Scott Perez, Featured Hemp Farmer, Colorado

“There is probably not a single other plant that can be used in so many ways.”

HHW: What motivated you to become a hemp farmer when it is still technically considered a federally controlled substance?

SP: The fact that industrial hemp is federally controlled and under the auspices of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is just completely insane. There is plenty of information out there as to why and how this happened so I won’t go into that here. There are several reasons why I wanted to go into this. A look at the history of the plant and its multiple uses is a good start. There is probably not a single other plant that can be used in so many ways. It can be used as a fabric, a building material, plastic, fuel, paper, food and therapy among other things.  It is greatly adaptable and can be grown in so many climates and altitudes. The fact that it easily becomes feral attests to its adaptability. It can be used in restoration projects for flood and fire damaged lands. It can be easily grown by small, diverse farmers.  It doesn’t need to be grown by gigantic commercial operations only.

The political winds are changing.  Hemp was put into the last Farm Bill and more states are making it legal.  Colorado has been on the front lines.  Now the fact that it is federally illegal has made it a real pain in several regards.  In the states where hemp is legal, we have a whole raft of regulations and paperwork to deal with.  The DEA has stopped seed from coming into states where it is legal.  Farmers are often faced with limited types of seed to work with and it can be very expensive.  Partly the high cost could be written off to the free market but in too many cases, seed prices are ridiculous because there are those who managed to get some seed and set ridiculously high prices.  Doing that does nothing to help a growing industry and keeps small farmers from getting started.

HHW: Do you feel strongly about the need to pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act this year?

SP: It should have been done by now. The longer it takes the slower the growth of the industry. Many of the reasons it is illegal in the first place are still with us.

HHW: Do you feel there needs to be more research to prove market viability?

SP: If we are going to spend time and money on research, let’s research new uses for the plant and find the most effective ways of production for the various uses.  Let’s spend the money on educating people about industrial hemp. There is still too much confusion over what hemp is and what it isn’t. The markets will take care of themselves.

HHW: What kind of response has there been from your community with regard to you growing hemp?

SP: The response has mostly been a combination of curiosity and interest. People really want to know what hemp is all about.  There are a number of farmers of all ages in this area that would be growing hemp right now if seed were available at a reasonable price.  Others are only waiting for hemp to be deregulated at the federal level.

I have heard rumors that some growers of adult-use cannabis are concerned that the pollen from my industrial hemp will contaminate their crops even though I am isolated many miles from them.  This is another place where education and research would come in handy.  Overall, it is a very positive response.

HHW: What varieties and how many acres of hemp did you grow in 2015?

SP: I grew several varieties if you go by what they were named, but the reality is that they were all early generation sativa.  Each plot showed many different phenotypes.  None of them had stabilized to where they were consistent in coloring, size, leaf shape, and odor.  I actually grew less than one acre and planted with wide spacing.

HHW: What soil and environmental conditions did you grow in?

SP: We are in an arid climate here though last summer was wetter than normal.  Soil has a fairly heavy clay top with very sandy subsoil.  It drains off and dries up quickly.  Summer was also warmer than normal and lasted later in the year.

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

SP: Unlike several other states where the Land Grant Institutions share seed with the farmers, here in Colorado, that is not the case. I contacted a few other institutions, including the one where I did my graduate work, and was turned down. A former colleague did leak me a memo from the legal department of the university that told researchers since cannabis was still a Schedule 1 substance, they were not to collaborate in any research involving the plant. I have found the same result when dealing with the federal agencies such as Farm Services and Natural Resources Conservation Service.  I can get all the advice, grants, cost shares, etc. that are available for all other crops except industrial hemp.

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

SP: My second year was 2015. The first year I planted a handful of seeds that a fellow researcher gave me. I kept the seeds from those plants and grew them out with the others in 2015.  Since I am currently most interested in the therapeutic value of the plant, I grew the various types at different spacings to see where I could get the most flower production.  A bonus being, more flower equals more seed for this year.  I also looked at how robust the plants were and was looking for consistency in seed ripening.  I am looking for plants that will grow and produce well in this area and that small farmers can easily grow as a part of their field rotation.

HHW: Were you able to utilize your 2015 crop? How? 

SP: I worked with a friend to develop cannabidiol (CBD) oils from the plants.  I have the stalks stockpiled for some future use.

HHW: What varieties and how many acres of hemp will you grow in 2016? 

SP: I have seven varieties to try this year including a feral strain from Eastern Colorado and seed I chose from my selected plants from last season.  I have a permit for 40 acres but unless a whole bunch of seed shows up unexpectedly, I won’t plant anywhere near that.  I will likely limit my plots to what can be done by hand by a few people, separated by corn and sunflower plots.  If I happen to get a large amount of seed, I will drill in 20-30 acres in the traditional spacing.

HHW: What is the planned use for your 2016 crop? 

SP: I am working with a few other folks, including a couple naturopaths, and I want to experiment more with the CBD.  I am hoping there will be a viable market for the fiber and maybe the food market for extra seed, though I am willing to stockpile again if I have to.

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

SP: The fact that I am growing a plant that has been grown around the world for centuries and in this country since colonial times (until it was listed under the ridiculous “War on Drugs”) is what I consider a success.  Seeing the different ways the plant expresses itself and working to educate others about the plant and its uses I also see as a success.