Craig’s hemp symposium lays out new regulations, basics of farming material
Some of the biggest players in Colorado’s hemp industry spoke to a group of about 70 Yampa Valley residents Tuesday at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion.
The Hemp Symposium was hosted by Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, Colorado State University’s Moffat County Extension, and the Craig Chamber of Commerce.
The day-long symposium revealed a web of new federal rules published last week effectively legalizing and regulating hemp production, as well as the logistics and basics of marketing, growing, harvesting, and selling one’s hemp.
“Basically, we are trying to establish a framework across the whole supply chain,” said Brian Koontz, an industrial hemp program manager in Colorado for the United States Department of Agriculture.
USDA’s CHAMP program is designed to strengthen several areas of Colorado’s hemp supply chain — including research and development, cultivation, testing, transportation, processing, manufacturing, marketing, banking, and insurance. USDA has new rules out and is currently accepting public comments.
“They’re accepting comments until Dec. 31,” Koontz said.
Much of those rules still allow for serious enforcement procedures if growers go over a 0.3 percent THC level — the main psychoactive ingredient that makes marijuana users feel high when consumed — including the forced destruction of a grower’s crop.
“This crop is not being treated like marijuana, and we don’t want to treat it like marijuana. It’s a legal crop,” Koontz said. “However, if it’s over 0.3, it’s not a legal crop.”
The rules also require growers to register, report planting within 10 days, submit a report 30 days prior to harvest, must remove the crop within its harvest window, and must respond to any inspection notification within 10 days to allow for sample collection and testing.
“I think the intent of the rule is everybody gets sampled eventually, but not necessarily in one season,” Koontz said.
Violations of the rules include farmers being prohibited from growing hemp for three years. The interim rules will be in effect for the next two years, during which time USDA will likely continue to receive comments. Koontz said those comments could make a difference whether USDA adopts the rules.
“I don’t know if they will change it,” Koontz said. “In my experience, it can.”
Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck was curious if the rules were the same for smaller, “backyard” grows compared to larger, commercial hemp operations.
“The permit is the same and the rules are the same,” Koontz said.
Colorado State Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose) is a commercial hemp grower by trade. He was the second speaker Tuesday.
“I don’t grow marijuana. I’ve never used marijuana. But I do know if I were a marijuana user, I wouldn’t get high on .3 percent,” Coram said.
Hemp isn’t for smoking because it would take “a joint as long as a telephone pole,” Coram said. “That’s how much hemp it would take to get you high.”
Coram said he proposed some of the original hemp legislation in Colorado, so he has seen where the industry is and where it’s going.
“It is here, and it is not going to go away,” Coram said.
But that doesn’t mean the hemp industry is without its challenges. Coram said it’s important for prospective hemp growers to go in prepared.
“Do all the research you can,” Coram said. “Find somebody who’s been successful. Then do a background check on everyone you deal with… Really do your research. I’m in the legislature and my description of the legislature is 100 amateurs making mature decisions. I look at the hemp business the same way.”
Finding the right people to expand your hemp business is key.
“Farmers don’t know about cannabis and cannabis people, the people in the greenhouse growing it don’t know about farming,” Coram said. “So you need to find that niche, someone who knows both and can advise you.”
Coram had planned to expand his hemp operation, but not now that the federal government posted its new rules.
“I am concerned with federal regulations,” Coram said. “We’ve talked about doing 500 acres next year, but I think we will probably cut back on that significantly because the risk is just too high.”
Coram advised the would-be hemp farmers in the room to be careful.
“It’s a great product, but don’t bet the farm on it,” Coram said.
Erin McCuskey with Colorado’s Small Business Development Center wanted those in attendance to know she has several financial advisors and business consultants any potential hemp startup can use free of charge.
“Have a free meeting with one of our financial consultants,” McCuskey said. “We work with people in all stages of growth.”
McCuskey said she can also help Yampa Valley residents with the manufacturing side of hemp, as well as estate and their planning when land owners get ready to transfer ownership between parties.
“We are all working together when it comes to hemp specifically,” McCuskey said.
Pauli Roterdam, a research scientist who went on to start his own hemp farming consultant company — Endo Scientific — said a major reason why hemp will continue to be profitable are the myriad of medicinal cannaboids like CBD and many others processors can now squeeze from hemp.
“We are understanding how plants express their cannabinoids and their terpenes,” Roterdam said.
That’s why Roterdam offers farmers organic compounds to help them get and keep a USDA organic certification for their hemp.
“I believe food is medicine… I don’t treat my hemp as an agricultural product at all,” Roterdam. “I treat it as food.”
Roterdam sees hemp as a means to revitalize otherwise overused land.
“Almost everybody that puts a crop on after they do hemp does really, really well,” Roterdam said.
Steve Herron of Hayden’s Natural Path Botanicals was the last speaker Tuesday. As a former oil and gas executive, Herron said he doesn’t always fit in.
“What’s a fracker doing at a hemp symposium?” Herron joked.
But Herron’s testing and extraction company is serious business.
“We are a pharmaceutical grade laboratory,” Herron said.
Herron’s lab has at least half-a-dozen of its own genetic hemp strains built for individual soil types common in Colorado.
“If you partner with us, we will make our genetics available to you,” Herron said.
Herron said he has been partnering with smaller hemp farms to help keep his products better than the competition.
“We partner with family farms who subscribe to organic, sustainable methods of agriculture,” Herron said. “…We are focused on boutique, craft farming… Our largest farm is 40 acres. We know these farmers. We know their kids. We know their stewardship of the land.”
Labs like Herron’s can help hemp growers do things right.
“You can make more money per acre by growing hemp if you partner with the right lab,” Herron said.
But the new federal rules are also causing Herron some worry.
“Until the FDA speaks and codifies rules people can understand, I think it’s going to be a mess,” Herron said.
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