Colorado Department of Agriculture

It's officially Hemp History Week. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes the “full growth potential of the industrial hemp industry.” But at the state level, real progress for the hemp industry is still all over the map.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

Colorado agriculture officials are taking steps to make industrial hemp -- marijuana’s agrarian cousin  -- more mainstream. They’ve certified three hemp seed varieties, becoming the first state in the country to do so.

A seed certification is akin to a stamp of approval, letting farmers know the plant performs well in Colorado’s soil and climate.

The certification also ensures that farmers won’t break federal law by cultivating plants above the legal threshold for THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp that tests above a concentration of 0.3 percent THC must be destroyed, according to state rules. That threshold was set in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Take A Look Inside The Colorado Lab Trying To Breed Better, More Helpful Bugs

Jul 21, 2016
Dan Garrison / for Harvest Public Media

Halfway down a dead-end road in the small farming town of Palisade, Colorado, is a research facility known as "The Insectary." Scientists at the lab develop "biocontrol insects," bugs adapted to attacking other insects and the plants harmful to agriculture. Colorado's Insectary is the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the United States.

It's here that the Colorado Department of Agriculture is finding ways to kill pests dead – without the aid of chemicals.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

Colorado’s fledgling hemp industry just got one step closer to turning some of the state’s amber waves of grain into fields of emerald green.

State agriculture officials, research scientists at Colorado State University and the state’s Seed Growers Association are launching what they say is the first certified industrial hemp seed program in the country.

Here’s what that means: As soon as spring 2017 hemp growers, established and aspiring, will be able to purchase bags of seed with a state seal of approval guaranteeing that the seeds will grow into plants low in psychoactive compounds and be free of pests and weeds.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

Cannabis is beginning to look a lot like a commodity crop.

After spending decades in darkened basements and secreted away on small parcels of land, marijuana growers are commercializing once-illegal plant varieties: industrial hemp, recreational marijuana and medical cannabis.

As more states legalize the growth of certain types of cannabis, those in the industry are turning to traditional farmers for help, to transform the plant from black market scourge into the next big American cash crop.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem.

Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But because of the plant’s unresolved legal status, Colorado regulators are having a tough time making sure pot buyers don’t ingest those pesticides. The parts of the federal government that regulate agricultural pesticide use want nothing to do with legalized marijuana.

“In the absence of any direction, the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to just whatever people think is working or whatever they think is appropriate,” says Colorado State University entomologist Whitney Cranshaw.

Hemp Seed On Its Way To Colorado, With A Federal Blessing

May 11, 2015
Edward the Bonobo / Flickr

Following months of wrangling, the Colorado Department of Agriculture has secured a permit from federal drug enforcement officials to import industrial hemp seed from foreign countries.

The seeds are essential to kick-start Colorado’s hemp industry, which state agriculture officials say has seen a bottleneck in research and cultivation due to a lack of viable seed stocks

Meet Don Brown, Colorado's New Agriculture Commissioner

Feb 23, 2015
Jessica Reeder / Flickr - Creative Commons

Colorado has a new agriculture commissioner: Don Brown, a Yuma County farmer who raises beef cattle and grows corn. Governor John Hickenlooper tapped Brown for the position following the retirement of former commissioner John Salazar.

Drs. Brent Thompson and Fred Bourgeois / Colorado Department of Agriculture

An outbreak of a livestock virus has finally come to an end. Colorado officials announced the last remaining properties under quarantine for vesicular stomatitis have been released.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Humans have been growing hemp for centuries. Hemp-based foods have taken off recently. So have lotions and soaps that use hemp oil. Studies underway now are examining how different compounds in cannabis could be used as medicine. There’s hope its chemical compounds could hold keys to medical treatments for Parkinson’s disease and childhood epilepsy.

Scientists studying industrial hemp say the plant holds a tremendous amount of promise. But to unlock its potential there’s very basic scientific research to be done.

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