Yes, you can plant industrial hemp in Mesa County, and at least one grower has already begun sprouting transplants for Mesa County’s first crop since the 1940s — when hemp was a patriotic crop for farmers to grow. At that time, our government encouraged farmers to grow as much hemp as possible to aid the war effort for the production of rope, cordage, and cloth.
I was previously informed the county commissioners had not approved the production of this agricultural crop when they opted out of Amendment 64. Since then the acting Mesa County attorney David Frankel has stated “hemp is specifically excluded from the definition of marijuana,” thus its production is legal in Mesa County and other areas of Colorado as long as growers apply through the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
As during the Hemp for Victory period when a Hemp Stamp Tax was issued to each grower, Colorado Department of Agriculture approves the production of hemp. CDA charges an administrative fee of $200 plus one dollar per acre. Additional fees will be charged to cover inspection and sampling costs. David Gordon, the local CDA plant inspector, will be visiting each location during flowering to collect samples for testing. If the level of THC is below 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis the field will be approved for harvest. Concentrations in excess of this level will result in the crop being rejected. The approved fields may be processed for fiber, oil, or seed.
We really don’t know how the cultivars of industrial hemp will respond in our soils and climate. Will they have a higher THC level and not be viable as a commercial crop? Will the fiber be of sufficient quality for processing? What level of Omega 3 will be in the seed? These are questions for which we need answers.
There are a number of problems and potential risks of growing this new crop. Availability of seed is difficult as moving seed across state line and country borders is illegal. Canada has an active industrial hemp industry and is a likely source of high-quality seed, but how do you bring seed into Colorado without running afoul of federal law? To assist Colorado hemp growers, Governor Hickenlooper requested assistance in easing restriction on the importation of viable hemp seed from Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. In addition, there are no pesticides labeled for use on cannabis. Even so-called organic pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides) cannot be applied to this new crop unless the crop is on the label. Fortunately the Colorado Department of Agriculture is developing a list of pesticides that could be used on Cannabis species and not constitute a violation of pesticide labeling or other federal and state pesticide laws and regulations.
Have you ever stopped to think what pesticides are applied to medical marijuana provided to cancer patients and others? There are no guidelines on pesticides which care givers can use due to federal restrictions. Some of the products currently being used are not even permitted on vegetable crops, so how safe are they on the marijuana provided to patients?
Crop insurance, farm loans, and other federal programs designed to assist farmers may not be available if industrial hemp is grown on their farms. Local farmers who receive thousands of dollars a year in federal subsidies are not going to risk losing those funds by growing industrial hemp. This risk factor is going to limit the number of fields you see involved with this new crop.
Banking is another issue hemp farmers will need to contend with. Banks are regulated by the federal government and even though the federal government has issued guidance on bank involvement with Cannabis operations, bankers may still be reluctant to provide services for fear of being prosecuted for federal laws and regulations violations.
Where are hemp growers going to process the crop they produce? Obviously growers have found a method of processing which is acceptable to the Colorado Department of Agriculture as they are required to provide this information when filing their application with CDA. Specialized industries are being developed to deal with the harvest and processing of this crop and it will be fun to watch this new agricultural industry develop in Mesa County and western Colorado. It will also be interesting to see (and hear) how our local constables deal with this marijuana look-alike.
GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.