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Scott Perez, Hemp Farmer, Colorado

“My biggest success is that I have grown hemp in an area that hasn’t seen it since the 1960’s. It will grow here and it will be profitable.”

HHW: What led you to choose hemp as a crop?

SP: It’s history. I learned quite a bit about the many of the uses of hemp and saw research that showed it could be effectively used for land restoration projects. As I studied more, I gained a better understanding of the therapeutic uses of the compounds in the plant. I have a 17 year-old son who suffered a major stroke at the age of 11. The research on cannabidiol (CBD) in relation to the nervous system is showing great promise.

Once I realized the potential value of the plant, it became part of my farming research to discover a cultivar that will grow well in our part of Colorado, the best way to grow it, and to show that our small farmers can make it part of their rotation for land fertility and added income.

HHW: What varieties and how many acres of hemp did you grow in 2014?

SP: Last year seed was limited. You’d be better off asking how many plants I grew as there was no variety – I’m laughing as I write this. Despite promises and belief from some that the DEA would back off and not interfere with hemp in Colorado – since the plant is legal – it happened. The DEA interfered. They impounded every shipment of seed I was counting on before the seed could make it into the state.

Through the generosity of a friend, I was able to get about a 1/4 pound of seed. It was called Futura 76, but I’m not sure it really was. The seed’s viability was less than 10% under controlled conditions and less than 5% in the field. I acquired the seed very late and couldn’t plant until June 28 Of the relatively few plants I had, there was great variability in the color, leaf structure, and size. I was able to harvest a fair amount of seed stock which is testing out to be 80% viable.

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

SP: The soil in my test plot is fairly heavy in clay and tends to crust over after drying out post irrigation or rain. That said, the seeds that did germinate in the field seemed to have no problem breaking through the hard surface. Before planting hemp, the field had grown grass hay and was grazed upon for probably the past 50 years.

The growing season had hot days early on, then the rains kicked in. The hemp grew quickly, though stunted, flowered and set seed in less than two months.

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

SP: Unlike Kentucky, where the university is working with farmers, we have had no cooperation here from the University. At first, the extension agents weren’t even allowed to talk about industrial hemp. I tried to get some assistance from Cornell University where I went to graduate school, but was turned down there also. So, I just fell back on established agricultural research protocols and practiced on my own.

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

SP: I had hoped to have enough varieties to do some fairly thorough testing on growth rates, fiber/seed ratios, water intensive vs. dryland, etc. Due to the complications with the DEA impounding seed, I ended up just trying to get as much second generation seed from the small crop as I could.

HHW: Were you able to utilize your 2014 crop? How?

SP: I turned what little material there was over to a friend to produce and test CDB oil.

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

SP: I now have about a half dozen varieties of hemp thanks to others who managed to grow small crops last year. Still calling last year’s seed Futura 76, I also have a cultivar known as Colorado Gold, and a few unnamed varieties.

This is the situation we find ourselves in because the DEA still will not let seed into the state except through the partnership of the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University. The rest of us are on our own once again. This is a ridiculous way to conduct research and develop an industry. States that are more collaborative with their farmers are going to jump way out in head of the pack in cultivar development and economic success.

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

SP: For the most part growing conditions will be the same. Since I have so little seed once again, I will space the plants widely, prune them to encourage more flower and leaf production with the goal of maximizing seed production. I will add some organic compost at each plant.

In the short term, this is a step back from my original goal to research strains that will grow well and with little effort in this environment, but since there are no guarantees that the seed situation will be measurably better by next year, it is probably the wise course of action. I might even produce enough material to cover the bills this year.

HHW: What is the planned use for your 2015 crop?

SP: This year’s crop will go to the CBD oil production. The way I will be growing this year will not lend itself to much in the way of fiber. What stem material I do have I have promised to a neighboring farmer to use as livestock feed.

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

SP: My biggest success is that I have grown hemp in an area that hasn’t seen it since the 1960’s. It will grow here and it will be profitable. We need to get the regulations in place to let farmers grow hemp just like we do with any other crop. We need to keep it in the hands of the farmers.