinator at Hudson Hemp says, «The principle of regenerative agriculture is based on never leaving land exposed and incorporating a new crop to put the nutrients that were taken out while growing another crop».
The main principle that Hudson Hemp operates on is working with the intelligence of nature rather than against it. For this Dobson explains that the farming techniques matter the most. She says, «Hemp, a fast-growing crop which can sequester ten tons of carbon per acre of land in ninety days that fits well into organic regenerative practices.
But If you’re growing hemp as a commodity crop season after season in the same land then you’re still releasing carbon into the soil.
When Hudson Hemp first began growing hemp in 2017, Dobson says that the only way they could scale up cultivation was to grow it in a plastic, corn-based mulch. The mulch which covered the fields was helpful in preventing weeds, retaining moisture and preventing pests. When operating on regeneration though, she admits that the use of plastic on the farm, even if bio-based, is hard to justify. «What we’ve done is tune into natural cycles of farming through a process of contouring. We plant the hemp along the contour lines that mimic waterway systems for proper drainage and we plant different crops between the rows of hemp to prevent pests and insects from attacking the plants. We also focus on the labor of maintaining the fields each season. There needs to be more attention to detail and you need to be out in the field everyday but we now have a fully integrated regenerative system with no plastic use. We didn’t use plastic last season and it’s the plants are so much happier», says Dobson.
The principal goal of a regenerative agricultural system is to build and maintain the soil’s ability to recycle nutrients, to capture and hold water, and minimize the farm’s dependence on outside inputs. Farming in this way means there will be no waste and what is not used by one organism is energy for another. At Hudson Hemp, they practice a seven-year crop rotation of hemp which they are in their fifth year. Crop rotation means no single crop is grown on the same plot of land, with rotations of cover crops that put nutrients back into the soil.
Why hemp is a good choice for regenerative agriculture
Hemp is a soil remediator which means it has the ability to clean the soil, pull heavy metal and toxins from the soil. Besides removing soil contaminants, the deep roots of the plant also prevent soil erosion.
She says that hemp works as a natural pest and weed repellent, and requires less water, adding «We call hemp a weed, and that is true because it grows like weed – it can grow on so many different landscapes in many different climates. On our farm we have volunteer plants which are seeds that spread on their own and they pop up at random locations around the farm». Another quality of hemp is that helps build soil, which according to Dobson is the main element of regenerative agriculture. Hemp builds the topsoil by embracing natural biodiversity, which will then pull more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and back into the soil. She says, «Living soil versus dead soil. Soil has a full ecology in it that makes it living and healthy full of nutrients. Healthy soil in turn to recycle nutrients, capture and hold more water and sequester carbon thus reducing the farm’s dependence on outside influence. In short, healthy soil brings life to healthy plants».
Using regenerative farming for the betterment of plants and people
The main idea behind regenerative agriculture is that you are never growing the same crop in the same place. On Hudson Hemp’s agricultural approach, she explains, «When we harvest the hemp, we plant perennial grasses so we’re not leaving the land open and dormant, it’s being regenerated by another crop. We also do a strip tilling which just removes the top layer of the cover crop, allowing us to plant our next crop in the rotation directly into where the cover crop was planted. In addition, we also bring animals into the system with rotational grazing». With a mission to address global challenges including climate change and social inequality, Hudson Hemp has forged several partnerships. One of them is Hudson Carbon, a soil lab to monitor the plots on the farm with a goal of quantify the research behind the transition of the farm from conventional to regenerative. Not only creating a regenerative model that’s scalable, the research lab is also working towards setting up a digital platform for consumers to offset their carbon use from plots that are farmed in regenerative ways.
The plants grown on the farm are not only organic-regenerative and custom developed, but Dobson further says Hudson Hemp’s process to extract hemp for CBD and Cannabinoids aims to make full use of the plant’s potential. She explains that the process involves cryo-ethanol – or cold alcohol – extraction and a short-path distillation process to distill the Cannabinoids into a waxy ingredient that can be added to tincture, skin care, bath salts and soaps. Hudson Hemp «grow the plant, process the plant, extract it and use the distillate in products».
Small Farm Alliance of Cannabis Growers
Speaking on the war on drugs which hemp was looped into because it was part of the cannabis family, Dobson says that when we talk about hemp, we also need to have conversations of repairing the injustices connected to this plant and the reparations for the people who have been prison because of dealing in the world of cannabis. This is where organizations like Small Farm Alliance of Cannabis Growers with goals of keeping New York’s cannabis money in the state of New York itself as well as democratizing licenses, ensuring zoning immunity and creating environmentally conscious industry to limit risks of corporate takeover come in – the idea being to keep the farming of cannabis in the hands of farmers and people in the industry. She says, «The way we farm at Hudson Hemp regenerates the soil but also regenerates the community». Further, Hudson Hemp also commits to business practices that have positive outcomes for humanity and nature. Dobson makes a mention of Treaty, the company’s direct-to-consumer line of products. She explains, «The idea of its formula was inspired by landscape on our farms, nature resources and intelligence. We add botanicals from these supporting landscapes. The line shows how much there is to plant-based products and medicines that hasn’t been tapped into yet – whether using CBD for pain or inflammation, anxiety and stress, cognition and memory, or for overall wellness through the use of supporting botanicals».
The challenges of regenerative agriculture
Dobson explains that with regenerative agriculture, you’re still at the mercy of nature. While regeneration works by trying to work with the natural world instead of resisting it, the weather can be temperamental. She says, «Some summers are very wet while others we get no rain. So, if it’s a dry summer, you have to water more and if it’s wet then you need to keep watch on mold and mildew. The other thing is with pests or rodents, you’re not using the same type of pesticides and herbicides to keep them away so you need to figure out natural remedies». She continues, «One year we had corn borer, which we could burrow into the soil and damage the buds. Instead of spraying the plants with pesticides, we ordered parasitic wasps that would eat the corn borer. What you’re trying to do is mimic nature through farming and find the closest solution to the natural world».
The present and future of Hudson Hemp
Dobson concludes that hemp which can be split into two categories medicinal hemp and fiber hemp can be used for everything from food, medicines and supplements to papers, textiles, bath and hair products forms the basis of Hudson Hemp’s brand identity and mission. Aside from making full use of the crop’s versatility, creating resilient agricultural economies which value the work of farmers as well as begin a global discussion on the power of plant science and medicine are the goals that the company is working towards by innovating on the foundation of nature’s intelligence.
Brand and Partnership Coordinator at Hudson Hemp. Dobson who works in the New York-based company and leads in content, events and packaging at the company with her creativity and experience in communications