Heirloom farmer Nat Bradford’s half-acre hemp “genetics research lab” from last year expanded to six acres this year, but he’s still having fun with the experimentation and plans to have a net income this go ’round.
Bradford spoke last week from his family farm on DuBose Siding Road in the northern part of Sumter County on his new hemp-farming strategy and how the varied crop fared from small wind gusts from Hurricane Dorian.
After Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, Bradford was one of 20 farmers in a state pilot program permitted to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. He was the only farmer who headed in the agricultural grain production route with hemp for culinary use as a food oil.
Others were experimenting with hemp for Cannabidiol – or CBD – production. CBD has attracted attention for its pharmaceutical effects and is used to treat epilepsy, depression, pain and other ailments.
After a year in the program, Bradford said he realized he couldn’t afford to be a “lone wolf” again on the grain side because the genetics has so far to go. Therefore, in year two, he decided to go the CBD route while still working on his grain production.
“If I want to stay in the game, then I have to swim with the rest of them,” Bradford said.
The result this year is 10,000 to 12,000 hemp plants for CBD production on the family farm.
Being an organic and seedsman farmer, Bradford said he planted all seeds and no clones. His method was the most inexpensive way to get into CBD production but the most work because there was no uniformity with the crop and more diversity than you can imagine.
The result has been somewhat of a hodgepodge of plants and a long growing season.
Some of the hemp plants were ready before last week as Dorian approached, so Bradford said he harvested them, and they are curing now.
The majority of the plants were left outside.
Some were like Christmas trees in form, others were more of a bush form.
“Some made it, some didn’t,” Bradford said.
He said he still loves it and is excited about cloning for next year.
“I’m really excited,” Bradford said. “This crop is not that perfect row crop where everything looks like soldiers. That’s not happening this year. But, what I am excited about is doing the clone-hunting out in the fields here.”
He said he hopes to find five to 10 “amazing specimens” and clone them to plant next year.
He will plant them on his own farm and said he hopes to have 2,000 acres in joint ventures with other farmers next year.
In four to five years, if and when the CBD market gets saturated, then he will be ready with his grain genetics, he said.