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Hemp in Agriculture, Part ll

Mitch Yergert of Colorado Department of Agriculture

Mitch Yergert of Colorado Department of Agriculture

This is the second article in The Prowers Journal relating to a Hemp Road Show held February 25th at Lamar Community College. The program offered three speakers who described the history of hemp agriculture and production in the U.S. and its recent resurgence in the farming community. The first article focused on the mechanics and production of hemp as an agricultural crop in Colorado presented by farmer Rick Trojan. The follow-up article details the progress of agricultural hemp development in the state as viewed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and information on attempts to de-list it as a restricted product through changes in national legislation.

Mitch Yergert is the Director of the Division of Plant Industry for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. His department is responsible for the regulations that pertain to growing hemp in the state and he detailed the regulatory process for the growth of hemp and how it complies with the current farm bill. He provided some aspects of the recent interest in hemp, “Amendment 64 passed in 2012 while allowed the use of recreational marijuana in Colorado and it included a provision which would regulate hemp separately. The Industrial Hemp Act was passed in 2013 gave jurisdiction to the State Department of Agriculture to oversee its growth and production. Our farm bill authorizes institutions of higher education and our departments to oversee hemps production and development in Colorado.”

“Hemp is defined in our state constitution and state statutes as being below 0.3% THC content and that cannot be altered until our constitution has been amended. Anything above that percentage is listed as marijuana,” he explained. Yergert said that a waiver for a crop between 0.3% to 1% is available and this allows some legal leeway in that the CDA won’t take steps against a grower but doesn’t prevent law enforcement from taking an interest in you. “If you have an agreement to destroy the crop when it’s at 0.6%, the law won’t become involved.” He added the THC content in Colorado marijuana is quite high and if you even have a crop at up to 2%, “You probably won’t be able to sell it to anyone at that low level.”

Yergert explained that efforts are underway to regulate hemp on a national, uniform level. “We had 30 states and one Indian tribe attended a September gathering in Denver which discussed bringing the hemp industry under some unified regulations. The goal is to have hemp viewed as a basic ag commodity crop such as corn or wheat. When this happens we’ll see the easing of some regulations pertaining to financing a crop, insurance coverage, credit and the availability to develop a commodity market,” he explained. He said because of its regulations, marijuana can show it was a $1.3B crop in the state last year, with taxes applied to it to help education and communities and the creation of 30,000 more jobs. Hemp cannot show those numbers at this point and that is needed to develop legislation that can move the crop forward.” He said a lot of development is also needed in the permitting process for the production and manufacture of hemp products.

The last speaker at the session was John Finamore, the Executive Director of the National Hemp Association. He echoed Yergert with having similar goals for hemp’s nationwide recognition and regulation. “Our goal is to have hemp equal to other traditional crops which opens the doors to financing, credit, manufacture and marketing, but before that happens we need national legislation which de-schedules hemp as an illegal drug.” He added, “We started developing industrial hemp in the farm bill during the last legislative session and we’re working ahead for 2017’s farm bill with bi-partisan support growing for it in the House and the Senate. We have a caucus in congress that supports this level of development for hemp. It all starts for us when its legal listing is changed with law agencies at the federal level.” He said the lack of support mainly comes from the lack of understanding of what the plant is about and the potential for so many uses.

He compared its potential to the market value of marijuana at this point. “I would estimate that the marijuana industry is seeing around $30B profit by 2025 with added growth when more states adopt it for recreation purposes. In Colorado last year, there was $1.3B profit for a state with about five million people and of course, not everyone used it.” He said hemp’s potential would dwarf marijuana’s as there’s a totally open market for everyone in the nation for the uses and products that hemp can deliver. “Almost every person in the country can find a hemp product in their daily lives, from medicine to construction materials and a growth in the food industry. Everyone has a use for it and this will multiply the agricultural growth rate in our country.” He concluded his remarks saying investor growth is required to start the machinery rolling and the development on a processing industry to meet future demands for the products that are manufactured from hemp. Education on what hemp is and isn’t compared to marijuana is going to be a major factor is moving forward.

By Russ Baldwin

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