Lancaster County farmers are hoping to cash in after an 82-year prohibition on growing hemp has been lifted.

This year’s commercial hemp harvest is the first since 1937, when the growth of all cannabis was outlawed in the United States. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and the approval of commercial hemp production, farmers across the state are hoping their new crops can buoy a struggling agriculture industry.

Lancaster County was a hotbed of hemp production in the 1700s; two townships, East and West Hempfield, are named after the crop. The county might be poised to take that role again. Of the 323 growing permits issued by the state Department of Agriculture in 2019, Lancaster County received the most: 55, covering 180 farms. There are 812 farms growing hemp statewide.

Though some hemp is being grown for the fiber and seed for which the crop was traditionally used, many local farms are growing hemp for cannabidiol, a compound known as CBD. Steve Groff, of Cedar Meadow Farm in Martic Township, operates one of Pennsylvania’s largest hemp farms, with 70 acres grown for CBD.

CBD has become a wellness craze and can be found in products including topical rubs and patches, tinctures, vape pens, oral pouches, capsules and pet products.

Harvesting began in late September and continues through the fall. After the harvest, growers dry the hemp quickly so it doesn’t mold. From there, the dried CBD hemp will be ground up and the oils extracted in a processing plant. The oil will be filtered and bottled.

See the harvesting and drying process below.


From seed to sale: A timeline on growing and harvesting hemp

Hemp Harvest PSU

Senior agronomy technician Jim Bollinger operates a plot combine to harvest hemp grown for fiber and seed at Penn State Southeast's agricultural research and extension center on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. The combine cuts the hemp plants and removes the seeds. The hemp is then left in the field to dry for a few weeks and go through a retting process, in which microbes break down the fiber for easier processing.

Late winter/early spring

  • Apply for permit from the state Department of Agriculture.
  • Find a reputable source for seeds, clones or transplants.
  • Start lining up a buyer and formulate plan for processing.

Spring/early summer

  • Prepare growing plot.
  • Plant seeds, seedlings or clones.
  • Monitor soil moisture.
  • Start to plan drying process in the fall.

Summer

  • Walk fields daily, inspecting for and culling male or hermaphrodite plants.
  • Keep weeds under control, monitor moisture levels. Stressed plants will spike in THC.
  • Because of the change in daylight hours, the plants change from vegetative state to flowering stage.
  • Establish a third-party testing lab. Start sending samples to lab every few days to make sure THC levels don’t go above the legal limit of 0.3%.

Fall

  • Continuing daily THC testing to determine harvest time.
  • Solidify process for drying plants.
  • Harvest time: Clip plants, transport to drying facility or hang plant material. Lack of airflow will result in mold, which will ruin the harvest.
  • When moisture is about 10-12%, the dried plants are ready to process.
  • After hemp has been harvested, dried and processed it is ready to send to a CBD processing facility to extract the CBD rich hemp oil. After initial extraction of the crude CBD rich hemp oil, CBD is further refined to produce CBD distillate or CBD isolate which are then sold or processed into finished CBD medicines such as oil tinctures or capsules.