Area farmers were presented with three aspects of hemp farming this past Saturday, February 25th, at a Hemp Road Show, presented at Lamar Community College. The presenters at the seminar, which was attended by about 50 persons, included Rick Trojan, Northeast Colorado Hemp Farmer, Mitch Yergert from the Colorado Department of Agriculture and John Finamore, the Executive Director of the National Hemp Association.
Trojan, one of the partners of Colorado Cultivars near Easton, explained some of the mechanics of growing, cultivating and harvesting hemp plants. His group owns about 300 acres in northern Colorado, or about one-fifth of the acreage in the state devoted to growing hemp for commercial use. He was interested in gathering potential growers, who once had harvested either their hemp seed or stalk, his operation would purchase the product.
Trojan explained, “There will be 450,000 pounds of certified and viable hemp seed brought in from Europe which is fully farm-bill compliant as well as with a MOU with a cooperating university for farmers looking to get in on the program this year.” He provided a brief history of hemp growing in the U.S., dating back to former President Thomas Jefferson who cultivated a crop for at least 14 years. Trojan said, “Because of competition with DuPont back in the 1930s which was developing synthetics for producing rope, hemp was classified by the government as marijuana, despite it falling under the 0.3% THC content which delivers the ‘high’ users experience.” Recreational and medical marijuana usually has a THC level of between 25-30% today while hemp with up to a 1% level has to be destroyed. Trojan said it was demonized up until the country went to war in the 1940s and America experienced a shortage in natural rope when the Philippine Islands were controlled by Japan. “The country came up with a, ‘Hemp for Victory’ campaign, including films from the Department of Agriculture and Defense and in over two years, 100,000 acres were planted to make rope. The war ended and hemp went back to being a restricted and illegal plant.”
He explained that when planted side by side, a hemp field will start to reduce the THC content in a marijuana field, so that after two crop rotations, it’s pretty worthless. That’s why marijuana growers are using sealed off and filtered facilities for their grow operations. Trojan explained that Colorado leads the country in marijuana acreage and in hemp, but other states are catching on with 909,000 acres across the country being cultivated this year. It’s a hardy and versatile plant with 25,000 different uses from the seeds and the stalk. “Hemp can do anything petrochemicals can and it’s the same with corn. Hemp can be used to make clothing, animal feed, is used for medical purposes with its canabanoid content and even for battery and electronic capacitor production in cell phones.” The medical offshoots of hemp are referred to as CBDs and Europe is conducting studies to expand the reach of medicinal uses.
“The hemp seed market made $41M last year, plus some operations in Canada are close to ours. Japan is seeing tremendous growth because of the nuclear disaster it experienced several years ago stemming from their earthquake. The contamination has impacted their fishing grounds in the Pacific Ocean so they’re turning to hemp for the omega oil content they got from fish products.” He said there is more protein in one ounce of hemp seed than in an ounce of salmon. It’s also rich in amino acids and phosphorus and can be used as feed for livestock.
The stalk can grow from eight fifteen feet and has a multitude of uses. The BAST or center core of the plant can be manufactured as plastics and polymers as well as animal bedding, construction material and textiles. The bark can be used in batteries which hold a charge longer than conventional batteries, Trojan claimed, which mean a longer life for battery components which can be grown rather than manufactured. Graphene, he said, sells for $2,000 a gram while hemp sells for $500 a ton.
Turning to production, Trojan said the plant works best in well-drained, loose soil with acidity from 7-7.5%. “The higher the clay content, the lower the yield for grain and fiber. You can over water, but we’ve had luck with a heavy rain and even got the crop up from snow cover after we had planted.” He said heavy rains, though, can stunt growth. “We planted in mid-May and used conventional techniques and equipment, planting by drill, with a six-inch spread, one inch down.” Few pesticides are needed and bind weed, he said, can snap as strands around the stalk will break as the hemp plant outpaces the weed in growth. Leafy canopy also prevents weed growth. He said it is a labor intensive crop and plant stress can cause the THC content to increase to a point where it has to be destroyed after testing. A four-year crop rotation is recommended along with a dry-down of 11%.
Trojan said his group will purchase local farmer’s product, but it needs to be on a scale larger than 300 acres as it won’t be a financially viable product at those amounts. “We need about 10 to 20,000 acres to feed to the processors to make the plan work. We’ll make the marketing connections for you. We know it’ll take some time before the soil gets used to the plants and we are offering some options for your acreage.”
This is the first of two parts in the hemp discussion held Saturday, February 25th at Lamar Community College. The next article will focus on the aspects of hemp farming from the point of view of the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the National Hemp Association.
By Russ Baldwin
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