A growing industry has to start somewhere. For many farmers across the Carolinas, that beginning is here at Triangle Hemp. Elementary school friends, Matt Spitzer and Chase Werner started in the lettuce business, once supplied local restaurants, but a couple of years ago converted their greenhouse operation into an industrial hemp nursery. In hemp they saw a way to apply their agriculture experience in a rapidly expanding space and contribute to the wellness of people.
We recently caught up with Triangle Hemp to tour their greenhouse. We talked with Matt about the life of hemp and the highs and lows of farming the crop on an industrial scale. Below are excerpts from our conversation and some pictures of the hemp lifecycle.
What made you guys jump from lettuce to hemp?
In hemp, we saw an opportunity to make a big difference in many people’s lives through life changing medicine and a better opportunity for farmers. It was an easy decision because we could make a bigger impact with a better business model.
What do you like most about being at the beginning of the “hemp chain” of sorts—starting these plants and sending them off to grow?
We wanted to make the best use of our greenhouses and growing knowledge, and it was clear that there was going to be a shortage of quality starter plants. We knew that not many people were going to be able to deal with pest and disease in a greenhouse environment organically. We wanted to make sure farmers had a strong start to their season with clean plants free of any pesticides or heavy metals. In 2018 we produced starter plants for more than 150 acres. We can double that for 2019 so we are hoping to work with many new farmers this upcoming season.
At first glance, hemp looks like a crop of enormous potential. But the more we talk to people, the more we learn that there’s no shortage of challenges in this space. What type of challenges do farmers tell you about?
There are so many challenges that farmers face. Not only do they have to contend with heavy wind and rain, but also bugs, disease, and nutrition issues at different life stages. We help apply our experience with organic plant management and integrated pest management to their land and equipment and help them come up with solutions to problems. With organic production, farmers have to train themselves to act preventively not curatively when it comes to dealing with pest and disease. They can’t rely on some of the heavy curative sprays they have gotten used to with their other crops.
If you could warn farmers of one thing or give growers one piece of advice, what would it be?
Water management. Don’t over irrigate or under irrigate. In 2018, there were a number of farms that had to deal with 30 inches of rain in 30 days. These plants really do not like “wet feet,” so plant on a slope if at all possible to avoid sitting water. Sitting water creates an anaerobic (oxygen free) environment in the root zone where bad bacteria and disease will proliferate.
What is the best part of working with farmers, in the agriculture space?
I think the best part is sharing with them an opportunity to make more from their land. Its certainly not without risk but farmers are very familiar with risk. Its also nice that these farmers are already familiar with some of the pest, disease, and crop management that goes along with a multi-acre crop. Most of the farmers we work with already have a lot of the infrastructure they need to handle a hemp crop. Often times they have drying barns that can be converted or combines that can be used to help harvesting.