Local farmers unite to talk about hemp

About 20 area farmers convened over the weekend to discuss the viability of producing industrial hemp in Southwest Colorado.

After the hour-and-a-half long open discussion on Sunday, Jan. 5, nearly all the farmers packed inside a back room of the Spruce Tree Coffeehouse in Cortez indicated they were interested in growing industrial hemp locally for seed, oil and fiber production.

“If it’s economically viable and legal, I’ve got 500 acres I could start growing tomorrow,” one said.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture recently adopted the state’s first industrial hemp rules. Colorado Plateau Growers Association representative Lu Nettleton said he’s concerned with some of the language in the law, including the requirement to use genetically modified seeds and access to farms by law enforcement.

“It’s a bad, sloppy law that needs to be eliminated or amended,” he said.

Transitioning pinto bean country into industrial hemp country, Nettleton said, would be successful only if local growers cultivate local seeds, adding there are 400 wild strains of commercial hemp growing in the U.S. today.

To ensure farmers have access to local seed, Nettleton urged them to create a local co-op. If allowed to use local seed, farmers could grow the finest marijuana in the country, he added.

“Guerilla agriculture is successful, and we’re sitting on the next miracle crop in the world,” Nettleton said. “If we plant certifiable, viable hemp seeds, we can expect to yield upwards of $15,000 per acre.”

James McVaney, director of Industrial Hemp in Colorado, said a local co-op for seed cultivation and sharing was a great idea, one being pursued by other groups in Colorado. He said unique cultivars, or strains, of hemp seeds could help keep revenues local.

McVaney was unable to attend Sunday’s meeting as a scheduled guest speaker, but said via email that a co-op could aid efforts to develop an excellent local seed stock. Having the best seeds would make it more likely the cultivars could become something worthwhile in a rather short time period, McVaney added.

Farmers from Durango, Dove Creek and Lewis appeared in consensus to continue meeting to iron out concerns ranging from irrigation infrastructure to legal liabilities.

In regard to law enforcement concerns, McVaney explained the only person allowed to enter a farm would be the state THC potency inspector. To obtain a permit, a farmer must agree to allow the inspector onto the farm if they are one of the 33 percent of registered farmers selected for testing each year, he said.

Hemp producers must register with state agriculture officials by May 1 if they would like to grow industrial hemp in the 2014 growing season. Hemp talk organizer Sharon Stewart said farmers agreed to move forward, and she predicted a two-to-three-year timeline before industrial hemp would be grown in the county.