It’s been three weeks since the Colorado Department of Agriculture began accepting applications from residents wanting to grow hemp, and the state agency has thus far given the go-ahead to 21 applications — five coming from three businesses wanting to grow in Weld County.
Per regulations that took effect this year, the state department of agriculture is tasked with registering farmers who grow hemp, which is contrived from the cannabis plant. Unlike marijuana, it doesn’t contain enough THC to be used as a drug.
Ron Carleton, the state’s deputy commissioner of agriculture, said farmers have shown a great deal of interest in the crop, which doesn’t require as much water as others and has a wide variety of uses, from fiberglass to cooking oil to fabric.
The U.S. is the world’s No. 1 importer of hemp, and Colorado hemp enthusiasts — including farmers young and old from across the state — see economic opportunity in being the first ones in the nation allowed to grow it.
A number of local and national ag organizations have put their support behind hemp farming.
Under Colorado’s new laws, growers can cultivate the plant for research and development purposes — also authorized at the federal level by Congress — or for commercial purposes, which is still technically illegal under federal law.
Carleton said that of the 25 applications the state ag department has received so far, it has approved 10 commercial and 11 research-and-development applications.
He said he gets a steady stream of inquiries on the topic of growing hemp, but he had no way to predict how many applications would come through.
“I didn’t know if we would get hundreds or just a few,” he said. “For us, it’s a novel program.”
Thus far, three businesses have the green light to cultivate hemp in Weld County — Hemp Farm Colorado in Johnstown, approved for a commercial application; Hemp Farms of Colorado in Berthoud, approved for two research-and-development applications in Weld; and New West Genetics in Fort Collins, approved for a commercial application and a research-and-development application, both in Weld.
Calls to representatives of those companies were not returned as of Tuesday evening.
While there’s strong interest in the crop, the fact that hemp is still technically illegal under federal law leaves growers wondering if they’ll still be eligible for federal programs, like crop insurance, and whether federally backed banks will deal with them.
As part of the $1 trillion farm bill passed earlier this year, members of Congress gave farmers in several states, including Colorado, the OK to begin pilot growing programs for research-and-development purposes. It’s not an all-out blessing on growing hemp, though, and Carleton said there are still plenty of questions.
“The blanket federal issues are still floating around out there,” Carleton said. “I think certainly what Congress did was important. It was a big step forward, I think it’s certainly going to make things smoother going forward.”
Carleton said his office is working to approve applications as they come, and the process is going smoothly so far. He expects to see many more applications before his office stops accepting them for this year on May 1.
“We’re all kind of anxious to see how all this ends up by May 1,” Carleton said.