Harvesting is the most labor-intensive and less uniformly stage of hemp cultivation. One thing is to grow hemp and another very different one is to harvest it. Hemp is a very versatile plant that can be processed for its fibers, its nutritious seeds or for both purposes. When growing hemp the best approach is to begin harvesting the fibers while the seeds start to develop. Hemp fibers and seeds don’t mature at the same time so harvesting these two elements together is challenging. However, it’s possible if do it carefully.
The hemp harvesting process begins when the seed starts to shatter which is conditioned by hemp maturity which can take between 90 to 120 days, depending on the temperatures and variety. Let’s dig deeper into how to harvest hemp based on the two types described above.
Harvesting Hemp Fiber
Harvesting fiber is a troubleshooting process, not impossible but intensive given no pesticides are currently labeled for pest management. Traditionally, hemp fiber has been used to produce paper, fuel, textiles and so on. Hemp fiber is ready to harvest when the maximum fiber volume and quality are reached and the first seeds start to appear. If the fiber overpasses the desired maturity time, it will become coarse which would be good for fiberboard and other products due to being stronger than younger fiber. Hemp fiber is commonly produced at a large-scale.
The Hemp Fiber Harvesting Process
When harvesting hemp fiber it’s very important to define if you prefer lighter or stronger fibers so you can decide when is the best moment for collecting the fibers from the stalks. At the moment when the fibers are collected, it’s always necessary to make a cut to the stalks right near the base of the plant using a sickle or a sickle bar-mower. It can be done individually or in a group. The sickle-bar equipment needed depends on the size of crops that need to be cut.
Afterward, it comes to the retting process where the stalks have to stay for around 5 more weeks in the field – when the stalks are slightly rotted, the process of separating the fibers is easier. Then, the stalks should be separated for the drying process until the moisture level is 15% or lower; getting a moisture meter to measure the water levels is quite useful. If the process mentioned above is finished, it’s time to break the stalks with a decorticator to separate the fibers. The decorticator roller will separate the woody pieces and collect the fibers on the other side.
Harvesting Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds or grains are one of the most nutritional foods that exist. Harvesting timing for grain is tricky, delicate and challenging because hemp has indeterminate growth and the seeds don’t always mature at the same rate or time, even when they are on the same plant. Usually, the maturation process starts near the bottom of the seed and moves upwards which means that the upper side doesn’t mature at the same time. It’s very important for the grower to be careful in order to lose a minimal amount of seeds. The hemp seed harvesting process is a combined use of the tractor and a cleaning process to remove any remaining immature seeds or leaves.
The Hemp Seed Harvesting Process
The very first thing to keep in mind is that for harvesting hemp seeds, the crops need to be 16 weeks old. Looking for the seeds that don’t have split open yet will help you determine when to harvest the plants for maximum yield. Don’t forget some of them would be mature on the lower side while the upper side won’t be ready yet. During the sunny and dry season, it’s the perfect moment to harvest the top of the plants with a sickle or a combined dual-beam cutter, it will all depend on the size of your crops.
The next step will be to break off the seeds from the stem using a hemp harvesting machine thresher and separate in two large buckets where it will be possible to remove remaining residues. This process should be done between 6 to 10 times until residues disappear. Winnowers are the best tool to finish this process. Then, store the seeds in sacks with less than 12% moisture level so they don’t germinate.
Types of Hemp Harvesting Equipment Available
Deciding to grow a hemp crop involves choosing the right method and hemp harvesting equipment. Let’s take a brief look at the common ones.
Straight Sickle Mower Harvesters
Sicker and mowers are yesterday’s tractors but still used. They show a good performance harvesting hemp grown for fiber. They are capable of cutting, facilitate the drying process and moving the fiber. Their working capacity is not too large and is still very manual, therefore, it’s not recommended for larger acres.
Forage Hemp Harvester
The forage harvester is powered by mowers and windrower. They are 100% manual hemp harvesting machines that need an operator on the tractor but it can be used for multiple purposes as PTO, cutting process, gathering reels and crop transportation. It is commonly used for growers dealing with hemp fiber harvesting.
Swathing and straight are the best way to reduce shattering loss and manage the moisture grain easily. Swathers perform very well about high winds but it represents a high risk as well as increases levels of microbial contamination if rain flattens the swath on the ground. Additionally, not all the swather models are large enough to allow hemp to go out.
Most Recommended Hemp Harvesting Machine: The Combine Harvester
Combine hemp harvesters are capable of doing the whole harvesting process automatically. From cut, thresh and clean, a combined harvester is fully equipped using rotating blades, wheels, elevator and so on to successfully harvest hemp while saving time. It’s an expensive method but totally worth harvesting 5+ acres. It improves all the negative aspects of the previous methods and has a purity standard ranked at 99.9%. The best part is that the operator just needs to drive them through a field of crops and the process will be done automatically. Basically, this kind of harvester can do all the processes that in the past were manually done to gather, transport and carry the crops.
However, they are some special requirements when using combined harvesters such as light wind, the humidity of 50% or less while temperatures should be between 65-90° F. The most common harvester under this category is the draper header. For most hemp seed growers this is the best alternative.
CBD Hemp Harvester
Capable of harvesting up to 30+ acres of hemp, CBD harvester replaces 99% of the labor force with equipment giving the growers more control over the hemp harvesting process and reducing most of the risks of traditional harvesting solutions.
Harvesting is a crucial process for your hemp which should be done using the proper technique so you can get the most of your fibers or seeds. There is a wide range of hemp harvesters available that could be used for growers according to the acres they are planning to grow. If you wish to harvest your own hemp, we hope the above information has given you a bit of light about the process and the hemp harvesting equipment available so you can face this challenging process.