Used in products ranging from health food to automobiles, industrial hemp is one of the nation’s most underutilized raw materials. During the 1700s and 1800s, hemp played a critical role in rope production. However, the plant fell into disfavor.
Why? Understanding of industrial hemp has been complicated by its botanical relative, marijuana.
At first-of-its-kind program launched by the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) is focused on changing that false perception and creating opportunities for the state’s farmers.
“Colorado already leads the U.S. in industrial hemp production,” says Duane Sinning, assistant director of CDA’s Division of Plant Industry. “The CDA Approved Certified Hemp Seed program is the next step in this emerging industry’s move toward mainstream agriculture.”
‘On The Cutting Edge’
Seed produced and conditioned under this program will be issued “CDA Approved Certified Seed” tags through the Colorado Seed Growers Association (CSGA) if the production standards are met, and then will be available for purchase by farmers through a seed distributor.
Seeds need to be certified so farmers and consumers understand that the strain will produce hemp that contains below 0.3 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and therefore, is not marijuana. THC is the chemical in marijuana that is responsible for the psychoactive effects.
The “CDA Approved Certified” designation means that farmers can be assured that the seeds purchased and planted have been through a tight production process and thoroughly tested – securing the farmers’ investment and abiding by state and federal regulations.
“The biggest reason we want to make sure the CDA Approved Certified Seed program is a viable program is because it mainstreams industrial hemp,” Sinning says.
“It applies those same principles and practices you apply to wheat and alfalfa, and makes sure the farmer gets what he is paying for.”
Adding industrial hemp to the list of crops for which CSGA provides seed certification represents a milestone for the industry, plus assures Colorado’s spot as a leader in industrial hemp innovation.
“Industrial hemp becomes just another one of the crops that farmers may choose to plant,” Sinning says. “CDA is not encouraging anyone to plant corn or hemp or any other crop. It just means a farmer can make a decision based on his land and his assortment of crops that he wants to focus on.”
The U.S. Congressional Research Service has identified 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, Sinning says. “They talk about uses in foods and beverages, cosmetics, personal care and personal supplements, as well as fabrics, textiles, papers, construction materials – there are so many,” he says. “It’s hard to say how many of those will come to fruition. It’s still early in an emerging industry.”
Well-known companies including Ford, Patagonia and The Body Shop make products that use hemp seed, oil and fiber – almost all imported from Canada, Europe and China because American farmers have been prohibited from growing the crop due to the perception that it is the same thing as marijuana. However, federal and state laws are changing regarding industrial hemp, and Colorado is positioning its farmers to reap the benefits.
In June 2016, CDA’s Terry Moran and Colorado State University’s Calvin Pearson worked together to plant industrial hemp seeds on less than half an acre at CSU’s Western Colorado Research Center in Fruita, one of the testing sites for industrial hemp.
“It’s really important that the CDA is taking this on,” Pearson says of the certified hemp seed program. “For the people who are going to buy and plant hemp, we want to make sure that those seed lots are genetically pure and meet certain quality standards, that they’re free of disease, foreign materials like sticks and weeds, and have good germination. So when somebody plants it, they’re going to get a crop they think they’re going to get.”