291. Industrial Hemp Project | Rodale Institute | Senior Lab Technician | Tara Caton

Tara Caton

Rodale Institute

Senior Lab Technician

Industrial Hemp Project Lead

It all started when this listener said, every time I hear you say millennial I think of this video of this guy bashing millennials sitting around in their yoga pants and so I made my own video of the amazing millennials I interview who are so not ever lazy. I was going through some old Organic Gardening Magazines. A lot of my listeners are asking me how to get rid of pests organically and there were all these letters to the editors saying I’m not ever reading to you again because you are too political and they answered back and said we believe they are integrated and you can’t have one without the other. 

I have always wanted to sell ad space for Rodale’s so I would see Organic Gardening Magazine in every store i went to as I traveled around. 

It is Tuesday March 26, 2019. I am so stoked because not only is my guest a rock star millennial but she is the Senior Lab Technician at the Rodale Institute on the Industrial Hemp Project . So welcome Tara Caton!

Over the course of a four-year trial, we are exploring hemp’s powerful potential to heal soil and support farmers.

Hemp, marijuana’s non-psychotropic cousin, was grown in Pennsylvania for more than 260 years as a valuable cash crop.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

It  kind of has been something ingrained in me since I was a child

large property in a wooded area

planting different flowers and ornamentals

barefoot in the oil

hands dirty

earliest memory

say that as I went into college to pursue a degree

science field

lost site of that

learn more

take courses it kind of all came back to me

that was where I really came from

When I took my first botany course in my sophomore year of my undergraduate degree I was totally reconnected with plants and the environment. I pursued a degree from there at a local Kutztown University and got my 

bachelors in biology



also in penn

pursued a degree in botany

masters there

I had this amazing ability to play with plants and I took care of plants in the greenhouses there

from there I had quite a bit of education

different areas

super familiar with

where I got my first degree was a great opportunity and learning more about the Rodale Institute and the global impact it has and it touched on my goal

didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to make a difference and help figure out how we are going to feed the world as we go forward

solutions based research in organic agriculture

It has this education aspect

getting to go out there educate the public

teach farmers

how to continue to farm in this way

I really feel like I have that opportunity being here

It came full circle because agriculture is not something I had expected.

I love that! I always say you don’t always have to know exactly what you want to do when you go to college, you may end up sitting next to someone who says, my cousins best friends sisters is doing this job you would love and I took a wildflower class I didn’t know about but got a job for the forest service.

“I wrote this quote down:

Over the course of a four-year trial, we are exploring hemp’s powerful potential to heal soil and support farmers.

Hemp, marijuana’s non-psychotropic cousin, was grown in Pennsylvania for more than 260 years as a valuable cash crop. Banned in the 1930s, hemp production became legal for research purposes in 2014. We are exploring the plant’s potential to suppress weeds, add diversity to crop rotations, and boost farmers’ bottom lines.”

Yeah! I always like to start

introducing a li

The rodale institute has been around for a long time. We opened our research institution 1947

We have a 133 acre research and education farm in Kutztown, PA

solutions based research on organic ag

all the challenges that go with that and how to combat some of the problems and 

help farmers transition to organic

Because you have that opportunity to conduct research and educate the public and spread a global message

We have the impact to do that. 

Our founder JR Rodale he started talking about this idea of regenerative organic agriculture. 

He put that term out there but didn’t quite have the tools to define it

You hear the word sustainable a lot


is something good to consider

Sustainable means to stay the same

regenerative means to rebuild

we really need to think about as we move forward with our ever changing climate we don’t want to sustain what we are doing we want to make it better

The tools that we are working on is to accomplish that.

Our founder J.I. Rodale

wrote on the chalkboard

healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people

That is the impact of all we do and making those connections

We feel hemp is  a new crop missing a large gap in data

it was banned over 80 years ago because of its’ close relationship to the marijuana plant. We know before that it was a major cash crop and we know before that it was grown as a major crop in Pennsylvania for over 150 years before that.


we really think this is a new crop

crop rotations

key to organic

has the natural ability to suppress weeds

major challenge for organic farmers

Crop that requires

  • less space
  • less water
  • less inputs in general

Than say cotton as a textile crop

so much potential with this plant

agronomic benefits

We know there is a huge economic benefit!

We are here to serve our farmers

We are always looking for other tools to add to our tool box 

costs associated with organic farming

We started this study when the PA pilot program launched


38 states currently have pilot programs. HEMP coming off the federal listing with the recent farm bill help aid that to help farmers grow hemp again


The Rodale Institute we are one of 16 organizations to receive a research pilot permit

We planted hemp in the spring of 2017 for the first time in over 80 years

get that seed in the ground and really see where it can grow from there

no pun intended!

We’re really excited about this but there’s a lot to know. We most certainly have not figured it out in the last two years and still have a lot to do.

One warning or piece of advice is that now that we have the ability to legally grow this crop we still have a lot to learn

We are going to continue to do the work to find the questions to answer

build our research

get some of those answers from countries that never stopped growing hemp

variety 2 trials

variety trial

taking the breeds that are averrable

seed genetics

seeing how they grow here

we knew what used to grow here

soil and climatic conditions have changed drastically

take these genetics how our environmental conditions impact those varieites

eventually work on variety 

breeding varieties that will suit our conditions

We started

fiber varieties



dual purpose

industrial hemp


here a lot about



weed suppression

building soil

Can I ask one question? Maybe you’re gonna mention this, but something my husband points out a lot that animals are not getting hemp seeds in their food and we are not getting as nutritions.

definitely agree with that

obviously a lot of restrictions

potential it has as a super food for us. It’s really about getting this info and research out there to allow policy makers as an animal feed.

Working with other institutions across this nation to provide that information so it can be approved for feed for animals

continuing this type of research

if you are looking

animal production system you are going to want to have it as an approved feed for your animals

We are continuing our research here on that

Our second trial that fits into our second trial here is 

looking at the use of hemp to incorporate it into an organic rotation as a cover crop and cash crop simultaneously

crop in between your cash crop to keep in your vegetagiont all the times

hold onto that soil organic matter

another kind of comparison to hemp in comparason as how it grows

sorghum sudan grass

used as a summer cover crop before you get your small grains in to keep 

vegetation on the soil

surpress weeds and 

hold onto that soil organic matter

planted 2017 next to sordid sudan grass


followed up with a 

rye cover crop

rolled down and then planted our cash crop which was soybeans into that rolled

crimper system that was 

tool that is used to reduce plowing and tillage in your field which is also very beneficial to soil health

Our focus is soil health

I’m so glad you explained this because I read through the information and  I didn’t understand the soy beans but that makes sense now it’s your cash crop.

So not only does in corporations hemp not that rotation

set based on our farming systems trial which is 

systems trial

40 years of data side by side conventional grain cropping system and it’s the largest and longest running in North America that can 

work in organic ag

hemp is just another crop to plug in there!

What is awesome about it is it has a dual use as cover crop and a cash crop

most cover crop

has high value

20 k uses

adding another crop that has value but it’s also surpassing weeds and enhancing the soil

for the next cash crop

  • soybeans
  • corn
  • wheat

I mentioned

  • increasing crop diversity
  • building soil
  • weed suppression

Do you want to talk about some of the uses? You have no idea how frustrating this is because I had a Hemp Business and now I see Patagonia has hemp overalls and Levis has hemp jeans. And it’s just been a long time coming.

We’re using hemp to incorporate into our rotation


build soil health

suppress weeds

reduce tillage


With hemp as I said

it grows so fast

just to kind of give you a visual

We planted it at the end of May

3 days it was germinated

at the end of the week knee high

it’s unbeleiveable how fast this plant grows

because of that ability to get up and out of the ground

shades out of those early weeds

weed pressure is a huge struggle for organic farmers

What comes with that increased weed pressure is an increase of tillage and plowing

because of hemps ability to surprise these weeds we can reduce this tiallage


soil healthy

both the physical and biological and soil health

maintaining that organic layer where it stands

important to us

great success

  • planted hemp followed with
  • rye cover crop
  • no till soybean planting system

normally we practice rotational no-till

We plant our cash crop we usually have to till before planting our cover crop because you really want the establishment of your cover corp

full cover of your soil

we were hoping with hemp going in before our cover crop our winter cover crop we could actually elite this round of tillage!

We did that! We split our field in half

rotational system

winter cover crop

the other half we didn’t

We just mowed it off

directly drilled the rye into the hemp stubble

And we were really pleased with the results.

The following year we looked at soybeans

We looked at the impact weed pressure could have on that major cash crop

We had a particularly wet year here on the East Coast

our average of rain fall is less then twenty inches and we had over 70″


many farmers lost out  and had compete destruction of entire fields of crops mostly corn and soybean

did not see that in our field that was planted with hemp in the year before there could be many factors that contributed to that but we compared it to other land on our farm

different soil conditions

saw an increase in yields


52 bushels per acre

That’s huge! I want to say 150% huge!

Yes we were really excited about it but not only did we see those pretty amazing yields we also saw a reduction in weed pressure

major problem weeds here

  • ragweed
  • pigsweed
  • lambsquarter

get in the way of equipment

bound up in your equipment and they contaminate your s

first year

growing hemp

reduction in these weeds


completely elimination of these weeds

scientific research study

we do have randomized replicates

We do want to repeat this study

when something goes really well

going to do it again and repeat

start again

with them hemp

We are impressed and excited about these result but we want to make sure it has repeatability

definitely not confirming that hemp has the ability to completely eliminate weeds but we are helpful about the work that we saw! We are going to continue that work

continue to replicate

hopefully other farms as well

in different soil conditions as well. so that’s our second trial

our 3rd trial is more at looking into the market of hemp

starting this year

that trail is a nutrient management as to what


what does it need in terms of fertility

what does it take out of the soil

Those are all important questions!

We are interested but we want to make sure that its not hurting the soil in any way and if it is how can we kind of work with that in an organic system

This is where I get kind of confused with cover crops

You said the hemp you can use as a cover crop. What’s rye for? Making rye bread? Feeding the animals? How come that doesn’t get to be a crop and gets turned into the soil?

that’s kind of the cost benefit analysis of a cover crop

You want to plant something that doesn’t have a huge seed cost and provide that cover

not of low value

we’re not allowing it to go to seed we’re using it as something to turn back into the soil as that next mulch as the next cash crop

has a high cost but we know that there is that higher value at the end of it

less about

not thinking about the economic value it’s the ag benefit it has incorporate into your rotation to keep cover on the ground at all times especially through  the winter

hold onto the soil organic matter

prevent things like erosion and runoff

So, I guess I still don’t get it. So rye is that the only thing they would use it for is the seeds? 

Rye is a small grain crop like wheats and oats

You’re harvesting the small grains out of it, but for us because it’s just a pretty low value crop but it is really great for a cover crop.

I have talked to a lot of people idk why I happened to ask you? What is the market?

Where are you getting your seeds because that’s a challenge becuase we haven’t been growing it here?

so kind of

for adding on to the nutrient management trial

looking at organic options to increase the nutrients within your crop!

That is going to play into the marketability of your crop

what type of market you are going to take your crop into

small farmer/large farmer whatever backyard gardener and you have an interest in growing hemp

first thing you need to do what is the intended market you want to go into

  • is it fiber for textiles?
  • is it food grow grain?
  • cbd?

Those are 3 very different markets and you would be growing the plant in 3 different ways depending on that intended end use. So it’s important to ask yourself?

  • what are your intentions?
  • what do you have to start with?

Like I said we are focusing on the fiber varieties because they grow so tall and quickly

tightly together

weed suppression

seed varieties you would space out more to allow a little greater seed production

Requires specialized harvesting equipement

both a fiber out of one crop

special harvesting machinery that’s still being developed and is quite costly

not quite accessible in America yet

The 3rd option is the CBD, it seems like it’s more bushier like a pot plant then the stalks that grow for the fiber clothing textiles? Right?

Yes, your fiber and seed crops your’e going to grow like a grain crop

  • tight
  • straight
  • tall

not a whole lot of vegetation

sometimes with seeds you would plant them space out a little bit more to allow some branching

picture that with a grain crop

wheat or corn that’s what those industrial varieties would look like


  • more like growing tomatoes
  • raised beds
  • starting indoors
  • potentially growing on black plastic

putting in a higher investment the seed cost is higher like one to five dollars a seed whereas the industrial is one to five dollars a pound of seeds

higher investment

each plant you’re gonna take careful care of

so that’s a completely different set up but it is a great option for backyard gardeners with a few raised bed because you have the ability to track individual plant because of the cost that you are putting in

greater return on the end where you need to be able to put in the labor

industrial varieties you plant them come back 80 -115 days later

the CBD you need to monitor any males that pop up

I was gonna mention that, if people want the marijuana to smoke, with the THC, they are not going to let anyone with the hemp seeds anywhere near their crop. 

cbd is very similar to the growing of marijuana

definitely higher cost

considering the genetics

stem from the genetics from marijuana and the medical marijuan industry

happen to have lower THC levels

That legal limit of 0.3 percent makes the line between what is hemp and what is marijuana

something to consider that is a higher risk to that 

similar genetics

THC content will be above the legal limit

that requires destructio of the plant

they’re just 2 molecules of the 500 molecules in a plant

go together if your CBD is increaseing your THC is incresaing

considering proximity

someone who is investing a lot of money you want to make sure there is a great distance from the industrial hemp because there will be males present in the field

haven’t quite figured out that perfect distance

3 miles

I think it should probably further then taht knowing what I know about polling and pollinators


all things we will learn as we continue

really a battle

between CBD growers and industrial growers because there’s a great demand for both!

I think this is great because for years we’ve gone through this where it’s legal and its not legal and it is and people grow it and the DEA can come in and say oh heres our .03? There was this recent giant bust of this truck load of hemp plants in Idaho, the hemp company was like we want our hemp back.

Even though it is not under the jurisdiction of the DEA

It is still a state still require a growing permit from your state government

doesn’t work that way

There are specific guidelines and programs and fees

specific to your individual state you are growing in something taht definitely to keep in mind

came off the federal listing

I just did this interview with Bob Quinn, about the market. He just grew hemp and were struggling with a market where as we have a CBD manufacturer here in Eureka and they said they ran out of hemp. And then I just find all these people are raving about CBD oil? I am like is one more person gonna mention this? 

couple of things to

depending on your resources

not taking cbd oil off the table I think you have to look at the long term 

sustainability of this industry

It’s just growing so fast and the production needs are login to be met by the man

price is going to be reduced and you’re not going to be able to get that profit. It’s going to quickly because we are seeing already  going towards that trend

production is meeting up with that

what we are lacking is the production for industrial hemp

long term goal to keep this industry

quick hot thing

We really need to consider all uses of this plant!

Awesome that’s good to hear!

mentioned that people talk about the great benefits of CBD

but it’s interesting that CBD is only one molecule of 500 in cannabis plants

research out there happening, I know penn state

wasn’t that the CBD that killed the cancer cells. 

It’s hemp as a hole, there are 499 other molecules if not more that contribute to

The other thing we need, this morning on the news, it was like emergency rooms are full of people eating edibles and they are overdosing not knowing what exactly they are doing. I hate that there’s no regulation and people don’t know what they are doing.

I think it’s so essential for our soil and I want to make hemp seed salad oil. Last year my mom was like no backyard gardener is going to grow a cover crop but I grew a crop of buckwheat. And When Liz Carlisle wrote the Lentil Underground she said if we know these are best practices why don’t we do them? She found it was the banks. 


hemp can fit in

in our rotation

either replace that summer if you have a summer weed suppression

It can replace oats, which the value of oats has dropped as well

compared to corn so it can replace corn in your rotation as well

put it in a few places when we 

first year our crops were sorghum and hemp for the first summer they grew from may-august. That really allowed us

Cover crops is about timing

you have to get them in in time before winter hits

cover for you in spiring

short season for hemp it allows you to get that crop out of there in time to get your cover crops in on time and it benefits your cash crops because that timing was perfect.

The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution- High-ProductionMethodsforSmall-ScaleFarmers

The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution: High-Production Methods for Small-Scale Farmers

Another person I just interviewed was Andrew Mefferd from Growing for Market and he also just wrote a book the Organic No-Till Farmer and I noticed one thing they really mentioned was that timing seemed essential.

I would think there is a big market for oats

IDK if I could speak a whole lot

Oats is something we include in our rotation

demand for it

really isn’t that high

in a system

corn and soy

corn and soy 


And everything else gets not ignored but we don’t talk about the small grain crops here

talk about them where there is a lack of production of some of those crops and because of our production of corn and soy greatly exceeds the demand

We have so much excess of corn and soy the prices are so low

looking into other options of crops like hemp in my opinion

so I think you had interest in growing hemp for animal feed potential for animal bedding or animal cropping. 

Do you have resources or know people growing in your area?

My husband and I have a garden and he has what I call the mini farm. And we also have a 5 acre meadow we have always wanted to plant maybe in hemp, and I of course dream of sunflowers and mike would like some wheat for bread and to feed the chicken. Maybe it could be a fall cover crop. i never thought I could grow enough hemp to make it worth it to press seeds? Maybe it’s 3 acres some day. Oh and Mike just said we want to build a house out of hemp crete.

have options there

It looks like you are maybe few months behind us in terms of your key planting season

June is the time where you get most of your precipitation which is critical the first couple

Hemp like soil that is 

  • high organic matter
  • nitrogen
  • compost we make here on site
  • chicken litter

That could be a nice recycling to feed your chickens

first few weeks are the critical stage which is important to have sufficient water so you really want to look at the time that with your precipitation

day lengths

depending on the different crop your growing


looks like it would still be a mid to late summer crop for you in montana

I think about you different options in your garden area where you are you could think of some 

  • cbd operation
  • hemp oil operation

requires space to dry the plants

figuring out a buyer or processor to press it

I think there is more processing avaialbe in the cbd market at this time if you are thinking to grow for grain to feed your animals that’s a great option for you if you are just trying to stustain

situation your little garden

have growing

dual purpose

to have grain to feed them and then have the stalk to make animal bedding as well

lot of options there

don’t need a lot of average

requires a little space

don’t need a lot of irrigation

very few inputs

industrial you want a heavy nitrogen

if you are growing for CBD heavier phosphorous source

accomplish those in different ways

space you have

plot you mentioned that’s kind of the meadow an aread htat’s been sitting a  while there maybe a weed pressure there

hemp is also a way to heal the soil it pulls out the 

precious metals

did you know it’s full of spotted knapweed that’s a great point. 

if you are going to turn it into something


sensitive to weeds

even if you just are using it to sustain the animals on your farm alone I think that could be a great system for you if you are looking to get this crop that has so many uses and you could get some many uses multiple uses for you out of one plant

looking to kind of maintain all of that CBD is a good 

have the ability

initial start up

cbd is a good option to help fund all of that

specialized equipment that is required for seeds

small hand

hand harvesting is something still happening especially for CBD is the preferred method there is a thought that the harvesting equipment destroying the plants is ruining the total concentration of CBD

farm down the road that is a small 

mixed vegetables

small csa


they started in our pilot program is well they are grwoing an acre of 

we really need availability of cloning 

high tunnels for greenhouse


certified seed


have these genetics

protective of that

Definitley much more 


figuring out depending on each state 

each state and their guidelines

really important that we start to build this domestic seed source

clone source for genetics here

market that we really don’t talk about it’s in high demand as well!

Do you have any other questions? We covered a lot? IDK if you have any more questions for me or Rodale?

 I will see if you can connect me with the farm down the road?

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?


What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

watching the plants grow

starting from a seed and turning it into something that is then turned into something in my kitchen?

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

cover cropping

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be?

My horseshoe hoe

A favorite recipe you like to eat from the garden?


A favorite internet resource?

Rodale Institute website

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

I love super nerdy I love to look through seed catalogs my favorite is Johnny’s

You’re not the first person to say that. 

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the hemp industry?

I would say have

  • an intended market
  • prepare a buyer
  • follow your states requirements

Final question-

if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?


I’m definitely seeing a lot of that with hemp especially

differences between marijuana and hemp

It’s all about education to make a greener world it’s important to get the right info out there so you don’t just read something on instagram and spread things 

How do we connect with you?

If you are locally we would love to see you 

privately funded open to the public

50k visitors

webinar series on our amazing communications team just redid the website


amazing communications team

super interactive

premilimary results on the institute!

research tab


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