Hemp gains in Dolores County

Development Corp. partners with advocates

The Dolores County Development Corp. has partnered with a local advocacy group to help educate area farmers about industrial hemp opportunities.

Members of the DCDC board voted unanimously Monday to secure the licensing rights to screen Bringing It Home, a hemp documentary. The 52-minute film explores why a crop with widespread benefits has been illegal to farm in the United States, examines hemp's history and current industries and reveals views from opponents and proponents of legalizing industrial hemp farming.

A date has yet to be finalized, but Bringing It Home will be screened sometime in June at the Dolores County Courthouse.

"It's exciting to partner with other organizations," said Sharon Stewart.

Last fall, Stewart led efforts to establish Hemp Talks/Western Slope Colorado, a local organization aimed to inform farmers and others about industrial hemp. On Monday, she addressed DCDC board members, owners of the now-defunct San Juan Bioenergy plant in Dove Creek.

"We've had some lively discussions in our monthly meetings, and people are really excited about the potential for hemp production in the area," Stewart told DCDC members.

The conversation that continues to surface among Hemp Talks members is the former Dove Creek processing plant. Stewart said that if industrial hemp were ever to be produced in Southwest Colorado, then farmers would need a local processing facility. She added that converting hemp seed into biodiesel was the easiest production method available.

During the near hour-long discussion, DCDC board members indicated that they offered small loans of $500 to $5,000 to residents interested in launching a local business, and they invited the Hemp Talks organization to tour the Dove Creek plant.

"We're fully supportive of your efforts, and we're willing to work with you in the future," DCDC Chairman Bryce Capron told Stewart.

DCDC board member Dan Fernandez was excited to learn that farmers could profit $600 per acre from growing drought-resistant industrial hemp. He added the biodiesel plant, which opened as a local processing house for sunflowers and safflowers, could easily be converted for hemp oil.

"This is very interesting," Fernandez said. "This could be a huge, long-term benefit for Dolores County."

Stewart agreed, stating she was ecstatic to know that Hemp Talks now has a viable partner.

"I think the potential is huge," Stewart said. "This has been a good first step."

The Dove Creek oil production plant was announced with great fanfare in the fall of 2007. Four years later, the plant was shuttered and $4.3 million in debt, after operating for only 18 months. The facility is capable of producing 1.5 million gallons of oil annually.

Stewart informed DCDC board members that obtaining seed was the most immediate hurdle to growing industrial hemp. She said many area farmers have also expressed legitimate banking, legal and federal farm subsidy concerns.

Officials legalized hemp production in Colorado earlier this year, and a May 1 deadline exists for farmers to apply with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

In Denver on Tuesday, the Senate Local Government Committee voted 6-0 to pass Senate Bill 184, which makes it easier for farmers to get a license to grow hemp in Colorado. The bill also allows people to sell products made from Colorado-grown hemp, and it sets up a grant program to fund university research on hemp.