Using Balers For Hemp Storage
Hemp buds can either be hang-dried inside a drying facility while still attached to their parent plants or they cab be separated prior to drying. In the latter case, dried hemp flowers will need to be pruned and baled prior to being moved into storage.
Balers come in all shapes and sizes, and there are few wrong options among them. Nonetheless, some holding structures may be sounder options than others. Round balers, for instance, may be more effective at circulating airflow evenly among their contents than square balers whose sharp-angled sides may lead to excess moisture building up in their corners, creating “hot spots” that will be less prevalent in circular balers.
For the same reason, balers with hard, solid cores are likely preferable since these will not allow as much moisture permeation as may occur with hollow-cored balers.
Processors may impose their own specifications, such as requiring buds be stored in square bailers for ease of truck-loading and because they are more efficiently stacked and take up less truck space than round balers, resulting in lower shipping rates. For this reason, always consult your processor before settling on a baling solution.Some of the most commonly selected balers are:
- Aerated hopper bins
- Flat or rounded metal bins with aerated floors
- Min-bulk bags, but only when moisture levels are already 8% or lower
Choosing The Right Baler
As discussed, choosing a baler is not arbitrary given the effect it can have on the moisture susceptibility of its hemp contents.
The situation differs somewhat for biomass farmers than it does for some flower-exclusive farmers in that biomass farmers will often hang their plants whole in storage, whereas many flower-exclusive farmers will separate buds from their parent plants immediately after harvest and prior to harvest. The two farmers will therefore use balers for different lengths of time, leading to different considerations when choosing baler style.
Farmers who will hang their plants whole — biomass-exclusive, mixed-harvest, and some some hemp flower farmers — will only use balers for the short term and can therefore be a bit more flexible in their choice of balers. Square or round will do just fine. Core density is also left to taste.
Farmers who plan to use balers as part of their long-term storage solution are encourage to go with a round baler style with aerated floor to prevent moisture accumulation, especially if contents are to be stored through any number of season changes.
When To Bale
The timeframe for baling will depend on whether or not retting is to take place. Most readers of these guides will probably not have need for retting, though we have discussed it at some detail in our Harvest Guide as it may offer some interest to mixed-harvest readers.
If retting is to be performed, one should wait until all materials have been separated and apportioned according to the desired weight scheme. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, plants undergoing retting should not be baled until stalk moistures have dropped to below 15% in aggregate, at which point retting is no longer biologically possible. 10% was found to be an ideal stalk moisture for baling after retting.
If retting is not necessary or appropriate, then baling immediately upon completion of drying is strongly advised for the following reasons.
First, hemp to be sold in the marketplace should never just be left sitting out exposed to the elements for any length of time (unless proper outdoor drying best practices are being implemented). Weather, pests, and any other number of unknown factors have already threatened the crop while it was growing. Don’t prolong their attack window.
Second, biomass farmers and others using balers as a temporary solution will be storing whole hemp plants in balers for a short period of time, during which fiber wrapping can occur, making the plants a nuisance to separate. This condition can be avoided by getting them into an aerated baler as soon as they’ve been dried.
Where To Store Balers
Biomass-exclusive farmers may feel free to store their balers outdoors, even if rain is expected. There will be no loss of quality so long as the balers are round, thick-cored, and sealed airtight.
Biomass-exclusive farmers deploying a square baler solution will need to store their balers inside a properly aerated facility as the corners of even thick-core balers are susceptible to moisture buildup in uncontrolled, high-precipitation environments.
Growers of mixed and flower-exclusive harvests should always store their balers indoors, even round ones. This is because no formal standards have yet been proposed for establishing hemp flower purity. Until clear guidelines are in place, these guides take the position that hemp flowers should be cleaned and stored at the same standard as food-grade hemp seeds, which require the highest purity standards of all parts of the hemp plant since they are destined to be consumed as food for humans and pets alike.
Hemp Balling Twine & Wrapping
Twine is used by farmers harvesting for biomass and by some hemp flower farmers who prefer to dry their plants whole before separating buds from stalks. In these cases, plant stalks should be bound together with ties for ease of baling.
The main consideration for binding is the materials with which it is made. Some bindings — like poly-twine — should not be used because they can contaminate the plants they are holding together.
The best twine for hemp plants is, unsurprisingly, hemp twine. Sisal makes for a fine binding as well.