Ryan Loflin plans to make history, becoming the nation's first
commercial-scale hemp grower in almost 60 years. In a few days, he will plant
his hemp crop on a farm in the far southeastern corner of Colorado. Loflin and a
handful of other growers are set to capitalize on hemp's new legal status in
Plenty of financial, operational and legal challenges lie ahead. But cultivating
the marijuana look-alike is no novelty pursuit for Loflin, who owns a
company called Colorado Hemp. He sees it as a commodity that one day could help
reverse the sagging fortunes of rural Colorado.
"I believe this is really going to revitalize and strengthen farm
communities," said Loflin, 40, who grew up on a farm in Springfield but left
after high school for a career in construction.
Now he returns, leasing 60 acres of his father's alfalfa farm to plant the
crop and install a press to squeeze the oil from hemp seeds. He'll have a jump
on other farmers, with 400 starter plants already growing at an indoor facility
prior to transplanting them in the field.
Hemp is genetically related to marijuana but contains little or no THC, the
psychoactive substance in marijuana.
The sale of hemp products in the U.S. — including food, cosmetics,
clothing and industrial materials — reached an estimated $500 million last year,
according to the Hemp Industries Association.
Yet because of a federal prohibition on growing, all hemp used in U.S.
products is imported from foreign countries.
With the November passage of Amendment 64, which legalized hemp in addition
to small amounts of marijuana, Colorado becomes a test case on the issue of how
much muscle the federal government will flex against states with legal cannabis.
"Once this market is really able to develop — when the feds get out of the
way and eliminate the regulatory hurdles — there is definitely potential for
measurable economic impact," said Eric Steenstra, executive director of the Hemp
Springfield banker Jay Suhler allows that there could be economic impact
eventually, but don't count him among the boosters yet. He remains circumspect —
even with the drought-induced depression that has afflicted southeast Colorado
for much of the past decade.
"We're a conservative bunch around here," said Suhler, manager of Frontier
"I imagine we'd probably stick with our core crops of corn and milo and
wheat," he said. "The first few years you try a new crop, it can be pretty iffy.
But in a few years, who knows what might happen?"
Two hundred miles north of Springfield, Yuma County corn farmer Mike Bowman
also is preparing to plant hemp this year.
Bowman has been a frequent visitor to Washington, D.C., seeking to persuade
federal officials to end the hemp prohibition that makes prospective Colorado
growers technically criminals. A
hemp-legalization bill is pending this year in Congress, with bipartisan
Until the federal-state legal disconnect is resolved, growers face the
challenge of starting an industry without the benefits held by conventional
farmers, such as federal crop insurance.
Colorado State University, the state's premier agricultural research
institution, is not studying hemp because of the fear of losing federal
"The law is clear on this matter, and we do not want to do anything that
would unintentionally result in personal criminal liability for CSU employees or
that would disqualify the institution from obtaining future government funding,"
said Joseph Zimlich, CSU system board of governors chairman, in a recent letter
to U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.
However, Zimlich said the board "will look more closely at the issue of
industrial hemp research at its May meeting."
Another practical challenge for farmers is acquiring hemp seed for
cultivation. Federal law does not permit the sale or import of nonsterilized
seed suitable for growing.
It's the hemp farmer's equivalent of what recreational-marijuana activists
call "the year of the magical ounce" — a reference to the
unanswered question of how people can obtain marijuana for current legal use
before state-permitted retail facilities open in 2014.
Bowman said he has friends who have sent him seed from feral hemp plants that
are survivors from decades ago, before hemp was ruled illegal in the U.S.
A benefit of the feral plants is that they carry natural genetic resistance
to drought — a desirable quality especially for farmers who hope to grow their
crops without irrigation.
Like other prospective farmers, Bowman and Loflin plan to experiment with
different seed varieties to determine their traits, especially the ability to
Seed oil is viewed as the hemp product in highest demand from food and
cosmetics manufacturers. Fiber from hemp stalks is a smaller market.
Loflin and business partner Chris Thompson said that with their own oil
press, they plan to become buyers or processors of seed from other growers.
Based on data from Canada's legal hemp industry, hemp seed generates revenue
for farmers of $390 an acre, according to Erik Hunter, director of research and
development for HempCleans, a Colorado-based advocacy group.
That makes hemp lucrative compared with most other conventional crops.
"I think that once people see the value of hemp," said Loflin, "it'll become
a no-brainer." Steve Raabe: 303-954-1948 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting303-954-1948 FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting ,
firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/steveraabedp