Hemp Processing Equipment: A Guide How to Harvest, Dry and Store Hemp
In this post:
- Avoid the Blunders
- Trimming Equipment
- Drying Equipment
- Curing Equipment
- Post-Harvest Trimming Equipment
- Packing Equipment
- Bottom Line
’Tis the season for hemp harvest. Also known as “Croptober,” farmers across the country are getting ready to prepare their plots for sale. This is an exciting and lucrative time for the industry, but success is not guaranteed.
Avoid the Blunders of Harvests Past
Last year, farmers faced enormous challenges in their efforts to produce healthy crops for willing buyers. And many faltered in their attempts. According to some estimates, farmers lost 50 to 60 percent of planted acres of perfectly good hemp.
There were a multitude of reasons for this, but one major issue was a faulty harvest process. For example, many farmers accidentally grew crops that contained illicit levels of THC. Others struggled to properly trim, dry, cure and store their hemp, which compromised the end product.
Unfortunately, even one bad day cost countless farmers their contracts, along with months of lost time. But that was then.
This Croptober, farmers will undoubtedly learn from their past mistakes. As competition grows, and expectations for hemp quality grows along with it, farmers have no choice but to perfect the harvest process with the right equipment to get the job done.
Get Equipped for 2020 Hemp Harvest Season
On that note, let’s review the hemp processing tools and machinery that farmers need for a successful harvest.
◊ Heavy-duty shears
When hemp crops are ready for harvest, farmers must choose equipment that’s best suited for their end product. Hemp CBD farmers especially must get this part right or risk destroying the buds that their buyer contracts rely on. If things go wrong during this stage, hemp CBD can lose profitable flower.
Manually trimming hemp CBD crops with heavy-duty shears is still the preferred method because it allows farmers to separate the top of the plant from the stalk, preserving the integrity of the CBD-rich buds. Using shears to cut hemp from their plots ensures they remain clean and their resin trichomes remain intact. With this process, hemp farmers increase their chances of producing crops with a full spectrum of cannabinoids, including CBD as well as therapeutic terpenes and flavonoids.
Alternatively, hemp farmers may decide to go the mechanical route, using machines such as combines to harvest their plots. Combines trim hemp plants at the base and can cut 60 acres a day. Their advantage is speed and long-term cost savings; however, they have also been known to shatter seeds and buds in the process. That makes combines highly desirable for large-scale operations and those growing hemp for its fibrous stalks.
But they’re less common with hemp CBD farmers. That said, technology is ever-evolving, and modified combines do exist that claim to work fast while preserving the plant’s delicate trichomes.
◊ Racks, screens or wires with dehumidifiers and fans
◊ Drying machine
After harvest, growers must immediately move their industrial hemp biomass or flower to a facility for three to seven days of drying. It's extremely important to get this part right to maximize the terpene profile, fragrance, flavor and output of the end product. However, if hemp is harvested too wet, dried too slowly, or deprived of ventilation and temperature controls, it may become damaged and unusable.
For example, overly moist hemp is susceptible to developing mold or other bacteria. That’s why farmers need to adequately plan and prepare a drying facility to create a product that is suitable for sale and commands the highest possible price point.
Hanging or Screen-Drying
Depending on the size of the growing operation, most hemp CBD farmers use racks, wires or screens to hang (or lay) individual stalks. This manual process is the safest because larger buds take longer to dry than smaller buds and need to be monitored individually to prevent terpene damage. This process also requires the farmer to use dehumidifiers or ceiling fans to control the humidity and ensure the temperature remains below than 75 degrees.
If the temperature rises above that level, the buds may turn brown and taste bad. So the goal with this equipment is to move the wet air away from the flower and replace it with dry air to continue pulling the moisture out.
Hanging or screen-drying is the most precise method, but mechanical drying is also an option for industrial hemp biomass and large-scale CBD farmers. Bulk-drying systems for biomass often work by passing hemp over vibrating screens while forcing air up through it, using as little heat as possible. Whole-flower mechanical dryers can reportedly slowly and evenly heat hemp while gently cycling it around. These types of dryers can dry up to 1,000 pounds per hour.
◊ Lined super sacks and/or totes with shucking scissors
◊ Cannabis curing machine
After drying the hemp to the point that the stalk easily snaps in half, it’s time to cure the product to remove the remaining moisture and cut the remaining stalks. If the farmer or processor does not get this part right, the buds will degrade and lose potency much faster while in storage.
On the other hand, if done properly, the curing process is what will set the hemp flower apart from its competitors. That’s because the curing phase locks in the smell, taste and look of the plant.
Lined Super Sacks and/or Totes with Shucking Scissors
Hemp CBD farmers and those growing smokable hemp flower must consider a manual approach to carefully separate and store the buds for curing. In this case, hemp growers can use shucking scissors to remove the flower from the stalks, and totes, nitrogen-filled bags or lined super sacks for storage.
During the storage phase, the grower (or his employees) must regularly open the containers to allow oxygen to flow in until the buds reach an optimal moisture-content level. This can take up to one month and requires a large investment in manual labor.
Cannabis Curing Machine
For the mechanically inclined, hemp curing can be accomplished in as little as 24 hours using curing machines. Brands that make these machines claim the reduced curing time can prevent issues like degradation and mold that can develop over time. These machines often work through the use of “freeze-drying” technology to remove the moisture from the flower or trimmed plant while preserving the hemp flower, with no shrinkage, a rich color and flavor, and stable cannabinoids and terpenes.
Post-Harvest Trimming Equipment
◊ Pruning shears
◊ Trimming machine
Final trimming often generally occurs after curing, which requires peeling away the bud’s longer protruding leaves and stems as close to the bud as possible. This gives the buds an aesthetically pleasing appearance, which appeals to buyers and consumers alike.
Those who decide to manually trim generally use pruning shears, along with trays to collect any trimmed debris. As with the previous harvest steps, hand-trimming ensures precision, but it also requires extensive labor, time and overhead costs.
Alternatively, machine trimming is an option that can save money and scale up for large organizations. For industrial hemp biomass producers, machine trimming is a no-brainer. But hemp CBD farmers have options as well. Twister Trimmer, for example, promises to preserve the profile of the flower, retain its “natural beauty,” and preserve the trim for use in extracts.
◊ UV-blocking bag
◊ Thick plastic bins
◊ Climate-controlled environment
After hemp is cured and trimmed to perfection, it needs to be stored properly to preserve its structural integrity and terpene/cannabinoid profile. If a farmer or processor fails to get this part right, degradation and mold contamination can occur right before the finish line. Because hemp material generates heat, it could also theoretically catch fire if not stored properly.
However, if farmers get it right, the flower can last up to a year while maintaining its rich color, fragrance, flavor and therapeutic profile. A year may seem like a long time, but farmers sometimes have to wait long periods before securing a purchase contract.
For best results, cured and trimmed hemp should be vacuum-sealed and stored in a UV-blocking bag or thick plastic bin. The material of the bag or bin should also be considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent unwanted cross-contamination.
But the packaging is only half the battle. Packaged hemp must also be stored in a cool (50 to 60 degrees), dry environment, away from natural light, to ensure it remains preserved, regardless of the type of bag or barrel used.
Cellars are great environments to store packaged hemp. Other options include commercial freezers with desiccant packs, and pickle barrels buried underground. The range of options are as diverse as the growers themselves.
The Bottom Line
Hemp farmers and processors must produce the highest quality product so they can earn the highest price and gain the largest market share. In order to do so they must be prepared to execute each step of the post-harvest process using the right equipment for their end product. Then, when all is said and done, hemp farmers can verify the fruits of their labor through verified third-party laboratory testing.
About ACS Laboratory
At ACS, we test hemp at every stage of its harvest cycle for 38 terpenes, 17 cannabinoids and 15 flavonoids to confirm the complete flavor, fragrance and therapeutic profile of the plant. We also test for molds, mildew, heavy metals and pesticides to guarantee products are clean and safe for consumer use.
ACS Laboratory’s 20,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility is located outside of Tampa, at 721 Cortaro Dr., Sun City Center, FL 33573.
For more information, visit acslabcannabis.com or call (813) 670-9157.