by Sandia Belgrade
“Why use up the forests in the making for centuries if we can get the equivalent in the annual growth of hemp?” -Henry Ford
In June the Saguache Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) heard two presentations on hemp that made a case for industrial hemp in our county.
Caren Kershner, who is on the board of the American Hemp Association and has studied botany, knows the plant thoroughly. Her first point was that while hemp has a visual similarity to marijuana and both hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis sativa species, they are genetically and chemically different. Hemp contains less than 0.3% of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive component in marijuana. Her slide presentation showed details of planting, cultivating, and water usage. Hemp requires little irrigation and is suited to arid regions such as the San Luis Valley (SLV).
25,000 products derived from hemp
According to Kershner, hemp may have been the first fiber plant cultivated by indigenous people around the world. Caren brought in matting and material samples to show its versatility. Products that can be made from hemp include textiles, cordage, furniture, food, beverages, paper and personal care. Construction materials include hempcrete, a mixture of hemp hurds (inner core of stem) and lime. Hemp fiberglass is used for automobile dash boards and panels. Hemp also makes lightweight insulating material equivalent to R-13. It is a nutritious food providing a complete protein and makes milk, beer, pasta, seeds and oils. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp which was used to make rope and canvas products for ships and pulp for paper. Hemp is used for phytoremediation for removal, degradation, or containment of contaminants in soils. Around the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, hemp is helping to reduce soil toxicity.
Hemp contains the chemical cannabidiol or CBD. CBD has many potential medical applications without side effects and no psychoactivity. Research has shown it to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. It is effective in reducing cancer cell growth, minimizing seizures and convulsions, mitigating pain and providing therapeutic relief.
Department of Agriculture presentation
Duane Sinning said the State’s industrial hemp program registers growers of industrial hemp and samples the crop to verify that the THC concentration does not exceed 0.3% on a dry weight basis. Registration is required for both commercial production as well as for research and development with industrial hemp. Certified seed assures it is a true agricultural product. Profits from hemp range from $250-400/acre. Sinning said Colorado is setting a standard and the SLV plays a critical role. Though the largest hemp farm in the United States is in Eaton, CO, many southern Colorado farmers see a profit to be made in hemp, including those in the SLV. In one year registrations have nearly doubled as have indoor and outdoor production in the state. Sinning’s advice was that the County should not step in and regulate distances between hemp and marijuana. Information on registration can be found at www.colorado.gov/pacific/agplants/industrial-hemp.
Participants agreed that educating people about hemp’s benefits and addressing their fears was critical. Twenty-three states have now enacted pro-industrial hemp legislation.
Advantages to the County
Jason Knox, CEO and founder of Feno Seed Bank in the valley cultivates seeds. In 2015 a 16-acre field yielded 10,600 lbs of hemp material from 1.76 lbs of hemp seed, a 6022:1 ratio. This worked out to 5500 lbs of hemp flower material, 2500 lbs of hemp stem material and 2600 lbs of hemp seed.
All the attendees felt hemp could generate jobs and contribute to the county’s economy. Ken Anderson, County Commissioner, said one day it might be possible to set up a processing plant here. The market for hemp seed and fiber in the U.S. surpassed $600 million last year alone.