November 27, 2021

Harvest time for hemp farmers

Local growers have nearly finished process, or are about to begin

Todd R. McAdam/Managing Editor

Trevor Sherman of Dryden, right, watches Wednesday as workers Justin Watts of Lansing, left, and Randy Allen of Dryden hand cut hemp plants up to Luke Tesoriero of Homer and Tom Williams of Binghamton in Sherman’s first major hemp harvest.

If you’ve made the drive between Cortland and Dryden recently, you may have noticed that a certain fragrant something has disappeared: a big field of green stuff that looks and smells like marijuana — but isn’t marijuana — about halfway between the two areas.

That green stuff was hemp, and it’s no longer there because it’s harvest time.

The hemp fields in the area have either been harvested or are about to be harvested, said Trevor Sherman of Ithaca Organics.

Sherman is nearly there — he farms 40 acres in Freeville, and all but about 10 acres of that hemp has been harvested. The rest, he said, will be finished by the end of the week.

The hemp market generated more than $820 million in sales in the U.S. in 2017, up from $680 million in 2016, and is expected to swell to $1.9 billion by 2022, according to the Hemp Industries Association. About 10,000 acres of hemp were cultivated in the U.S. in 2016, more than doubling 26,000 acres in 2017 and 40,000 by 2018.

Another hemp farmer, Michael Casper of Casper Farms in Ithaca, has already completed his harvest; he harvested his 20-acre crop in September.

How does one harvest that much hemp?

With a machine, if you’ve got one. There are harvesting and even baling machines for this purpose, but neither Sherman nor Casper has them. They are too expensive, they said, and their operations are too small.

So how do they harvest their hemp?

“We tried a bunch of different things, from chainsaws to loppers to Weedwackers,” Sherman said.

Both hemp-growers use chainsaws and loppers; Casper also uses a weed wacker fitted with a circular-saw blade. Sherman, however, prefers loppers, because he hasn’t been able to get a Weedwacker to do the job right, and chainsaws worry him because he’s concerned about the safety of his employees.

All of these methods take time and a lot of physical exertion. But when it’s all done, then they have big piles of hemp to handle.

Much of that hemp they sold. Sherman, for instance, sold hemp by the tractor-trailer load to a company in Buffalo. The rest he divides between himself and a friend in Spencer, who process the hemp into CBD products.

Casper, too, sold off most of his crop in bulk.

“It was pretty much pre-sold,” he said.

Of the rest, part he sent for processing to Allan Gandelman of Main Street Farms in Cortland, and the rest he processed himself.

Schumer seeks regulations to help hemp industry

Sen. Chuck Schumer called Wednesday for streamlining federal regulations to help boost the burgeoning hemp industry.

In a conference call with reporters, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the lack of clear federal direction in regulation of the hemp industry and CBD products — particularly from the Federal Drug Administration — has led to confusion for growers and customers alike.

“There is a lot of confusion about CBD that is holding things back,” Schumer said. That stymies new businesses because investment is deemed to be risky because of the regulatory uncertainty.

“The bank will want guidelines before they invest,” he said.

He said a number of questions — about safety, proper dosage, health claims — needed to be answered soon.

“I’m asking the FDA to immediately issue guidance on the classification, labeling, quality, marketing, and sale of CBD products,” Schumer said.

The hemp crop this year didn’t run into too many challenges, Casper said. Last year, he had some concerns about mold because of the above-normal amount of rain. But this year, he had no such issues.

“Nothing whatsoever,” he said. “No molds, no pests, no nothing.”

Sherman, on the other hand, had problems with aphids.

“We did have a huge aphid problem this summer, which was a surprise,” he said.

He used organic sprays to try to get rid of them, but in retrospect he thinks he wasted time and money on the spray, because the aphids gradually went away without causing too much damage.

“There’s a cycle to the aphids, they just left. And that’s kind of what happens,” Sherman said. “It was a learning experience.”

Casper, however, was less surprised about aphids, and he was also prepared: He bought about 16,000 ladybugs for about $100 and released them as a precautionary measure.

“A lot of people in this business are just learning what to do,” he said. “But yeah, ladybugs are a trick.”