It’s a crucial time for the more than 3,000 licensed hemp farmers in Tennessee.
With harvest time approaching, hemp farms must pass a specific test in order to proceed with operations.
It’s a big day for Kyle Owen’s 20 acre hemp farm in Smith County.
“It’s one that I’ve dreaded and looked forward to both the whole time,” said Owen.
As a licensed hemp farmer, he’s required to get his crop tested for THC levels.
“We’ve probably got $75,000, $75,000 to $80,000 invested here with absolutely no safety net whatsoever,” said Owen. “So if this test were to come back high, I would be out of pocket that money – no way to recuperate from it.”
Brick Bishop is an inspector with the Tenn. Department of Agriculture (T.D.A.), the agency that oversees the state’s industrial hemp program, and collected samples from Owen’s farm.
“I get my bags ready, I mark them with their license number, a sample number, and get ready to prepare to collect the samples,” said Bishop.
Bishop explained the picking process.
“We make right turns and work our way through the field and we should end up on the other side back there,” said Bishop.
In total, Bishop took 18 samples, split in two just in case more testing is needed.
“I’m looking for the most mature tops that I can find,” said Bishop. “It’s full of flowers and that’s what we want right there.”
The samples get signed and sealed and then go to the TDA testing lab in South Nashville to see if they meet federal guidelines of less than 0.3 percent Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives you that high.
A chemist at the lab then puts the sample into a sieve.
Once the sample is in fine form, the hemp is heated, cooled, then mixed with methanol for analysis.
“We will be able to have an actual percentage of THC per sample,” said Will Freeman, Spokesperson for the T.D.A.
Regardless of what the hemp is grown for, if the results exceed the 0.3-percent THC threshold, the crop will have to be destroyed.
For Owen, that could mean a loss of more than $1 million.
He’s hoping for the best.
“It’ll give us a little bit of peace of mind to know that when harvest starts, we have a clean, quality product that the contractor we’re dealing with can use,” said Owen.
Owen’s results are expected to come in three to four weeks.
It all depends on the size of the farm – the larger it is, the longer the wait.