Inside Agronomy

Don Fowlkes
Chief Agronomist

An agronomist studies plant and soil science and understands the scientific practices associated with producing a crop. I have a doctorate in agronomy from Virginia Tech and, for 17 years, I worked with the UT Extension Service as its tobacco specialist. And, for 14 years, I was the Manager of Agronomy for Philip Morris.

What I bring to the table at Blühen is an understanding of agronomic practices and an existing relationship with tobacco farmers in Tennessee. Tobacco farmers are well positioned for growing hemp: they have good land and high-quality soils, well drained with water-holding capacity; they have the equipment to cultivate a crop and barns to hang and dry a crop in; they have access to labor and experience managing labor; and, they are facing declining demands for their product. Hemp is coming at a unique time. Tobacco farmers need hemp, and hemp needs tobacco farmers.

My passion is the opportunity to help successful tobacco farmers become successful hemp farmers; that’s the real reason I got interested. I couldn't be more excited about this unique opportunity!

My role revolves around two critical business objectives: biomass supply assurance and biomass quality assurance. Biomass is the dry flowers, or buds, from hemp plants. If you have no biomass, you have no CBD. Our standards require that biomass be uniformly low in THC, high CBD, with the correct moisture content... and it all requires working hand in glove with our farmers.

To get a high CBD percentage, we make sure we are planting good genetic seed. The key factor is to select the right genetics - and then use sound production practices to promote it.

Right now, hemp is new as an agriculture crop. We don’t have the research to support recommended practices. So, we’re using what we do know about the hemp plant, and what we know about farming and agriculture, to partner with University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and, hopefully, others to generate research-based information so we can help our farmers make good science-based decisions. We’re basically writing the book - for the Southeastern region in particular.

It’s exciting for me to learn a new crop - and bring an understanding of an existing industry. I feel this job was made for me. I’m having fun and glad to participate! Hemp is here - and now; this new crop meets conventional agriculture.