From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up

Umatilla’s Treadwell Farms Harvests First Hemp Crop

by HEATHER MACHOVINA

In June of 2019, Florida Gov. DeSantis signed into law that a hemp program would be created in Florida beyond just the pilot projects that were happening with some of the universities. At the beginning of 2020, rules were finished for hemp processing facilities, allowing Treadwell Farms to obtain a hemp food permit authorizing them to create their products and accept hemp material from farmers. The licensure for hemp cultivation wasn’t available until months later though, so farmers anxiously waited to grow. Treadwell Farms received one of the first hemp cultivation licenses issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in May 2020. 

Treadwell Farms blossomed from a long family history rooted in Florida farming. They have been farming here for more than 100 years, starting in foliage and tropical plants and now bursting their way into the Florida hemp industry. Today, Treadwell Farms is run by a father/daughter duo who are using their agricultural traditions, passions, and experiences to build a community of successful hemp farmers here in the Sunshine State. 

Over the past few months, Jammie Treadwell, co-owner of Treadwell Farms, has been working closely at her farm and helping many other new hemp farmers in the area, too. As this is the first season and harvest in Florida, there have definitely been some challenges at Treadwell and partnering farms. The first and most important hurdle was getting through the licensure process. This included having property that is zoned for agriculture and a management team that can pass background checks. 

Florida farmers faced another challenge when trying to obtain the correct genetics for their location. Regulations only allow the use of seed and material that is either certified through  the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies or a university hemp pilot program. Most of the available genetics come from other areas of the country like Colorado, Oregon, or South Carolina. None of these places has the same growing environments that Florida farmers deal with like soils, high humidity, and constant wet or hot weather. Everybody had a learning curve this first season to figure out which genetics were going to work for them. 

This was an especially difficult season due to the long 10 days of wet, rainy weather. “That was a big challenge for our farmers,” Treadwell says. “If you’re growing hemp for the resinous buds, your biggest challenge is making sure moisture doesn’t get inside of those buds and turn into mold.” The typical enemy of any produce farmer, Botrytis, has been a problem. While it’s not a new challenge for Florida farmers, it was especially challenging during their first hemp season. 

“This is our first harvest under Florida’s hemp program,” says Treadwell, “but it’s not our first hemp harvest. My father and I actually worked with a team in Oregon for a few years where we grew hemp outdoors under Oregon’s hemp program. We also had a medical cannabis license and successfully pulled off five harvests there; with 25% of what we were growing fitting under the definition of hemp.” This knowledge and experience ultimately led Jammie and her family at Treadwell Farms to develop the Florida Hemp Farmers coalition. 

Initially, Treadwell Farms intended to grow hemp material for themselves and develop a product line. Once they started attending meetings and talking with other hemp farmers, they became aware of a few issues that needed immediate attention. First, many farmers in other states were planting hemp in good faith and then had nowhere to sell their material. A buying point needed to be established here in order for this to be a viable opportunity for our Florida community. Second, a positive group of farmers was needed as a place to come together, share experiences, and help each other succeed. Realizing that they had a lot of experience from their time in Oregon that would be very helpful to many, the Treadwells formed Florida Hemp Farmers (FHF). FHF will be a leader in the industry through advocacy, education, and support.

This season, Treadwell Farms has been visiting with partnering hemp farmers regularly to give them feedback on how their crops are progressing. They work with them to select the best genetics for their location and, in most cases, Treadwell Farms germinated the seeds or provided rooted cuttings for the season. They do pre-harvest checks to help plan for what is needed for harvesting and give advice on the drying and curing processes for their material. After-harvest preparation is a big deal to pay attention to if you’re going to be doing it. It looks like a lot in the field, but when you start hanging it to dry, it looks like a lot more. It’s crucial to know where you’re going to put it all, have the right atmosphere, and the right amount of space.

Sonny Scott of Long & Scott Farms in Mount Dora is a partner of Treadwell Farms and has been working closely with them during this first hemp season. 

“When you’re in the field, sometimes you feel like you’re the only person out there fighting that battle, but you know you’ve got everyone else working as hard as you are for the same goal,” says Scott. “We’ve had a few setbacks with some Botrytis mold issues with all the humidity and heat and rains, but we’re learning some things for next year.” 

“I’m really proud to say amongst our hemp farmers, different farmers bought trimming equipment, bucking equipment, and other equipment that is needed. Farmers have been sharing it amongst each other and inviting each other to come and see how things operate,” boasts Treadwell. “They’re sharing information about what has worked and hasn’t worked. It’s been really encouraging to see everyone pull together.”

Treadwell Farms is currently focused on growing for resinous buds because there’s so much interest in CBD and other cannabinoids, but there are other big uses for hemp material. 

“All our farmers are saving their stems and stalks and we will be baling it up and making it available,” says Treadwell. “We’ve been approached by folks that are interested in rope, animal bedding, and I would love to find someone who is interested in hempcrete.”