February 27th, 2013 by Thomas Wills
The Colorado based organization HempCleans (www.HempCleans.com) would like to work with the State and local governments to jumpstart the return of one of America’s fiber and oil seed crops, industrial hemp.
As part of a town meeting hosted by State Senator Gail Schwartz in Hotchkiss on February 10, representatives of HempCleans gave an overview of the uses of hemp and in-progress efforts in Colorado to bring the crop back. Schwartz and fellow legislator Don Coram plan to collaborate on a bill that would facilitate the growing of the crop in the State.
A lesser noted result of the passage of Amendment 64 last fall was an addendum that also legalized the growing of industrial hemp in Colorado.
Hemp has been grown in the United States since pre-Revolutionary War times and was once a primary cloth fiber and oil seed crop until supplanted by cotton. But due to the illegalization of a related plant, marijuana, hemp has also been prohibited from being grown by farmers in the United States since the 1940’s.
In the meantime industrial hemp is grown in Canada, Europe and most of the rest of the industrialized world.
Industrial hemp contains only trace amounts of THC (the active drug component in marijuana). Retail sale of hemp products in the U.S. is estimated at $365 million annually.
During the meeting, Janson Lauve, Lynda Parker and Eric Hunter of HempCleans explained the status of industrial hemp in the state and the world while passing around samples of hemp products that are manufactured elsewhere and imported into the United States.
These include a pair of 100% hemp cloth blue jeans (wonderfully soft but made in China), hemp socks, hempcrete (similar to cinderblock), hemp OSB board, and hemp soaps and oils. Manila rope is also made from hemp. Hunter roamed the room pouring samples of hemp milk (similar to soy or almond milk.)
Hunter explained the current economics of growing hemp and both he and Parker stressed that there is an effort (particularly on the Internet) to oversell the possibilities of the crop. Hunter said that seed yields were about 200 to 800 pounds an acre resulting in an average of about a $900 per acre yield on just the seed.
The value of the stem fiber would be in addition to this. Hemp oil sells at wholesale levels from $12 to $50 a gallon with certified organic oil at the top end. Hemp is also a nitrogen fixer and thus would be a productive rotational crop, enriching the soil in many ways including extracting some contaminants. T
he initial market for hemp in Colorado would be for small growers to produce quality seeds for other future growers. Currently it is illegal is import non-sterilized hemp seeds into the United States so they would need to be produced within the state. HempCleans is working to secure a supply of seeds for prospective growers.
In the long term, Parker said that, if the crop is to become a major contributor to the economy, Colorado needs to develop the industrial infrastructure to process hemp fiber and seeds. If we could do this before other states, Parker said, we could capture a larger portion of the current and future hemp markets.
Even though growing industrial hemp is now legal in Colorado it is still an issue that needs to be clarified by the federal government since the DEA still technically has the power to prohibit (or allow) its cultivation.
Parker urged support of the Industrial Hemp Farm Act (HB1866) which has drawn broad bipartisan support including that from Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Parker said that four more states are poised to legalize the growing of hemp.
In Canada a regulatory framework has been set up that charges hemp farmers a registration fee of about a thousand dollars plus $5 per acre per year to fund inspections.
At the end of the meeting the difference between hemp and marijuana was underlined when local marijuana growing advocates Scott C. Wilson of Hotchkiss and Jere Lowe of Paonia asked why anyone would grow hemp at a dollar a pound for seed when they could grow marijuana for thousands of dollars a pound for the high THC herb.
Parker explained that the hemp issue was separate from the pot issue. Hemp would be a useful alternative crop for farmers, another option with many benefits beyond the crop itself.
On February 4, the Delta County Commissioners passed a general ban on the growing of commercial scale recreational marijuana in the county. The ban does not affect the future cultivation of industrial hemp.
The North Fork Merchant Herald