BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — The outlook for New York’s hemp industry was absorbed by more than a hundred attendees who drove in sleet and rain to get an update on their licensed investment and learn more about how to prudently grow, process and sell industrial hemp.

The terpenes (aromatic oils) from a burgeoning Berry Blossom feminized hemp plant owned by Jim Castetter’s Sustainability Group permeated the air as Cornell specialists, legislatures, state agency, attorneys and industry spokesmen updated attendees on developing basic agronomic and production cost information under New York state conditions for the emerging crops industry in accordance with state and federal regulations.

Extension Talks

Although none of the agronomic experts focused specifically on “Planting the Seeds for Industrial Hemp in New York State,” the slogan for the Industrial Research Initiative, Cornell Extension crops specialist Janice Degni overviewed crop systems and soil considerations critical to successful establishment of the photoperiod sensitive crop. Degni shared field observations on soil fertility and soil types that influence crop quality and yield, erosion, pests and diseases.

Drainage, raised beds with slope and planting early — before the 12-hour-day length of July — are keys to a high-yielding biomass crop, said Degni. Cover crop options that may work with hemp are small grains, legumes, annual rye and green manures.

Pathologist Jen Starr focused on diseases like Cercospora leaf spot and studies to determine if pathogens are going from hemp to weeds — or vice versa. Hemp rust, Uredo kriegeriana, first reported in the literature a hundred years ago, was rediscovered in New York this year, said Starr.

Plant breeder Larry Smart shared results of a subset of available hemp cultivars and their varietal performance. Smart’s group tested 37 varieties in 4-foot by 20-foot plots evaluating the genetic composition of 215 individual plants for agronomic traits and the ratio of CBD to THC.

“Hemp seed is very difficult to establish,” Smart said. The seed requires a high-quality soil and very good seed-to-soil content. Desired planting rates, he said, are 1,500 to 2,000 plants per acre for CBD production or populations as high as 400,000 plants per acre for grain and fiber production.

Smart shared that hemp is a high-shattering crop, which means birds and mechanical harvest will shatter seeds. Birds, molds and rusts aside, Cornell plots yielded 1,300-2,000 pounds per acre of cleaned grain.

Grain yields of “800-900 pounds an acre are competitive with data coming out of Canada,” Smart said, noting fiber harvested before flowering netted yields of 4 tons per acre.

Smart’s research on genetic data and the enzyme pathways of hemp seed chemistry expression may turn out to be worth more to the industry than the 2019 crop that has exceeded processor demand.

A significant amount of raw flour and drying biomass is in storage in New York.

The remainder of Smart’s talk homed in on what level CBD will trigger production of THC over the regulatory threshold of 0.3% THC. His lab found homozygous desired hemp biotypes had a 23:1 expression of CBD to THC; heterozygous biotypes had a 2:1 expression; and homozygous drug types stood out with 40:1.

One of the biggest issues researchers face trying to evaluate and compare commercial varieties over time is matching varietal brand names to previous pedigrees, Smart said.

“We can test (DNA) when we have leaves, a dime-sized area,” Smart said. He suggested growers consider a batch test at the seedling stage to determine the genetic expression for that particular seed lot. But the price difference between a 40-acre field of all feminized monoculture transplants versus a field of mixed expression males and female seeds is considerable, he cautioned.

“Do you pay $4 a plant for the cutting or $1 per seed?” he said.

Agency, Legal and Legislature Talks

Chris Logue, New York’s Agriculture and Markets director, recapped challenges to get the program up and running in New York, the current status of permits, federal and state regulations and changes on the horizon. Logue said the office only has three people answering the phone and replying to emails, “but there is not currently a backlog of applications.”

To date, the agency has permitted 24,000 acres of hemp and a little over 600 permits under the umbrella of the research proposal. He emphasized ways to have your permit delayed or denied. They included not getting your GPS coordinates correctly recorded and filling out the criminal history.

Logue answered audience questions after reminding that New York has opted to follow the industrial pilot hemp authority guidelines under the 2014 Farm Bill.

New York is still not accepting CBD processor applications until the federal rules and policies are finalized. Grain and fiber permit holders are no longer required to register with the DOA-controlled substance list,

New York’s THC testing is on a “risk random basis survey” design and inspectors only act on the “Delta-9 component” of the test result.

Anyone selling hemp to another state may have additional test requirements and standards.

Hemp oil and CBD oil are two separate and very different products. Logue said that under this type of regulatory oversight, precise language and adherence to terminology definitions will go a long way to alleviating errors or misunderstandings.

He said that formal conversations on food grade CBD oil licensing in New York are a long way off until margins of food safety are developed by other agencies.

Logue explained that if the crop is tested as hot, it will be quarantined and a second test taken. Non-compliant crops must be destroyed but the agency is flexible on how.

He reiterated neither agency nor Extension has encouraged growers to grow hemp; if a grower made or makes the decision to do so, make sure you have a buyer. The oversupply situation is really unfortunate, Logue said, with hearing of some reports of as much as eight times the acreage harvested for CBD than processor demand.

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo opened by saying this process has been like “flying the plane as we are building it.”

Lupardo initially thought six years ago that fiber and grain would be equally attractive to the permit holder for textile and building materials and not just CBD focus.

“My message today,” she said, highlighting the market glut and acknowledging the abundance of out-of-state product showing up on retail shelves, is that “we are going to have a market correction.”

Lupardo closed on a positive note and reminded the audience of the value of fiber as well as the grain and not just the CBD value. She reiterated no one should be getting into this crop without an end use market.

“You must get involved with local partnership resources,” she said.

Industry Talks

Scott Kurkoski of Levene Gouldin & Thompson LLP spoke during the day-long conference. His contract law talk showcased several multi-million dollar breach of contract lawsuits in others states between hemp buyer and hemp grower over contract terminology such as failure to deliver; failure to have the knowledge, skill and ability to grow; failure to use the best farming practices; and the general failure of growers to understand the legality of contracts.

Several of these hemp contract pending cases have a processor presence in New York. The biggest take-home message from Kurkoski to farmers and technical service providers and those transitioning from family run livestock and crop operations to this type of high liability business was to make sure they’re protecting their private assets from their business liability by forming an LLC.

Keynote entrepreneurs, 23-year-old Kaelan Castetter of Castetter Sustainability Group, a research and product development incubator out of Binghamton; and farmer, Erik Carbone, who produces high quality artisanal hemp tonic products with business partner Britany Carbone under the business name of Tricolla Farms, ended the session on a high note and some logistical lessons on drying and storing hemp and the labor required to do it in one day.

Castetter shared his and his father’s journey to bringing back hemp-infused wines to New York after an absence of nearly 20 years after his father was forced to give up his permitted manufacturing of the product in 1999.

Under Castetter’s leadership, the company is growing rapidly and not just in wine sales.

“We keep you compliant” is the company’s motto and by that they mean the regulatory hurdles of social equity plans, taxation and revenue filings, vertical integration, licensing, labeling, marketing and proprietary product branding.