Industrial Hemp Pilot-Program


The North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) created the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program to research the growth, cultivation, and marketing of industrial hemp in North Dakota. The goal was to increase the understanding of how industrial hemp fits into the current agricultural landscape, and investigate how it may contribute to the economy of North Dakota.


Industrial hemp is a variety of the plant species Cannabis sativa L. and is considered a Schedule I

Controlled Substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA, 21 U.S.C. §§801 et seq.; Title 21 C.F.R. Part 1308.11). Cultivation is highly restricted and only allowable for research purposes authorized under a provision of the Agricultural Act of 2014.

The Congressional Research Service’s Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity written by Renee Johnson (2), states that:

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (“farm bill,” P.L. 113-79) provided that certain research institutions and state departments of agriculture may grow industrial hemp, as part of an agricultural pilot program, if allowed under state laws where the institution or state department of agriculture is located. The farm bill also established a statutory definition of “industrial hemp” as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis. The enacted FY2015 appropriations (P.L. 113-235) further blocked federal law enforcement authorities from interfering with state agencies, hemp growers, and agricultural research.

The term hemp refers to the agricultural crop of C. sativa L. which produces cannabinoids, but only trace levels of the psychoactive THC. Table 1 lists the cannabinoid compounds that are produced by C. sativa. The major omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids produced in hemp are linoleic and linolenic acids which are said to be produced at the ideal 3:1 blend (3).

Table 1. List of Cannabinoids available for testing by MedScan Laboratories LLC.

Cannabinoid Designation Notes
Tetrahydrocannabinol THC-A Non-psychoactive, that converts to THC
Cannabidiol CBD-A Non-psychoactive
Cannabinol CBN Mild psychoactive
Cannibidivarin CBD-V Non-psychoactive
Cannibigerol CBG Non-psychoactive, High levels in Ind. Hemp
Cannibichromene CBC Non-psychoactive, 2nd highest level in Ind. Hemp
Tetrahydrocannabivarin THC-V Highest level of all cannabinoids in Ind. hemp
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol THC Psychoactive


NDDA announced the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in October of 2015. Seventeen producer applications were received and reviewed by a committee created by the Agriculture Commissioner. The Commissioner deliberated on the committee recommendations and selected five pilot producers.

Geographical spread, soil type, environmental conditions, and the proximity to processing facilities were also key considerations in the selection of the candidates.

The five growers planted a total of 70 acres of industrial hemp as part of this 2016 research program. Although not covered within the NDDA Industrial Hemp Pilot Program, the NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center ran a parallel program to assess the agronomic performance of nine different seed varieties. Unfortunately, excessively wet conditions following heavy rainfall events resulted in substantial plant stand losses, and the trials were abandoned. Industrial hemp does poorly in soggy, heavy soils.

Three hemp seed companies in Manitoba, Canada supplied the four varieties planted in the 2016 program (Table 2). The varieties selected were a mixture of high yielding grain varieties and a type known to produce high oil content. Very tall hemp varieties – those suitable for fiber production – were not chosen for the program, as there are no fiber processing facilities nearby. The objective was to select hemp types that yielded well under northern prairie conditions. The Manitoba Agriculture website

(1) publishes the historical data of several varieties. Since 1998 Canada has grown industrial hemp for both the seed and fiber markets, with most of the production located in the Prairie Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Up to 118,000 acres have been grown annually in Canada over the 1998-2011 period (1). In Manitoba, grain yields ranged between 100 to 1200 lbs./acre, with a bushel weight of 44 lbs. at 10% moisture content.

The research focus varied according to producer interest. Grower data was collected at each site, and included general agronomic practices, rainfall, observations of insect pests, weeds and diseases, crop establishment and development, and grain yield (Table 3a).

Table 2 exhibits the historical yield expectations amongst the test varieties under Manitoba conditions. All varieties were plant variety protected (PVP) and pedigreed (certified or foundation grade). Canadian seed laws specify that all hemp seed sold must be of a certified pedigree and tested by Canadian agencies to ensure a THC content below 0.3% on a dry weight basis. For instance, cv Finola, a variety bred for high oil content, generally produces the lowest grain yield relative to the other test varieties in nearly 20 years of Manitoba field trials. The other three varieties listed exhibited yields that were statistically equivalent over the same time period. This finding suggests that there could be large swings in seed yields year over year. It is important to note that growing industrial hemp carries considerable risk to the producer as it is not eligible for crop insurance, and markets and returns are not consistent year to year.


Table 2. Long-term agronomic characteristics of the industrial hemp cultivars selected for the 2016 NDDA Pilot Research Program

Cultivar Seed Source Flower Type Use Maturity (days) % Seed Yield* (% of variety CRS-1)
CANDA Parkland IHG Coop Monoecious Grain, fiber 110 86
CFX-1 Hemp Genetics Int. Dioecious Grain, fiber 105 106
CRS-1 Hemp Genetics Int. Dioecious Grain 110 100
FINOLA Hemp Oil Canada Inc. Dioecious Grain, Oil 100 83% **

*Manitoba Agriculture data, Check variety CRS-1 @ 1548 lb/A [averaged over 21 site years]

** Note: cv Finola seed yield was significantly lower compared to the other grain varieties in long term yield trials in Manitoba. Finola is regarded as a high oil content low yielding variety.

Crop management is a key consideration in variety performance. For instance, one grower in the 2016 Minnesota Department of Agriculture Pilot Program grew cv Finola for cold press oil extraction. Hemp seed oil contains omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and has been touted to provide health benefits. Harvest was delayed until the crop was completely ripe, apparently to reduce the amount of green seed content, and hence chlorophyll in the oil. Delaying harvest is a risky proposition, as excessive seed losses can result from shelling out and blackbird feeding. Experienced growers recommend that harvest begin at the onset of blackbird predation.

Photo 1. North Dakota industrial hemp crop (2016)

Hemp varieties are monoecious or dioecious. The former cultivars have both male and female flowers on the same plant, while the latter cultivars maintain separate male and female plants (see Photo 1). Plants tend to be 75-80% dioecious with the proportion of exclusively monoecious female plants being 10-15% and males about 10% (Photo 2). Under stressful Manitoba conditions (hot/dry) the proportion of pure male plants can increase to 20%, reducing yield. Pilot producers in ND observed that because hemp does not branch very well, there may be some benefit to boosting the planting density (above 10-12 plants/square foot) to improve yields. A side benefit to this practice is increased competition against weed growth. Future studies will be needed to investigate this phenomenon.

Photo 2. Industrial hemp pilot producer variety trial (Benson County July 2016).

Note: Monoecious plants – white stalks (male flowers) can constitute 10-20% or more of the plant stand.

For the full report please download for free from the link at the end of this article

Shots Taken in the UK thanks to Nick Voase at and in The U.S. courtesy of Artees Vannett


1. Anon. 2016. Manitoba Department of Agriculture, Industrial Hemp Production. 

2. Johnson, Renee. 2015. “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity: Congressional Research Service”, CRS Report. 

3. Leizer, Cary et. al. 2000. “The Composition of Hemp Seed Oil and Its Potential as an Important Source of Nutrition”, Journal of Neutraceuticals, Functional and Medicinal Food. 

4. Layton, Catharine and Wilhad, M. Reuter. 2015. Analysis of Cannabinoids in Hemp Seed Oils by PLC Using PDA Detection. 

5. Hemp Genetics International (HGI). 

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