Marijuana Business Magazine July 2019

Marijuana Business Magazine | July 2019 114 Storing Hemp for Food and Fiber Traditionally, industrial hemp has two main commercial uses: food and fiber. Following are tips for storing hemp, depending on the intended end product: Food: Hemp grain storage is often kept on-farm in Canada. Because hempseed and grain are food products, Health Canada stipulates that they must be stored in clean, dry, aerated and locked bins. These can be similar to the steel bins used for corn, wheat and other crops, but unlike those grains, which are often heavily processed, hemp is served as a raw food, according to Russ Crawford, president of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA). “It needs to be monitored all the way through the cycle of good agricultural collection practices to make sure that you’re protecting the integrity in our food safety all the way through,” Crawford said. “So, it requires a lot more hands-on and close monitoring than your traditional cereal and oilseed crops. The on-farm, direct-to-processor value chain will continue to exist for now. That’s because currently there isn’t a need for hemp to be stored under a cooperative-type model in a grain elevator because of the relatively low volume of hemp being produced. But this could change with the influx of producers entering the U.S. market. “If we get to a million or 5 million acres, that’s different,” Crawford said. “Now we start to see the need for some kind of commercial storage, but initially it’s just not going to happen.” Fiber: Trey Riddle, CEO of Sunstrand, a Kentucky-based natural fiber manufacturer, said he has always received field-retted hemp straw in plastic-wrapped round bales from his contracted growers. Similar to large, round bales used for storing hay as feed for animals, hemp bales can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and offer compact storage, he said. “We process millions of pounds of material, so we only take it in bale format,” Riddle said. “But it has to be baled dry, at a low moisture content like 12%, so it does not mold in storage. Farmers often wrap them in plastic, but if there is moisture in there, then it gets trapped and can get moldy. It has to be stored dry, preferably in a barn, or at a minimum under a tarp outside.” According to the CHTA, the retting (or controlled rotting) of hemp fiber is a process most commonly done on the field when fiber is cut. But it can also be done in water or chemical baths. The retting process helps break down the fiber to make it more flexible. Once retted, hemp fiber and straw are baled, wrapped in plastic to shield against ultraviolet light and stored or shipped to manufacturers. Tom Dermody, vice president of operations for Denver- based hempseed company Bija Hemp, said with larger volumes of hemp fiber likely to be processed in the United States, farmers might need to consider moving to an expedited system to deliver it more quickly. “The discussion at the moment—especially with farmers interested in fiber in the United States—is that they’re going to need to move away from field retting and go to a chemical-based retting process so you can harvest and process the material in a fraction of the time that would be more traditionally available to the fiber side in Southeast Asia,” Dermody said. While wrapped bales of hemp straw can be kept in a barn or under a tarp outdoors for years if baled dry, too much exposure to light can break down the integrity of the fiber and make it weaker. As it matures, fiber quality can degrade over time as well. “Bales can be stored for three to five years if stored appropriately. But it could be fresh off the field and still be junk and not have been stored at all,” Riddle said. “There’s a lot of quality-control issues around the crop itself and how it’s harvested beyond storage.” One of these is ensuring the hempseed hasn’t gone to flower, as that will ultimately reduce the fiber quality and value, according to Riddle. Corticated fiber bales, or cottonized fiber, must be kept in an indoor warehouse to protect fiber from the elements, he said. – Laura Drotleff Ground hemp biomass is often stored in large canvas grain bags, and fiber is most commonly stored in plastic-wrapped round bales. Photo courtesy of Hemptown