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Chimney Rock Farms, Colorado

"When we began growing hemp we noticed how its’ roots improved soil structure by breaking down the hard pan we had created over the years we had tilled." - Rich Becks, CEO Chimney Rock Farms

What led you to choose hemp as a crop?

Chimney Rock Farms is a 60 acre Research and Development Farm dedicated to the advancement of local and sustainable agriculture. For over ten years we grew organic vegetables and fruit for our CSA members, schools and community. Within the last few years we began to see a decline in our soil fertility and rediscovered hemp as a way to naturally regenerate our soil.

 

What varieties and how many acres of hemp did you grow in 2016?

We have over a dozen varieties of hemp under development for the Nutraceutical Market. We breed for high CBD and low THC concentrations while focusing on the other cannabinoids such as CBC, CBG, CBN as well as terpenes. Hemp oils are increasingly being used in therapeutic applications such as Aromatherapy that value aromatic varieties of hemp.

 

 What soil and environmental conditions did you grow in?

We farm the Piedra River basin in southwest Colorado directly below the San Juan Wilderness area. Since there are no upstream farms, nor industrial parks we are able to use water from snow melt high in the San Juan river basin. The soil is alluvial clay deposits from granite and limestone canyons upriver of the farm. Building organic matter has been a key priority for us and is what led to using hemp in our no-till field production. We have managed to increase our soil organic matter from 0.5% to over 3.5% in five years.

 

Did you grow in conjunction with an institution of higher learning? Which one?

We are working with a few universities to become a supplier to their research programs.

 

 As this was a pilot crop, what qualities were you testing?

While not an official pilot of a University we have focused on advancing the sustainable agricultural principles such no-till and integrated pest management (IPM).We do no use herbicides or pesticides of any kind instead rely on natural predator species within the ecosystems we are creating. We routinely release predatory wasps, lady bugs, and praying mantis on the farm. We also use compost teas to drip irrigate and foliar feed nutrients to both our greenhouses and field crops.

We designed and built two super insulated passive solar greenhouses that we use for genetic research and commercial production of high value hemp varieties.

 

Were you able to utilize your 2016 crop? How?

Yes, we sold much of it to processors in our state as well as Nutraceutical manufacturers. We are in negotiations with several leading Nutraceutical manufacturers for supply in 2017.

 

What is unique about your approach to hemp farming, your business model, and/or your research project?

Our approach is to lead the craft hemp market segment which we believe is just beginning. The Hemp plant contains over a 100 cannabinoids and dozens of terpenes and flavonoids that could become the basis of a new Craft Hemp industry like the Craft Beer and Wine industries. We believe this will present a major opportunity for artisan growers and to help bring economic benefits of agritourism back to rural communities.

 

What varieties and how many acres of hemp will you grow in 2017?

We have over a dozen varieties under development and plan to grow on about 20 acres.

 

Are the soil and environmental conditions expected to be the same?

Our soil improves every year as we rebuild the soil food web. By not tilling the ground, fungi, worms and micro arthropods return to break down organic matter into plant available nutrients. For over ten years we plowed the ground each spring and noticed declining fertility restricted the crops we could grow. By the tenth year we could successfully only grow brassicas (cabbage, broccoli etc.) because the soil had become acidic and bacterially dominated without fungi and the other parts of the food web thriving. When we began growing hemp we noticed how its’ roots improved soil structure by breaking down the hard pan we had created over the years we had tilled.

 

Will you grow in conjunction with an institution of higher learning?

We are in discussions with a few universities.

 

What is the planned use for your 2017 crop?

 Nutraceutical products containing CBD and other cannabinoids.

 

What has been your biggest success(es) in farming hemp to date?

We host a Spring and Fall Master Hemp Growers conference each year to bring some of the brightest minds together to do share and learn the latest best-practices emerging within the industry. The feedback we are getting about the quality and breadth of the training that matter to farmers has been very satisfying. Our mission is to re-localize farming and bring food and natural remedies back to communities to spur economic growth and resilience.