FDACS: Tips for Starting a Hemp Farm in Florida

Key Updates

  • As of June 8, 2020, the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (FDACS) has approved 321 hemp licenses. 900+ applications are still under review.
  • 39,000 hemp food establishments have received licenses to date.
  • The committee expects some growers to start harvesting this Summer. Most will start in Fall.
  • FDACS admits there are several unknowns for Florida growers, while offering helpful advice for a successful harvest.

In the latest FDACS Hemp Subcommittee meeting, members shared valuable insight for growers while warning they haven't written the book on best practices–yet. In short, a successful harvest starts with careful seed selection, continues with hyper vigilant testing throughout the growth cycle, and ends with a compliant plot. Here at ACS, we offer exclusive takeaways from hemp experts, research, and our own experience as the only DEA-registered designated laboratory to test hemp in the state of Florida.

Pro-Tips for Hemp Growers

  1. Choose your seed dealer wisely
  2. Choose your seeds or seedlings wisely
  3. Test early & often because some genetics will run hot
  4. Understand growth cycles
  5. Establish your vertical and your network

Choose Your Seed Dealer...

Under Florida’s Hemp Program, hemp growers may only purchase seeds or seedlings from licensed dealers. These dealers must either be part of an established state pilot program or certified by the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA). Certification means the seeds are genetically pure, which contributes to overall quality.

So if you’re purchasing seeds, make sure you're dealing with legitimate sources. That means you’ll need to verify they’re on Florida’s list of approved dealers first.

Selected Florida Hemp Pilot Programs

Selected Florida Certified Seed Dealers

For the full list of registered seed dealers, call FDACS at (850) 617-7866. There may be a charge involved, according to fdacs.gov.

...And Choose Your Seeds Wisely

Once you’ve selected a dealer, decide whether you’ll buy a seed or seedling. Then, carefully choose the genetics based on your land, growth method, and desired properties. Both seeds and seedlings can produce a healthy yield, but seedlings require less maintenance and are thus much more expensive to buy.

In fact, seedlings may cost 2-3 times more. So make your choice based on budget, experience, and capabilities. Once you’ve determined whether to purchase seeds or seedlings, it’s time to carefully select the genetics. While it may be tempting to buy a plethora of seeds to experiment with, this approach may waste time and resources.

The better strategy is to review summaries of pilot programs, as well as the COAs for each variety first. COAs provide extensive results of laboratory testing and will indicate which seeds have a tendency to produce “hot crops” that exceed the legal threshold of THC. They’ll also indicate attributes like size and CBD potency. For example, Lake Area Nursery provides information on the expected cannabinoid content, feminisation and germination rate, recommended seeds per acre, flowering time, and harvest date for each of its Sunbelt Hemp seeds.

Growers can also review this information on their website and verify it from their COAs and reports. Similarly, Green Point Research guarantees the performance of their seeds based on the results of verified third-party tests and internal field tests. This certified seed dealer indicates that each of their varietals tested at 90% or greater feminization rate and 90% or greater germination rate.

Test Early & Often

Unfortunately, knowing your dealer and studying COAs is only the beginning of the journey to compliance. According to the FDACS subcommittee, you can’t assume that certified genetics will definitely grow under 0.3% THC. Genetics or a variety of stress factors such as heat, moisture, nutrition, or pests will also affect results.

That’s why Florida’s Hemp Subcommittee advises that growers stay on top of testing and diligently prepare for harvest in accordance with the state’s hemp testing and THC threshold guidelines. How early and how often should I test, you ask? The FDACS does not have specific tips yet, but they’re launching a new on-farm trial with the University of Florida that will provide clearer guidance in the month’s to come.

In the meantime, University of Florida’s 2018 pilot program offers insight that THC content can vary wildly across genetics and may exceed the legal threshold less than 4 weeks after the plant starts to flower. Luckily high THC content can drastically decline again after reaching a peak. But the problem with losing THC potency is that CBD content may decline as well.

That’s why members of University of Florida’s Quincy program analyzed potency of flower samples every two weeks from the moment each variety began to flower.  At ACS Laboratory we’ve been testing hemp for several years, and we agree with testing regularly after the plants start to flower. If growers want to ensure their crop contains less than .3% THC, while also potent in cannabinoids like CBD, they must test early and often.

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Know Hemp’s Cycle

According to the FDACS Hemp Sub Committee, one of the biggest issues pilot growers faced was planting off cycle. Most hemp varieties are sensitive to day length. When days are long the plant grows vegetatively, and when days shorten, the plant enters a reproductive phase.

You may be tempted to start growing early. But if you plant when there’s not enough daylight hours, your crop may begin to flower before it undergoes vegetative growth.

Additionally, if you grow far too late in the season your seeds may flower too early as well. In the University of Florida’s Homestead pilot project, top varieties generally performed better when planted in May before Florida’s hot rainy season began.

Build Your Network

The list above serves as a great starting point to avoid common pitfalls. But if you’re a new hemp licensee, you must also be ready to navigate 1,000 other unexpected hiccups. Seems like an impossible feat, but the best strategy for success is having clear direction, education and a strong network.

Do your best to figure out where you belong in the market. For instance, do you want to grow hemp for Fiber? For seeds? For extracts?

After you figure that out, go out and create a network of experienced growers, researchers and business professionals to learn from. These relationships will help you avoid mistakes, and cultivate a compliant, abundant harvest.

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