The Top 3 Most Common Hemp Test Fails
Every year, hemp farmers must destroy thousands of dollars in crops due to failed testing. Here's what they can do to prevent their losses.
Fourteen percent of hemp in Florida had to be destroyed due to high THC content and contamination last harvest, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Unfavorable climate conditions, shoddy genetics, and lack of experience caused many farmers to lose thousands of dollars and waste countless hours of work. But hemp producers should never have to wonder if their crops will be safe and compliant. No one can control the weather, but farmers can prevent such losses in the future. Through vigilant monitoring and frequent testing throughout the growth cycle, hemp producers can ensure a healthy and compliant harvest.
Here are the mistakes hemp producers made
Related: An Argument for Farming Hemp
1. They don't test for THC
The problem: Unfortunately, many farmers believe they can achieve reliable outcomes through consistent growth conditions. But consistency is a myth, even for indoor operations.
Many hemp farmers assume if they grow indoors, they’ll be able to control the conditions to achieve uniformity across the entire harvest. But what if one side is exposed to slightly different amounts of light, nutrients, or water? These conditions, known as stressors, are responsible for generating THC. So unless conditions are applied 100 percent evenly, farmers can’t know how much THC they’re generating from one quadrant to the next.
I like to contrast the process of growing hemp to the process of making wine. When you grow grapes for wine, you want to add stress to produce more tannins, which enhance the complexity of the flavor. But with hemp you don’t want to add too much stress, because high-THC content won’t amplify the taste—it will criminalize your crops.
Even if farmers could apply ubiquitous light and nutrients across their indoor plot, other unpredictable variables like genetics are at play. The only way to be sure the final hemp harvest will not run hot is to conduct frequent R&D tests throughout the growth cycle.
The solution: Third-party testing. R&D laboratory tests are extremely affordable. For under $85, it makes every bit of sense to send samples to a trusted third-party laboratory. While some in the industry recommend that farmers use take-home tests, I have found them inconsistent and unreliable. I believe this is a case where DIY-savings do not pay off.
Several clients at ACS Laboratory send us one sample from each quadrant (four total) every week to determine exactly when they should harvest. In some cases, they decide to harvest earlier than expected to prevent the crops from running hot. In other cases, they choose to harvest later than expected to allow the plant to develop more biomass. But if they don’t test with us along the way, they’re playing a very expensive guessing game.
2. They don't test for pesticides
The problem: Once hemp producers are ready to sell their product to the end-user or extractor, they must submit samples for safety compliance testing. Of the analytes we test at ACS Laboratory, pesticides are the most common issue.
Hemp farmers in many states can legally use sanctioned pesticides at allowable levels. But many growers don’t realize they’re catching an excessive toxic drift from neighboring farms. What does this mean for their crops? Pesticides can travel through gusts of wind from one farm to the next, accidentally contaminating hemp fields along the way. This series of unfortunate events is the main reason why we see hemp producers failing pesticide panel tests.
The solution: Hemp may contain unsafe pesticide levels for many reasons. But farmers have options to protect their crops from cross-contamination. For instance, they can invest in “green barriers” such as ferns, forest strips, or hedgerows to divert the contaminated wind. But the most foolproof method to prevent cross-contamination is strategically selecting a safe location to grow. Careful selection may require knocking on a few neighboring farms’ doors, but the due diligence is worth the effort. Especially due to the fact that hemp producers don’t always have legal remediation options. That means if their smokable hemp or extracts fail pesticide tests, the products must be destroyed.
3. Microbiology challenges
The problem: Mold and mildew are attracted to warmth and moisture, so contamination is very common in humid climates. Hemp itself is also naturally high in moisture. Factoring all those risks together, farmers must carefully observe their plants during the growth process, regardless of where they’re located. And they cannot make mistakes during the drying and curing stages. Hemp is extremely susceptible to developing micro issues, so farmers and processors need to ensure ample ventilation–especially when drying by hand over the course of several weeks.
While mold is a normal element of the human environment, it is absolutely disastrous when it grows on hemp plants and products. Not only does mold deteriorate the plant, but some species also produce toxins that can have serious health effects if ingested.
The solution: Mold spores are everywhere, but they are only destructive when they can grow and multiply. Farmers must prevent this perfect storm of ideal growth conditions by properly drying and curing their plants. For instance, farmers should never dry whole plants, which contain extra biomass and surface area for mold to develop. They must carefully trim the plants and utilize large fans and dehumidifiers.
Weeks later, when they’re ready to cure the hemp, farmers must monitor the process to ensure the plants are never exposed to excess humidity. Some use curing containers, while others use freezers. Regardless of the method, farmers must be aware of the problem and create a plan to prevent mold contamination.
Let’s get back to the importance of THC testing for a moment. If a farmer’s hemp samples exceed 0.3 percent Delta-9 THC, he or she won’t have to worry about mold or pesticides because the entire plot will need to be destroyed. That’s why it’s so critical to keep THC content at the top of mind during harvest season. From my perspective, farmers should start sending samples at week 5 and continue sending new samples on weeks 6, 7, and 8 until they’re ready to harvest. Let’s make every harvest about deliberate, strategic action.