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Hemp: Using the Sense, or Cents, or Scents God Gave Us Part III

In the July 19th edition of the Independent, the article “Using the Cents, Scents and Sense God Gave Us Part II” was published with the intention of making the point that hemp has the very real potential to improve multiple economic categories in rural Colorado, especially Kiowa County.  

To recap, the article listed the top six industries that employ the bulk of Kiowa County’s population, excluding state and federal government jobs.  As the table contained in the article indicated, agriculture is the top industry in the county followed by the health and wellness industry, transportation and logistics, financial services, advanced manufacturing, and energy and natural resources, in that order.

With that in mind, consider the following:  in this part of the state, use of the hemp plant can virtually create an economy in more than 25,000 ways. These economies include—but are not limited to--food and drinks, clothing and accessories, beauty and skin care, health, pets, automobiles, home and office, farming and garden, industrial, fuel and energy and many more. 

It all comes down to growing enough acreage of hemp to create a viable economy for the plant.  The process isn’t as easy—or as limited--as simply taking wheat or milo seed to the local elevator.  The hemp plant has numerous parts, and each part has the potential to create a market of its own, provided the energy is there to develop the market. 

As was also discussed in the first article in this series, Kiowa County is one of just a small handful of counties in the entire state that has not, as of yet, registered a hemp farm. Does this mean Kiowa County is missing out?  It’s possible that Kiowa County is waiting to get some questions answered before entering into this brave new world, this brand new economy that could mean millions of dollars coming into rural Colorado.  Well, the millions haven’t come yet, but each year the crops and number of farms growing hemp continue to grow, and within the next few years the economy will be here.  The question will be if Kiowa County farmers will still be sitting on their hands waiting for their questions to be answered. 

So, consider a few answers to a few questions so that we don’t waste any more time---and, more importantly---money.

As has already been discussed, although hemp is currently legal in Colorado, it is not legal at the federal level.  There is no doubt this places restrictions on production and it’s vital we get federal legalization so that seeds and grains can be shipped across state lines and ultimately exported to other countries.  However, there is a growing movement among various sectors that are working to see legalization take place.

It is also true that, as of the 2017 growing season, there is not much of a market, and, as a result, not much of an incentive for farmers to grow hemp.  But there are exceptions. 

A perfect example is the Whole Hemp Company in La Junta.  This company has found a tremendous market for their very specific, genetically developed hemp plant grown and cultivated toward production of high-quality medicine that can control, and in many cases, cure cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, MS, arthritis, etc.  We will explore the amazing health benefits of hemp in the next installment. 

Another example involves Rocky Mountain Hemp, the impressive hemp facility built just west of Springfield where Ryan Loflin is one of the main investors. Loflin “put his money where his mouth is” when, in 2013, he grew the first hemp crop to be grown in the United States in 80 years.  He is the father of the modern hemp industry, an industry in its infancy. 

At Rocky Mountain Hemp, production is focused on pressing the hemp seeds for oil, processing the fiber, and producing hemp protein that will soon be for sale at Whole Foods Stores.  Their problem: they can’t find enough hemp seeds to put their facility to full production.  They need Colorado farmers who are willing to put some of their acreage into growing hemp. 

Another example?  Consider Sam Mitchek, a farmer just up the road in Cheyenne Wells who is growing his third hemp crop.  Mitchek says he began growing hemp when he learned about the amazing wellness properties contained in hemp oil--or CBD, as it’s referred to in the industry. 

“Once marijuana was legalized,” he states, “the hemp industry was reborn.”  As Mitchek knows, hemp was a common crop all over the United States for several centuries and was even grown to make military uniforms and other related products during World War II, although it had been declared illegal by the federal government several decades earlier.

Mitchek actually has two registered hemp farms in Cheyenne County and is in his third year of growing the plant that, he says, is just like growing a weed.  He initially started with 5 acres.  This year, he has two circles that total 250 acres.  The crop was planted in mid-April and has a 160 to 180 day growing period, with harvest in mid- to-late October.  “The season is much like it is for milo,” Mitchek indicates.  When he harvests, he will use his old combine and the milo header.  “The seed is collected like milo seed. The main goal is to make sure the seed is extremely dry.” 

Mitchek addresses the issue of water, saying the plant will grow on dry land as well as irrigated land.  He likens the difference to how weeds look in dry land vs irrigated land.  They grow in both, but are taller where there is more water.  “But it (hemp) grows, just like weeds do, in both conditions.”

In his third year of experimenting with the plant, Mitchek is realizing some very real benefits of the crop. It grows so tall that it creates a canopy, which results in less weed growth which, in turn, leads to less need for cultivation.  With each season that he’s grown hemp, his weed problem has improved.  “This year I’ve hardly had to cultivate at all,” he says. 

Another benefit of the crop involves the amazing rejuvenation effect hemp has on the soil.  Because of its unique properties, hemp can be planted in the same field year after year, and the soil actually gets healthier with each year the hemp is planted. 
Mitchek has learned there are some main farming practices that have to occur in order to get a good crop and ultimately good seed production.  First, planting must occur at the right time.  “You plant it before May,” he says.  “It’s got about the same schedule as corn.”  Second, it’s important that no chemical is applied to the crop.  It doesn’t need it as the plants form the canopy that chokes out the weeds.  The third step is equally important, “The way you plant the seed is vital,” he explains, “including the distance apart and how much seed per acre you use.”  On dryland, he recommends 5 pounds of seed to the acre; irrigated land calls for 10 pounds per acre, which, he admits, is a lot more seed than farmers are accustomed to using. 

During the growing season, which we are in right now, Mitchek says, “You just really sit and watch your plant and let it do what it does naturally.”  In a hemp crop, the proper ratio of female to male seeds is 80% to 20%.  During this time of the plant cycle, the male plants have already pollinated the female plants, and Mitchek is observing that the male plants start to die once fertilization had occurred.  He will let the seed drop and do nothing else, just letting this naturally occur.  The female plant, which is observably a little shorter right now, will continue to grow and then will soon start developing its seed. Mitchek will continue to watch the crop until it completely dries, which will require a frost, exactly as is required for milo. 

After harvest, Mitchek must try to find a market for his seeds.  As to be expected, the elevators don’t currently accept the seeds since they are neither a cash crop nor a federal commodity.  Also, as previously stated, the seeds can’t be moved across state lines and, at this point, must stay in Colorado where they are legal to grow.  Until the plant is legalized at the federal level and the government catches up with the market, Mitchek must find his market within Colorado. 

However, unlike the seeds, the stems can be processed into various products and shipped across state lines.  Considered a fiber by-product of the plant, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of uses for the stems, ranging from paper to clothing to rope to insulation to concrete and more.  The stems alone have enormous production potential if there were processing plants in the area, yet, currently, there are not.  The only exception is Rocky Mountain Hemp who process their stems into fiber, but that is not their primary focus and, as such, production is limited.   

On his own, Mitchek has done a small bit of investigating into marketing the stems. “We cut the plants high up on the stem in the first year,” he says, “since we were just working to collect the seed.  But now, we also collect the stems and continue to try to find a market for them.”  Mitchek describes taking his fiber to a manufacturing company in Pueblo who makes fiberboard.  He states that “they loved it”, but  he didn’t have nearly enough material for the company to begin producing a product. 
Mitchek stores a significant percentage of his seed in anticipation that the day will come when the market begins to develop in rural Colorado and beyond.  In the meantime, he has teamed up with a partner in La Junta, and they are crushing their seed to extract the hemp oil—or CBD--out of the seed. 

His concentration is on hemp seeds for food, hemp oils for wellness, and hemp oils for cosmetic products.  They also are experimenting with using the by-product left after the seed is crushed as animal feed.  He and his partner have started a new company to develop these products called Just Rope, LLC.  Currently, they are working through the extensive amount of regulatory paperwork and requirements to approve their products through the FDA. 

An obvious question is why Mitchek continues to grow hemp and develop his hemp oil when he isn’t making any money yet.  He answers without hesitation.  “The hemp industry is about to catch fire,” he says.  “The genie is out of the bottle and the federal government might as well accept that fact and find a way to assist this brand new industry into moving into the American economy.” 

While waiting for the approval to sell the products Just Rope is developing, Mitchek has given away products to friends and family.  He relates the story of a woman in Cheyenne Wells who was debilitated with MS and confined to a wheelchair.  Over the past 6 months, the woman has improved so rapidly she no longer needs any assistance and gets around well on her own.  Another friend of his who was terribly sick during chemo treatments for his cancer decided to try the oils instead and reports the sickness is gone and he feels great.  In the next few weeks, his friend will go back to his doctor to evaluate his progress.  “Those people are why I’m pushing to get this industry on its feet,” Mitchek says. 

Even with the significant benefits of growing the plant and the astonishing improvements people are experiencing in their health, Mitchek admits growing hemp is, at this point, a difficult and somewhat costly investment.  The Colorado Department of Agriculture controls the approved seed strains that can be planted.  Mitchek gets his seed from Colorado State University who is investing a lot of money into the industry.  A farm has to be registered at the CDA and a fee of $500 per farm plus $5 per acre has to be paid to receive the seed.  That fee is paid every year.  Consequently, registering his 250 acres of hemp cost Mitchek $1,750.  In addition, the seed must be purchased from CSU at prices slightly higher than corn. 

Once the crop is in the ground, it may get checked by the CDA to evaluate its THC levels.  The hemp plant cannot have more than .03% of THC in it or the crop may be destroyed.  Mitchek says this has not happened to him as the certified seed provided by CSU has continued to meet the requirements. 

Another significant consideration is related to federal legalization of the crop.  In short, any federal programs associated with the land may be jeopardized, including using banks who are federally insured, getting crop insurance that is federally insured, and any of the Farm Service Agency programs. 

According to Mitchek, right now he uses land that is not in the federal program. He also does not insure the crop in the normal way, even though there are some companies that insure hemp now. He also can’t borrow in the usual way from the local banks.  In short, Mitchek and his investors are defying the standard way of putting a crop in the ground because no federal programs can currently be used. 

In addition, the local FSA office states that if producers are considering a change to planting hemp, they need to check on their contracts so that they don’t create an issue.  The best way to do that is to make a visit to the FSA office so they can make a determination of the status of the land that is under contract.

Nonetheless, Mitchek implores other farmers to “get into the game”.  He thinks they will, once the federal government releases its inexplicable restriction on the plant.  In the meantime, leaders in rural Colorado, including those in Kiowa County, should recognize the plant already has the potential to improve their industries if they look to the future and assist the industry in growing.  Because we live in Colorado, we already have a head start.

The future of hemp could be one that changes the way we look at agriculture, health, our foods, and how we build our homes.  Kiowa County needs to follow the lead of the majority of other counties who are investing in this enterprise.  The county also needs to join the ranks of entrepreneurs like Ryan Loflin and Rocky Mountain Hemp and farmers like Sam Mitchek and see what we can develop together.  That is how the farm industry was developed long ago, and that is how the hemp industry will develop now.

Next week, we will examine the reportedly amazing healing properties of hemp and how the health and wellness industry in Kiowa County can use it to improve the lives of its citizens.
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