Update: Costilla County hopes hemp can help improve struggling economy
Update below: The two-month period during which Colorado farmers could register to grow hemp for the 2014 growing season closed on May 1. As of 4:30 p.m. that day, state records show that 42 people or businesses were approved to grow hemp and another 53 had applied but were not yet approved. And there may be more on the way. Colorado Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Christi Lightcap says more applications may trickle in, since they simply had to be postmarked -- not received -- by May 1.
A few of the applicants stand out, including Costilla County and Colorado State University.
The list of registrants provided to us by the Colorado Department of Agriculture doesn't include any details about where or what Costilla County intends to grow. It only indicates that the county was approved to grow hemp for research and development purposes rather than commercial purposes. We've reached out to Costilla County officials about their plans and will update this post if and when we hear back.
Update, May 6: After this post went live on May 5, we heard back from Ben Doon, the Costilla County administrator for the county commissioners. He says the county is partnering with a nonprofit out of California called Fibershed to plant a quarter-acre to a half-acre of hemp seeds this spring. The seeds will be planted on the Carpenter Ranch, a 1,200-acre ranch that the county bought in 2005 with funds from a Great Outdoors Colorado grant.
"We're always looking for interesting agricultural projects that we could do," Doon says. Doing so is especially important since Costilla County and the San Luis Valley have a high unemployment rate, a low median income and little private industry, he says. Because of that, Doon explains, "nonprofits and governments have a big role to play around here to find economically viable ventures." Hemp, he figures, might be one of those ventures.
"We'll be trying a couple different varieties of hemp to see how it does in this climate," Doon says. The county already has a small bio-diesel plant that crushes locally grown sunflower and canola seeds into fuel to use in the county's fleet of vehicles. Doon says it's possible that hemp seeds could be used to produce bio-diesel, as well. In addition, the California group, Fibershed, is interested in the uses of hemp fiber.
If this year's attempt at growing hemp goes well, Doon says he envisions a bigger project next year -- possibly a commercial trial of up to twenty acres in which local farmers, many of whom have turned to more lucrative ranching, could get involved.
"We're just trying to get some baseline data," Doon says of this year's plot.
Continue reading for the rest of our original post, from May 5.
We also contacted Colorado State University and spoke with Alan Rudolph, CSU's vice president for research. CSU also applied to grow hemp for research and development purposes, and Rudolph says the university is currently in discussions with the state agriculture department and industry groups about how best to support farmers.
Ben Droz A girl helps harvest hemp in September, before the registration process was in place. One farm, Ryan Loflin, didn't wait to put seeds in the ground.
Continue for more on CSU's plans.