KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Hundreds of thousands of hemp plants, possibly many more, are growing across Tennessee right now.
Since the state started accepting applications year-round in June, the Department of Agriculture has received over 400 more applications.
They’ve had to hire more staff to help process the applications and help people with the requirements to get a growers license.
First-time growers are learning as they go when it comes to caring for these labor-intensive plants.
Including Mark Lavender, an East Knoxville hemp farmer who 10News has been following through the growing process.
“Grow, grow, grow,” he said. “Just want them to get bigger.”
Lavender learns something new about hemp farming every day while tending to his plants.
He has nearly 900 hemp clones in the ground.
“I’m trying to water them more to get them going but they’re taking their time,” said Lavender
Most of his plants have been in the ground for 8 weeks, and they grow faster than you think.
“The tallest one that I’ve measured so far is like 43 inches,” said Lavender.
Many are starting to develop buds.
“You can see the hairs on them where they’re starting to flower out,” said Lavender.
That’s the important part of the hemp. It’s where the coveted CBD oil comes from.
But some of the plants are struggling.
“This plant had died out, it was all brown and then it came back to life,” said Lavender.
He’s learning they all grow differently.
“You have a plant that gets a lot of bushes or stems off them, branches, and then you have one that just, it’s a beautiful color, but it just doesn’t branch out as good,” said Lavender.
The hemp only has a few months left to grow.
Harvesting for this crop takes places from October through November.
But he’s already planning for next year.
“I plan on getting a watering system hooked up, getting some pipe buried in the ground,” said Lavender.
Plus a greenhouse to start growing parent plants in the winter.
It’s back-breaking, time-consuming work.
“Six to 12 hours a day out here on my days off from work. Four days a week,” said Lavender.
But he loves it. He’s even lost 25 pounds working his land.
“Even though it’s hot and humid and I’m drenched right to the bone,” he said.
Lavender said there are a lot of reasons the work will be worth it.
“The paycheck at the end, the learning experience, the health benefits that it’s gonna have for people,” he said.
The next step in the process for hemp growers comes around September.
Inspectors will collect samples from the hemp to test and make sure the THC levels are low enough for the buds to be processed for CBD products.