Hemp is changing the value of farm ground
In Rocky Ford, Colo., agriculture is king. Alfalfa and produce — especially the area’s famous cantaloupes — along with other crops are part of the landscape and the economy, even in bad years.
For one farmer, whose family has been farming in the Arkansas Valley for generations, the temptation to plant hemp was two-fold. He said it follows alfalfa well, has a good return on investment, and has the potential to help, for example, children suffering from seizures that can purportedly be controlled through the use of CBD oil.
He also said the market price for a clone, or a female plant, is $5, adding up to about $9,000 per acre to plant. Some choose a slightly less expensive route, by planting feminized seed for $1 per seed or about $2,000 per acre. Last year, he grew five acres, this year he, his brother, and his dad will raise about 50 acres.
While he was part of an existing operation, the Arkansas farmer, who didn’t want his name used, said it could prove difficult and expensive for someone hoping to grow hemp to secure farm ground, either through purchase or lease. He said one-year cash leases have been secured for $1,000 per acre, quadruple or more than typical rates, in his area by hemp growers.
In La Junta, the former WalMart building is now a hemp growing facility, Folium Biosciences, owned by Diamond A Farms. According to the La Junta Tribune Democrat newspaper, Diamond A Farms grew 370 acres and 550,000 hemp plants in 2018 and employs 200 people in their La Junta, Rocky Ford and Colorado Springs locations.
The process is labor intensive from, especially weed control. He said many mornings are spent hoeing weeds and though he may utilize a cultivator, he said “there’s no way around swinging a hoe.”
He said some growers do what he called a wet harvest, though his location allows him to cut mature plants and let the plant field dry for five days. This can be done either by hand or with a modified silage chopper.
“We have a renovated combine that we put a hemp kit in so we’re basically running the stuff we windrowed out in the field through the combine, putting it in the truck, and bagging it from there,” he said.
The 500-pound sacks of biomass are then sent to the processor to extract the CBD oil using a hammer mill. Last year, he raised about 1,500 pounds per acre, which he said is light and attributed it to the steep learning curve. Processors pay on percent point, measuring the percentage of CBD oil in a bud, and adjusting for the stems and leaves in the bag. On a crop measuring 10 percent oil, the farmer said he would have been paid $4 per point or $40 per pound.
“This year, you could probably expect prices to be in the $3 per percentage point range,” he said.
His crop was purchased by a processor in Loveland, though it hasn’t yet been picked up.
One lending professional in the Arkansas Valley said some banks are unwilling to work with hemp growers, though he said he’s seeing an increase in older farmers leasing their farm ground to growers, especially if their debts are looming large. The demand for ground has caused lease prices in some counties to increase significantly. The farmer estimates the acres planted in the Arkansas Valley tripled from 2018, many transitioned from alfalfa.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture announced Thursday (May 30), that in response to the recent passage of the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act, commonly known as the farm bill, Gov. Jared Polis has signed the Hemp Regulation Alignment With 2018 Federal Farm Bill, in addition to the Industrial Hemp Products Regulation Bill. The bill signings, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, “will further establish Colorado as an innovating force in the promotion of this high-value agricultural commodity.”
The farm bill enables every state department of agriculture to submit a hemp management plan to the USDA outlining how various aspects of hemp cultivation and processing will be managed within their jurisdiction. As a result, the Colorado Department of Agriculture is partnering with eight state agencies to establish a statewide initiative known as the Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan (the CHAMP). ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.