Updated: Dec 8, 2021
Derrick Ross harvests hemp buds that will be used to produce CBD products. Most of this harvest will go to Missouri. (Photos by Roger Sims, Linn County Journal)
In October, while his neighbors were changing oil in combine engines, replacing cutting blades on headers and cleaning last year’s crop from bins, one grower and his crew members were getting ready for a different kind of harvest.
Slipping on a pair of black nitrile gloves and holding needle-nose pruners, Derrick Ross and his workers hand-harvested about 1.5 acres of hemp grown specifically for its Cannabidiol (CBD) content within view of the La Cygne power plant.
Their harvest, and similar operations like theirs, are becoming ever more a part of the economic landscape in the United States. Forbes estimates that CBD sales in this country will surpass $20 billion by 2024 with some sources indicating it could be twice that much.
Back in the field, the mature flowers are cut off the stalk, and then taken in by a hand-pulled garden wagon into the processing barn.
But before harvest can begin, the Kansas Department of Agriculture sends technicians out to test the mature buds for THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the active ingredient that produces a high in marijuana,
But since the plants that Ross grows are destined to be used in CBD treatments, if the state tests show that the buds have more than 0.3 percent THC, the crop must be destroyed or the producer must use a process to remediate the problem and reduce the THC content.
Ross said his crew starts harvesting quickly after the tests, because to delay would allow the crop to exceed the 0.3 percent THC limit.
Once the buds are cut and taken to the processing shed, they dry in about a week, but it actually takes 30 to 45 days for the buds to completely cure. The buds have a high resin content, and it takes that extra time to cure.
The resin is also the reason for the gloves in handling the newly harvested crop. Ross said that harvesting without the gloves will leave hands black, and it is difficult to get the hands clean.
Once the crop is cured, it is ready for distribution. CBD, which is used to relieve chronic pain, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and promote sleep, is either smoked, made into an oil or distillate, made into products for ingestion, or made into dog treats.
The company also grows hemp for CBG (Cannabigerol) production. CBG is a compound of the cannabis plant that is highly similar to CBD in both its chemical structure and effects.
Ross said that while CBD produces a soothing and calming effect, CBG tends to give the user more energy. Like hemp grown for CBD content, the variety used for CBG must also have a low THC content.
Hemp with low THC content is legal to grow
Because the plants have a low THC content and are considered to be “hemp,” growing and sell the product is legal. And there is a considerable difference between the hemp he grows and the product sold as “medical marijuana” now in Missouri and Oklahoma.
Ross said that because medical marijuana is used to treat more severe pain, the THC content is equivalent to marijuana sold as a recreational drug in states like Colorado.
Selling under the label Dicky’s Bud Farm – named after Ross’ late father, Richard Ross – the cured and process buds can be ordered online at the company’s website, https://www.dickysbudfarm.com.
Derrick Ross trims a flower bud, removing leaves. The harvest and trimming of the hemp is all done by hand.
The company sells a variety of products at its online store including cigarettes and loose buds, gummy-style ingestible candy, CBD oil and distillate, dog treats, and for the first time this year, CBD beer.
Ross said most of what the company grows, however, is shipped to Missouri where it is legal and there is a high demand for CBD product. There are states where selling smokeable CBD is not legal.
This year was the third year that Ross has grown hemp. He said the first two years the state control on growing was very tight.
The first two years, Ross grew hemp as part of a pilot program that required a special license. This year, as the product has become more widely accepted and sold to consumers, he is operating under a commercial license.
Like with any other agricultural commodity, hemp for CBD production is grown using seed cultivated for that use specifically. Ross made it clear that the hemp grown in his operation is unsuitable for making fiber. Some tall varieties of hemp are grown specifically for making clothing and textile, paper, rope and even biofuels.
The seeds Ross plants produce stout, plants that are wide at the base and grow to about 3- to 5-foot tall. They are grown on a slight incline, much like grapes, to provide good drainage.
And water is necessary but can sometime be the enemy of good production. Like many growers of high-value crops such as vegetables and fruit in California and other growing regions, Ross prefers using his drip irrigation system to rainfall.
With the irrigation system, he can apply the right amount of water at the right time. With rain, it is often too much moisture. This year, for example, did not have ideal conditions because of some periods of torrential rain. Last year, however, was perfect, he said.
Culture of the plants is labor-intensive
The plants can produce up to 60 pounds of vegetative matter each before they are ready to harvest. Harvest usually begins in September and is completed by the middle of that month, but this year the warm weather allowed harvest to be delayed until October and resulted in more vegetative growth.
The growing process is very labor-intensive, Ross said. The product requires using an organic culture without the use of conventional pesticides and herbicides. That means using mulch and hand methods to control weeds, and his battle with most dominant threat, a caterpillar, calls for using an organic pesticide.
Ross believes that the Kansas Legislature will pass a medical marijuana law in the regular session beginning next year. The bill has already passed the House, and he thinks the Senate will follow suit.
Kansas is surrounded by states that have legalized medical marijuana, including Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado. And in Colorado, the recreational use of marijuana is allowed.
He thinks that growing hemp or marijuana no longer is taboo, largely as a result of a change in culture.
But Ross also thinks that wider acceptance of the use of CBD to treat certain ailments will help his business. He foresees more federally sponsored research in using CBD to combat seizures in children. “CBD helps seizures where THC doesn’t,” he said.
And as he sees more instances of how CBD can help with pain, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even addiction, he is increasingly sure his company is on the right track. “We believe in what we are doing.”