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Forget Knee-High, Colorado’s Hemp Crop Is Waist-High By The Fourth Of July

Ben Holmes
Centennial Seeds

An old saying among farmers is that you want your corn to be “knee-high by the Fourth of July.” That adage doesn’t necessarily apply to Colorado’s newest cash crop: industrial hemp. Unsurprisingly, considering the ubiquitous nickname given to hemp’s cousin marijuana, the plant grows like a weed.

“It’s up to my waist at this point,” said Ben Holmes, owner of Centennial Seeds in Lafayette, Colorado.

Depending on the variety, hemp is grown tall and spindly for its tensile fiber, or squat and seed-laden for its buttery oils. This is the first growing season where the state allowed farmers to register to put hemp in the ground.

Proponents of hemp are quick to praise the plant’s many uses and its potential as a boon to Great Plains farmers. It’s also gaining considerable interest from pharmaceutical companies, Holmes said. Researchers can extract cannabidiol, known colloquially as CBD oil, from hemp plants for medical purposes. It’s being used to treat epileptic children in Colorado and elsewhere.

Holmes procured his seed from overseas sources and didn’t know how it would perform when he planted it.

“Everybody asks me, ‘Well, what’s your yield? And when’s your harvest date?’ We have no idea. These are just unknown varieties,” Holmes said.

Many farmers have been snagged by a seed shortage. Drug enforcement officials have intercepted hemp seed shipments to the U.S. The plant is still classified as a controlled substance, despite an endorsement in the most recent Farm Bill.

More than 200 hemp growers registered with Colorado’s Department of Agriculture earlier in 2014, with plans to grow on more than 1,600 acres throughout the state.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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