Local farms plan hemp test plots

Mancos, Yellow Jacket picked

Two Montezuma County farmers will be among some 100 across Colorado to grow close to 1,300 acres of industrial hemp this year.

Last fall, Sharon Stewart organized Hemp Talks/Western Slope to bring area farmers together with other industrial hemp activists. She shared the promising news with a handful of advocates Sunday at the group's monthly meeting.

According to Stewart, a farmer near Mancos and another near Yellow Jacket both filed applications with state agriculture officials to grow research and development plots in 2014. The Mancos farm plans to test a one-acre site, and the Yellow Jacket farm plans a larger five-acre plot.

"It's not a lot, but at least it's something in this area," said Stewart.

After the legalization of industrial hemp in Colorado last year, the greatest hurdle for area farmers has been locating a seed source. Hemp remains classified as a controlled substance under federal law, but Chris Boucher, vice president of U.S. Hemp Oil in California, has provided local farmers with the seed.

"He's not only supplying the seed, but (Boucher) has also agreed to pay for the water at these two research plots," Stewart said.

Betsy Garrison with the Mt. Lookout Grange in Mancos said the organization has historical data that reveals industrial hemp was once a huge agricultural product locally. The 66-member Grange organization was re-formed last summer after years of dormancy.

"The national Grange supports research and development for industrial hemp, but they are really concerned about the THC levels," Harrison said.

THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for a user's buzz, is only found in low levels in industrial hemp strains. The state mandates the THC level in hemp be 0.3 percent of less.

Hemp Talks legislative committee chair Tami Graham also relayed concerns that hemp grown at high altitude could possibly generate higher levels of THC, but added there were 25,000 known uses for hemp.

"We have to find the right fit for our area," said Graham.

Stewart believes the best short-term options for locally grown hemp include using the seed to produce biofuel and the stalks chipped and used as bedding for livestock.

"You can't sell anything from the research and development plots, including the seeds," Stewart said.

During Sunday's meeting, Graham, who also serves as director of Mancos Valley Resources, said the Hemp Talks group could possibly receive funding from the non-profit MVR organization to continue with additional outreach and educational opportunities.

"We're getting to the point where we are generating momentum," Graham said. "I think it would be good for Hemp Talks to fall under our umbrella."

Hemp Talks/Western Slope was recently approved to partner with the 5th Annual Hemp History Week, a national effort to promote over 250 grassroots events. The Hemp Talks/Western Slope event includes an informational booth at next month's Dolores River Festival, where samples of hemp-made products will be available.

"We will have enough samples for 2,000 people," Stewart said.