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Margaret MacKenzie, Hemp Farmer, Colorado

Hemp History Week is the largest, national grassroots effort to restore strong support for industrial hemp farming in the United States

What led you to choose hemp as a crop?

Like many farming families across the U.S., my mother eventually decided to sell our CO ranch because she no longer had the ability to keep it going. After three years of sitting on the market without selling, we decided to start farming again to at least break even financially on the land. So, I moved my family from Denver to Colorado’s Western Slope to make a go of it as the next generation of family farmers. We explored many options of available crops to pursue and landed on hemp as the best and most rewarding option.

 

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

Last year we grew 15 acres of Colorado Gold. Since this variety’s genetics were not stable, we observed different traits in the plants – some were short and bushy, others were tall and slender. We harvested with a goal to obtain oilseed, fiber and flower.

 

What soil and environmental conditions did you grow in?

Our farm is at 6,200 feet elevation, which makes the growing season a bit shorter than in other areas. The field previously produced hay. The soil is healthy but previously had been exposed to conventional fertilizer. When we started growing hemp we began grazing cattle as an alternative to chemical fertilizers. We are also planning to experiment with cover crops and grazing rotations to maintain natural soil fertility.

We have been implementing organic practices for the past three years. We would like to eventually become certified organic, but at this time the cost and expense are beyond our resource capacity.

 

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

No. CO does not require this, which is good because here hemp cultivation is open to all farmers, not just those who have the right connections.

 

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

This was not a pilot crop in the same sense that other states are preforming pilot research, but we were growing to test the variety as well as a new combine that we modified for harvesting hemp flowers. We were pleased that our combine worked well!

 

Were you able to utilize your 2016 crop? How?

No. Unfortunately because hemp genetics in Colorado are not yet stable, our crop (and several other hemp farmers growing the same and different varieties) tested hot for THC, meaning that the THC content was above 0.3%. While this is part of the risk all hemp farmers take while stabilizing seed varieties, it’s an important part of the process, and all CO farmers are learning a lot while we work together to minimize our risks and move the industry forward.

While we were not able to move our crop commercially, the Department of Ag issued us, and others with hot crops below 1% THC, a waiver allowing us to keep the crop on the farm for our own research and development.

We made the most of this learning experience by testing our new combine and will test a pelletizer too. We made some of the crop available for our hogs and chickens to eat, which they have and appear to be really healthy for it.

 

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

Thankfully our approach is becoming less and less unique amongst small family farms – we are following an integrative, holistic approach. This means that instead of fighting nature by forcing crops to grow in rows without weeds or pests, we are working with nature to improve the soil as well as crop health and vigor. For example, when rain hits a traditionally tilled field, the soil just runs off and collects in the lowest point, and the soil does not absorb water; conversely, if you do not till the soil, the soil remains like a living sponge – it holds water and the root systems, bacteria and microbes in the soil absorb everything. So in working with nature, we can improve the soil health and therefor improve our crop’s health. When we work with nature, everything is just better.

 

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

We will again plant our 15acres, but this time we are planting multiple varieties of hemp for the flower. We are also working with a farmers collective to learn from each other as we work to develop this burgeoning industry, stabilize seed varieties, share learnings and mitigate risks.

 

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

Yes

 

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

No, but we will be taking part in a study of hemp for animal feed, which we are very excited about.

 

What is the planned use for your 2017 crop?

Full-spectrum hemp extract

 

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

I would say our biggest success is the quality of life we now enjoy and the relationships we’ve made with people! We moved out to the farm from Denver. My kids are now in a school where class sizes are less than half of what they were in the city, agriculture is a class, and they get music and sports through the school too. Also, people in the hemp industry are generally good, quality, likeminded, genuine, great people!