Farm Progress

Commentary: Colorado gets to claim a first, with a state-based seed company entering the market.

Willie Vogt 1, Editorial Director, Farm Progress

January 31, 2018

3 Min Read
NEW CROP POTENTIAL: Hemp offers potential as a new income source for farmers in many parts of the West, provided regulators can get things worked out.Andris Tkacenko/iStock/Thinkstock

A product long-used in early America that fell out of favor, thanks to its natural relationship to a more troublesome plant, is finding new support — hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill opened the door to the development of hemp opportunities, and many states are working on the potential for raising this new crop. Colorado recently claimed the distinction of becoming the home of the first U.S.-bred hemp seed.

This is a product that has a lot of potential for farmers, provided the Drug Enforcement Administration can open their minds to the potential of the crop.

On the Colorado Department Agriculture list of approved varieties, only one originates from the U.S. —New West Genetics from Fort Collins. The rest come from Italy, Serbia and Poland. Now for a DEA wrinkle: Hemp seed cannot move across state lines, so how are Colorado producers going to have access?

Colorado is growing all the hemp seed the state’s farmers can use from the brands certified recently. The hemp seed the state’s growers can raise will all be produced by CDA Certified Seed Growers. And there will be restrictions on the crop, too, when you can finally raise it.

Odd that we have to worry about raising hemp — an amazingly versatile crop — even as states including Washington, Colorado and more have legalized use of the “other” product for recreational use. Crazy, but then again, that’s politics.

The problem with hemp — and those restrictions — is that its THC level has to be below 0.3%. In other words, you can’t smoke the hemp and get high. But the DEA is kind of in the Dark Ages here, going back to the days when hemp was made illegal to raise. That happened in1937 with the passage of the Marijuana Act that blocked production, sales and use of a crop that was relatively new to the country. And in the process, it banned the hemp.

A little history: At one time, farmers were required to grow hemp if they had the land. This crop can be used for medicine, fiber, energy and more. Trouble is, you can’t physically tell hemp from marijuana (which is actually also hemp), except through that test for the THC level. And that’s an issue that farmers and authorities will have to work out

While the farm bill is helping with its push on hemp, if this return of a long-used crop is to be successful the authorities do have to get their act together. The Justice Department appears to be taking the gloves off for federal action on marijuana (even as more states legalize its use). In other words, crossed signals on this whole issue could be problematic.

For the farmers reading this considering raising hemp in their respective states — work with your local ag department to maximize the opportunity, and keep yourself out of trouble. But it’s also another “talk to your lawmaker” moment. We need clarity here. Hemp has the potential to return as an important crop in the future and a new income opportunity for your farm. And with prices where they are, that would be a good thing.

 

About the Author(s)

Willie Vogt 1

Editorial Director, Farm Progress

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