Hemp farms beginning to sprout across state

Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties account for a third of the more than 150 applications statewide to grow hemp that have been submitted to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

People in Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado counties submitted 53 of the 159 applications received by the state, according to the agriculture department. The deadline to register was May 1.

Statewide, prospective hemp growers have applied to grow the crop on 1,600 acres, with applicants coming from nearly every part of the state, including the Western Slope, San Luis Valley and southeast Colorado. The agriculture department declined to provide acreage of individual operations to BizWest, contending that the information was confidential.

Growing hemp became legal along with the retail sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana after Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 in November 2012. Producers began registering with the state in March to grow the crop, although federal law still bars commercial growth. The plant has lower levels of the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, tetrahydrocannabinol, and can be used in textiles, biofuel, paper and other products.

The crop could mean economic opportunity for Colorado beyond recreational marijuana sales and the resulting pot tourism. U.S. retailers sell more than $300 million worth of goods containing hemp, all of which is imported because farmers were barred from growing it here, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. Federal law still prohibits commercial growth.

In Boulder County, 12 applications have been approved with another 11 being considered. In Larimer County, 10 applications were approved and another seven were pending. Weld County hemp growers had nine of their applications approved and another two were awaiting authorization.

Only two have been denied for inadequate documentation, one in Weld County and another in Boulder County.

Ken Stanton, a high school teacher who plans to grow hemp in Fort Collins, said he is growing the crop through his business, Amagi Agriculture, to research what strains grow best and their applications, including paper and oil production.

Stanton, an engineer who holds a Ph.D., said if he can build his business, he may work on the project full time but for now only will plant a fraction of an acre indoors. Growing the plant outdoors would add too many variables, such as weather, light, humidity and temperature, to his experiment.

“We don’t really have a lot of history of the varieties we’re using in Colorado,” Stanton said. “We just don’t know what they’re going to be used for.”

The lack of hemp seed and legal barriers to importing it have posed challenges for growers such as Stanton, although he says he obtained his hemp seed legally within the state.

“Getting seed is still challenging,” he said.

Morris Beagle, owner of Colorado Hemp Co. in Loveland, expects the hemp industry to generate jobs and contribute to the state’s economy. He thinks educational efforts about hemp, including events such as the Northern Colorado Hemp Festival, have led to heightened interest in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., also once held a forum on industrial hemp and its importance to the economy in Fort Collins.

“There’s been education that’s been going on for several years,” Beagle said. “I’m glad the farmers are paying attention.”

While marijuana decriminalization has generated some negative headlines, hemp has remained a positive aspect of Amendment 64, he said.

“There’s nobody speaking out against hemp,” he said, “because there’s nothing to speak out against.”

Steve Lynn can be reached at slynn@bizwestmedia.com and 303-630-1968 or 970-232-3147. Follow Lynn on Twitter at @SteveLynnBW.

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