Hemp processing is necessary after harvest to prepare the hemp for industrial, food, and medical use. There are many steps involved in hemp processing and various types of equipment necessary for success. Much of this depends, of course, on things like cultivation style, variety of hemp grown, and the standard hemp processing processes. Moreover, the processing of medical hemp differs significantly from the processing of industrial hemp.
Hemp Processing for Fiber Production
Historically, farmers harvested hemp manually to prevent stalks from getting damaged and separated the core from the fiber by hand. However, we currently have machines and other advanced equipment that helps us separate hemp fiber from the stem. There are two methods of separating the hemp bast fiber from the hemp’s hurd. These methods are decortication and the retting process.
Retting refers to the process of separating the fiber from the rest of the plant. It involves using moisture and microbes to break down the chemical bonds that bind the fiber. After retting, it is easier to separate the bast from the hurd. Before the hemp processing, the producers must dry the retted fiber to somewhere between 10-15 percent moisture. The most common retting methods include water retting, green retting, warm water retting, dew retting, and chemical retting. Chemical retting is the fastest of all the processes.
In decortication, hemp producers use a machine to strip the bark from the hemp stalks. The dried biomass passes through the machine’s rigid crank system, thereby breaking the bark from the stalk and separating the fibers.
Hemp Decortication Equipment
The process of separating the hemp fiber from the shive is called hemp decortication. The labor-intensive process requires crushing the hemp stalks to turn the bast fiber into usable material. Hemp fiber is a common component in things like rope, paper, building materials, and insulation. The following is a shortlist of some of the hemp decortication equipment you can add to your hemp farm.
Continuous Countercurrent Reactor for Decortication
The Continuous Countercurrent Reactor (CCR) streamlines the decortication process. It operates by passing hemp stalks through the machine in the opposite direction as a liquid reagent. In this way, it efficiently separates the hemp into pulp and sugar products. It is efficient for biomass production and is an excellent alternative for fossil fuels.
R-2 Decorticator System
The R-2 decorticator separates hemp fibers. It is a hydraulic, diesel-powered system that can process up to five hemp tons in an hour. It quickly separates the fiber from the hurd and transports easily from one location to another. As such, the machine can process numerous hemp harvests in a single season.
HempTrain for Consumer Products
The HempTrain decorticates hemp into three different materials. The first is base fiber for things like concrete, plastics, and composite material. Second is hemp hurd for things like hempcrete, pet bedding, and garden products. Finally, the Hem Train separates green microfiber to create things like beauty products and BD extracts.
Hemp Processing for Seed Production
Processing hemp for seed production can be challenging because seeds mature at different times, even within the same plant. It is, therefore, crucial to handle them carefully and removing the mature seeds from flower heads. Whole hemp seeds have hard outer shells and should first be de-hulled to get them ready for the market. Hemp farmers should sample each lot of seeds separately to ensure maturity, quality, and moisture content are suitable for storage. After removing the seeds, the remaining plant material may be extracted or pelletized for further use.
How to Harvest Seeds at Scale
Hemp seeds from a single plant will not mature at the same time. However, mature seeds will always come from plants that are at least 16 weeks old. Though there are many types of machines that can help with this, a combine is by far the easiest and most efficient method when harvesting at least five acres or more.
Though similar to other crops, farmers must harvest hemp seed under specific conditions to maintain their viability and overall integrity. The environment’s overall humidity should be less than 50 percent on harvest day, with temperatures between 65 and 90 degrees Farenheight. Following harvest, the hemp should dry slowly buy thoroughly before separating the seed from the foliage.
CBD Hemp Processing
After harvesting hemp, processors often choose to extract the plant’s valuable cannabis compounds to create an oil called a crude extract. There are several approaches, including both solvent and solvent-less methods. For the former, a solvent is passed through the dried plant material to separate the active components.
Though solvent-based extraction tends to require more effort and up-front investment, it is a more efficient extraction process that results in a more potent end-product. Though the initial extraction process results in a dark-colored substance due to residual plant matter, the oil can be refined further to remove impurities, thus creating either CBD distillate or other isolated components.
Solvent-Based CBD Extraction Methods
The following are the most common solvent-based extraction methods used to extract CBD from hemp.
Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Extraction
In this method, carbon dioxide retained at low temperatures is put under high pressure. Carbon dioxide is converted to a liquid and passed through the plant material with up to a 90 percent extraction efficiency. The CBD oil produced using this method needs less post-processing than other types of extraction methods.
An alcohol solvent, most commonly, ethanol is used in this extraction method. Ethanol is generally regarded as safe and is widely used in food preservation and additives. Ethanol mixes with water and dissolves water-soluble molecules, including CBD. Chlorophyll will, however, co-extract along with the CBD oil, and the resulting oil is dark-colored with a bitter and grassy flavor.
The extract requires post-extraction filtering methods to remove chlorophyll, which can also remove some of the cannabinoids resulting in a lower quality CBD oil. This method is cost-efficient. This method can produce high-quality products, but this requires more expertise and post-extraction processing.
This method uses solvents like hexane, propane, isopropyl alcohol, pentane, acetone, and butane. They have a low boiling point which helps processors extract CBD oil. Although this method is cheap and easy, it is not ideal. Unsafe residue can remain and interfere with immune function.
This method is not common and uses fats or lipids to absorb and compress CBD. This extraction process mostly utilizes organic coconut oil.
Solvent-less CBD Extraction Methods
The various methods of developing solvent-less CBD concentrate all work the same way: they remove and collect the potent trichomes from mature hemp flowers. Consequently, there will be more residual plant matter like waxes that may reduce the product’s final potency. Nevertheless, solvent-less CBD extracts are a popular choice for those who are concerned about residual contaminants that may not purge completely out of the final product. The most common solvent-less CBD extraction methods are as follows.
Hash is simply a collection of sticky trichomes. Processors might collect hash from their trimming material (a.k.a. “scissor hash”) or hands then roll it into a ball to either smoke or consume orally.
Bubble hash is a more efficient way to collect trichomes by freezing them then agitating them until they fall from the plant and into specially-designed screens. Processors develop bubble hash by mixing fresh-cut cannabis with ice water then agitating it with a mixing paddle or something similar. When mixing the solution, it will form bubbles, hence its clever name. After a while, the trichomes will fall to the bottom of the bucket then get caught in special screen filters. The size of the screen determines the quality of the product.
Keif is another word for the trichomes that fall from ripe hemp flowers. Producers collect kief in “kief catchers” (compartments covered with fine screens) when trimming their flowers, and individuals collect kief from the bottom of their storage containers or three-chamber grinders. It is perhaps the easiest solvent-less CBD extraction method, though it often includes some very fine residual plant matter, too. Be that as it may, kief is incredibly flavorful and potent, and a great bowl topper, too.
Rosin extraction uses heat to separate the oily trichomes from the rest of the plant. It is one of the most popular solvent-less CBD extraction methods because it is pure, potent, and extremely flavorful. Moreover, those who like to “dab” hemp extracts can easily use rosin due to its favorable texture and consistency. Essentially, producers create rosin by smashing buds between two hot plates lined with parchment paper. The heat and pressure melt the trichomes to the paper, which is then weighed and separated into half to one-gram portions for sale.
CBD Isolate Versus CBD Distillate
As the name suggests, CBD isolate is simply CBD that is isolated from all other components. Like all other cannabis components, CBD has a unique boiling point. To create CBD isolate, processors heat concentrated CBD oils to a precise temperature then collect the substance. Isolated CBD is crystalline and usually white or a faint yellow color.
On the other hand, CBD distillate contains high levels of CBD in addition to other valuable chemicals like terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids. Processors use a winterization process to remove all unwanted components within a CBD extract and create a distilled final product.
To be clear, winterization is a process that purifies crude extract by removing unwanted components. Processors will mix the CBD extract in 200 proof alcohol and freeze it overnight to remove these unnecessary elements. They then filter the cloudy mixture the next morning. After filtering, the CBD oil extract should not have any unwanted plant materials such as chlorophyll.
Concluding Our Summary of Hemp Processing
The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) leads the USDA Hemp Production Program to regulate hemp processing in America. Their goal is to control hemp producers and oversee their strategies to ensure they carry out their processing activities in compliance with federal laws and follow food processing and hemp marketing guidelines. These guidelines maintain quality control and food safety.
As outlined, hemp processing involves many steps before a product hits the market. In addition to state licensing fees with expensive farming equipment and extensive labor practices, it’s no wonder that CBD hemp products are seemingly so pricy. However, as time goes by, these processes will become more efficient, and the equipment necessary to process hemp will become more affordable. Over time, CBD prices will drop to levels that are conducive to long-term sustainability. In the meantime, farmers must consider every step involved in hemp processing and weigh its feasibility at scale.
Small or novice hemp farmers still have plenty of opportunities to make it big in the hemp industry. However, they should always start small and network with peers to reduce their own level of responsibility to the demanding CBD public. Partnerships and brokerage firms can help, but ultimately, it is the hemp community as a whole who will keep this industry standing.
As a proud member of the CBD hemp community, we strive to educate our followers and fans about all the intricacies of hemp farming in America. Use these resources to gain hemp licensing in your state so you can get growing, too!
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