The Life of Our Hemp Plants
As part of the larger Hopsteiner farming family, Hempsteiner’s hemp serves as a transition crop between Hopsteiner’s hop yards and fruit orchards. This sustainable hemp farming practice increases the biodiversity within our cropping systems when we are changing out perennial plantings. Hemp is a nourishing plant, so by using it as a conversion crop, we are helping to stabilize and replenish the soil from the previous crop. This enables us to keep the land in production and not miss a crop year unlike leaving the land fallow. Hemp is also harvested in October, allowing us to extend the growing season so we can retain our talented team with secure and consistent work. As a result, hemp also fulfills our sustainable business mission.
Our Terroir: The Story of Our Land
We farm sustainably in the Columbia River Basin near Yakima, Washington. Our soils are fertile and rich, composed of sandy loam, clay, and caliche—a white layer of mineral deposit consisting of sand, silt, calcium carbonate, and other nourishing nitrates. Eastern Washington’s dry climate fosters the ideal environment for sustainable and organic farming practices; the lack of excess moisture keeps pests and disease at a minimum, while offering abundant sunshine during the growing season to help with photosynthesis, flower maturation and fruit ripening.
Our Farming Practices
Sustainability is one of our most vital core values at Hempsteiner—it affects all aspects of our business, from planning and personnel to our farming practices. In the field, this means we only employ practices that are respectful of the environment. This includes a rigorous and sustainable approach to managing pests, pathogens, water, and soil nutrition. We perform soil analysis across all our ranches annually, which enables us to systematically amend the soil as needed to provide the optimum nutrition for our plants. We place water moisture probes in the field, so that we only water when the plants really need it. When the plants have enough food and water, they grow strong and healthy and are able to withstand increased pest and disease pressure. Hemp is a hearty, fast-growing plant, and when it is planted at the optimum planting density, the plants can outcompete weeds. By using the minimum inputs for the maximum yields, we can respond with the ideal agronomic efficiency.
The Growing Season
We partner with a few reputable breeders, who have been working on their plant genetics since the end of hemp prohibition in 2014. Our partners have bred tried-and-true varieties, proven in their vigor, flower density, biomass yield, and THC compliance. Some of the genetics we utilize have been bred for cropping system efficiency and can be directly seeded into the soil. For other varieties, we germinate the feminized seed in our greenhouses and transplant them after the last frost has passed (mid-May). Ninety-eight percent of our crop is made up of female flowers—the most generous source of cannabinoids in the hemp plant and an important marker of quality.
Prepping & Working the Soils
When transitioning a field out of a perennial crop, like hops or fruit, into hemp we take special care in maintaining the soil profile and replenishing nutrients. After harvest, we remove the plants and spread our own compost—derived from crop waste and manure from local dairy farms—across the field. A few days later, we pull a ripper trough the field to remove any remaining woody plant material and to loosen any compaction from the harvest equipment.
We then disk the soil to blend in the compost and plant a grass species, such as triticale, rye, or wheat, as our cover crop. The grassroots stabilize the soil and concentrate nutrients in the upper section of the soil profile. In the spring, we then mow the grass and strip-till the field only in the areas where we will be planting our hemp seedlings. This keeps the ground between rows undisturbed, so the soil retains moisture and the cover crop prevents weeds from growing prior to the hemp closing the canopy.
Our innovative planting method helps us cultivate our hemp seedlings with efficiency and accuracy. When our seedlings are ready to be planted, our experienced farm crew mount up on the 4-6 station transplanter. The team works together to transfer the plants from the trays into the carousel, which feeds the plants down the tube to be perfectly spaced and placed into the furrow. Under the planter, the shoe cuts the furrow, the plant is dropped into the furrow, and then the packing wheels close the furrow behind the plant. Our team follows the planter to ensure the plants were placed appropriately and fill in any skips that may have occurred. Planting density can range between 16”-30” row spacing to 8’-20’ sq ft., depending on the variety.
The Growing Season
Growing season begins in the greenhouse in late April. We transplant the plants to field when there is no threat of frost, typically in the last two weeks of May. Throughout the season, we water as needed, utilizing either drip irrigation or overhead pivot with drop nozzles or drag hoses. Keeping moisture off the foliage helps prevent fungal disease. Due to the strip tilling at planting, there is generally less weeding needed between the rows, however when they occur, our team removes them mechanically or by hand. Whether growing bushy stature or tall-growth habit crops, the plant often prevents our cultivation equipment from getting into the fields after they reach a certain size. At that, the team weeds manually until the canopy closes, shading the ground and inhibiting weed growth.
After flowering begins, our farm team takes weekly samples of flower buds to test for cannabinoid levels, ensuring that we harvest at the peak of maturity, while still maintaining USDA compliance standards.
Harvest generally takes place between the end of September and early October, when the cannabinoid levels of the buds are at their peak. Hemp’s natural durability requires strong harvesting equipment. We use a forage harvester, allowing us to chop the biomass and transfer it to the truck that rides alongside it. The truck then brings the crop to the drying facility. After the crop is taken off the field, the cycle starts over again, with the spreading of the compost, ripping, discing, and planting the cover crop.
Our Ranch Team
Our ranch team is the key to our success each growing season. Hardworking, dedicated, and detail-oriented, our team is one of the best in the industry. Given our sustainable mission, we employ most members from the local community. In addition, we employ a small team of legal migrant workers from Mexico, offering them housing, transportation, H2A visa help and compensation, as well as support throughout the growing season. We guarantee our employees a fair and equitable wage, as well as a safe environment to work in. Cultivating a spirit of family is an essential part of our company culture.