Colorado has become the first state in the nation to develop certified seeds for industrial hemp, an achievement that could spell growth for the burgeoning hemp market in Colorado.
Under federal law, a cannabis plant must have 0.3 percent or less Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, to be considered hemp. THC is the active ingredient that determines whether a cannabis plant is hemp or marijuana.
Hemp can be made into textiles, paper, plastics, solar panels and biofuel. Seeds can be made into a wide variety of food products, such as bread and milk, or used as livestock feed.
Hemp-based CBD oil also is legal in all 50 states, whereas CBD oil made from marijuana is legal only in states that have legalized medical marijuana. CBD oil has been touted as a remedy for a number of medical conditions, and according to its proponents is safe to give to children.
Colorado has had an industrial hemp growing program for the past two years, and interest is growing steadily, according to Duane Sinning, assistant director for plant industry at the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Sinning estimates that about 30 states in the nation allow some form of hemp production, but none have certified seed. Certification means the seed has been tested in every possible growing condition statewide and that the plants all meet the 0.3 percent or less THC ceiling. Sinning says testing was done all over Colorado, from the Western Slope to the San Luis Valley, the Eastern Plains and the Front Range.
About 260 growers in Colorado are growing hemp on 400 sites, Sinning says. In the hemp program’s first year, there were 200 acres planted with another 250,000 square feet of indoor hemp grown. In 2016, there were 6,000 acres planted and 1.3 million square feet of indoor production.
The value of having certified seed, as Sinning sees it, is that when you buy uncertified seed on the market, whether it comes from somewhere in the United States or some other country, you don’t know when you grow it whether it will pass that crucial 0.3 percent test. Exceed 0.3 percent, and it’s no longer legally considered hemp under federal law – it’s marijuana.
Certified seeds also are free of weeds and disease, Sinning says.
According to the state Department of Agriculture, three varieties of seeds were certified in Colorado this year, all developed by a company based in Kentucky. A fourth variety, developed by New West Genetics of Fort Collins, was given conditional approval, but once final approval is given, the seeds can be produced by the Colorado Seed Growers Association.
That’s where the state comes in. Growers of hemp in Colorado have to be registered, and the state regulates who sells the seeds. The varieties of seeds are highly scrutinized, Sinning says, and farmers who use certified seed will have the assurance that plants will meet the 0.3 percent test. “They only have to worry about where to sell it.”
Sinning said the state doesn’t yet know the economic value of hemp in Colorado. That’s partly due to the number of potential uses, which can top 25,000 different products. The Department of Agriculture doesn’t track hemp economic impact in the same way it tracks other agricultural products.
Will Colorado farmers leap at the chance to have certified seed? Phillip Chavez, who grows about 140 acres of hemp for CBD purposes, says he loves the idea of a certified seed program. Chavez, whose farm is in Crowley County, said he has been making cloned seeds for his hemp.*
But he does have some concerns about the certified seed program. He’s interested in organic seeds, and questions what effect different fertilizers or growing methods will have on the THC content.
He also pointed out that the seeds he uses have a high percentage of CBD properties, which make it valuable in the medical market. “We do have a good track record with our genetics and will stick with that unless someone shows us something better,” Chavez told The Colorado Independent.
*Correction: A previous version included a statement from Chavez that his cloned seeds had been approved by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. According to Terry Moran of CDA, the department doesn’t regulate cloning of hemp seeds, nor does it approve them.
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