With Colorado regulations officially in effect for the newly legal cultivation of industrial hemp — perhaps the less notable of changes set forth in 2012’s marijuana-focused Amendment 64 approval — the state’s farmers say the crop would likely be a lucrative one, but there are still questions to be answered.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture implemented regulations on Dec. 30, requiring farmers to register with the agency to grow hemp — contrived from the cannabis plant, but does not contain the amounts of the psychoactive substance THC found in marijuana.
While it is still against federal law to grow hemp, Colorado growers can begin registering to grow it industrially, either for commercial or research and development purposes, as of March 1.
The regulations require registrants growing for both commercial and research purposes to report how they plan to sell or use their crop, and those growing for research and development purposes may grow no more than 10 acres of hemp at a time. There are no limits on acreage for commercial growers.
Ron Carleton, the state’s deputy commissioner of agriculture, said his office has seen a “fair” amount of interest from farmers who are considering the crop.
“Now we’re just kind of waiting until March to see how many people actually register,” he said.
Kent Peppler, a Mead, Colo., farmer and president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said hemp would be a good crop, especially because it requires little water and fertilizer, compared to other plants, and it has a wide variety of uses, from fiberglass to fabric.
“I haven’t heard anybody who’s really sat down and said they’re against growing hemp,” Peppler said. “I think everybody realizes in Weld County and in Colorado in general that we need a wide variety of crops to make a living, and certainly hemp adds to that.”
Many say hemp — banned in the U.S. since the 1950s — has been unfairly lumped in with its genetic cousin, marijuana.
Carleton said the U.S. attorney general’s office has issued a statement regarding Amendment 64, opting to withhold enforcement of federal laws while keeping an eye on how the state’s regulations are developed and enforced.
Still, Peppler and Carleton said farmers have expressed some concern revolving around the idea that they’re not sure how growing hemp would affect their eligibility for federal programs, like crop insurance with the United States Department of Agriculture.
“You’re not gonna risk your safety net for an alternative crop,” Peppler said.
Carleton said his office has asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about whether or not farmers who grow hemp on one portion of land would still be eligible for USDA programs on their other crops. He said he hasn’t received an answer, but he hopes to have one before registration opens on March 1.
Peppler added that changing the federal law banning hemp would likely require a widespread educational campaign that would distinguish hemp from marijuana. He said his organization supports industrial hemp production, and he’d like to see farmers get the federal go-ahead to grow the crop.
“It has some hurdles to go over, but it’s certainly an option for farmers,” Peppler said.
Residents will have until May 1 to register to grow hemp this year. Once they register, they’re required to provide proof that their hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent THC. Carleton said his office will randomly select roughly one-third of registrants’ crops for inspection during the growing season.
Annual registration fees are $200 plus $1 per acre for commercial production. For research and development purposes, fees are $100 plus $5 per acre.
Leonard Roskop, a longtime farmer who grows mostly corn on his southern Weld County land, said he would consider hemp as a crop, but details, like how well the crop will grow in these parts, remain to be seen.
He said getting seed will likely be difficult, since it’s illegal to import it from countries, like Canada, where the crop is grown legally.
“I still think it would be a great product,” Roskop said. “The only problem that I see in harvesting is just to have the right equipment. I think the market will establish itself.”❖