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For pioneer, hemp pays

Image of hemp farmer Ryan Loflin, Springfield Colorado
Tobie Baker ~ The Durango Herald ~
 
An attentive audience of more than 50 local farmers and residents quizzed America’s first modern-day industrial hemp farmer at the Four States Ag Expo.
Image of a hemp field
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As the three-day event came to a close Saturday, Ryan Loflin fielded dozens of questions during a hemp awareness event. Loflin, a third-generation Colorado farmer, owns and operates the Rocky Mountain Hemp Inc. farm in Springfield.
 
In 2013, he became the country’s first hemp farmer in nearly six decades.
 
Have you sold your crop?
 
In response to the first and perhaps most important question, Loflin answered in the affirmative. He sold almost a ton of hemp stalks last year to an Oklahoma firm, which processed the woody fibers into foam insulation.
 
“It’s a brand-new product that’s not even on the market yet,” he said.
 
Envisioning the launch of a hemp magazine printed on hemp paper, Loflin said he also has sold stalk to a paper manufacturer.
 
Sold to a California-based company, the flower material has been used to produce medicine for a friend suffering from cancer, he said.
 
He has kept the seeds his farm has produced on his farm, about 1,300 pounds of seed from a 7-acre crop last year, Loflin said. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 2,500 pounds of seed he tried to import.
 
“I’m planting 40 acres this year, so I should have about 24,000 pounds of seed this time next year,” he said.
 
What kind of equipment is needed?
 
Loflin said his first 28-acre crop was harvested by hand. Last season, he used a side sickle bar mower to better capture the flower material from 7 acres.
 
“If you don’t care about the flowers, and you only want to harvest the seed, then you can just use a combine,” Loflin said. “It’s very simple. We set the cylinder height to a wheat setting.”
 
For those only wishing to collect the fiber material, Loflin said a swather was adequate. Yet, a double-cut combine can harvest the seed and stalk in a single pass, he said.
 
For paper production, he said an ordinary wood chipper could process the stalks for a paper mill.
 
Do you irrigate?
 
Because of seed issues, Loflin believes it’s too risky to attempt dry-land farming at this time. He said industrial hemp could survive on 10 to 12 inches of water annually, but the more water, the better the crop.
 
For fiber production, industrial hemp requires a 120-day growth cycle. Seed production requires closer to five months.
 
How much seed is needed?
 
Loflin recommended 20 to 30 pounds per acre, depending on the cultivar or strain. He said the seed should be planted no deeper than a half-inch. Loflin, however, advised farmers to proceed cautiously.
 
“Until we have federal legalization, it’s going to be a struggle,” Loflin said. “It’s definitely a high risk for farmers right now.”
 
How much does the seed cost?
 
Despite reports that unscrupulous suppliers were selling a single seed for $200, Loflin said fair market prices for industrial hemp seed was between $5 and $7 per pound. A single seed can produce hundreds of seeds.
 
“I won’t sell my seed for more than $10 a pound,” he said.
 
Earlier this month, Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner announced he was co-sponsoring the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015.
 
If approved, the measure would not only legalize industrial hemp for commercial production, it also would exclude the non-psychoactive cannabis plant from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.
 
“We all need to contact our legislators and encourage them to federally legalize industrial hemp farming across America,” Loflin said.
 
The U.S. is the planet’s top consumer of hemp products, but the only industrialized nation in the world not growing the commodity, which is used in food, cosmetics, clothing and industrial materials.
 
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