Hemp forum featured at Four States Agricultural Expo

Local hemp experts, growers and processors will gather for an educational forum at the Four States Ag Expo on Saturday 16 at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds.

At 9 a.m., Abdel Berrada, a hemp researcher and crop scientist with Mesa Verde Ag Solutions, will give a presentation about hemp, followed by a panel discussion.

The panel includes Jack Varcados of Green Lynx Farms and Brenden Findlay of Health Quest Botanicals, both of Mancos; Katie Russell, director of Colorado State University Southwest Research Station; and local hemp growers Scott Perez and Jim and Jan Candelaria.

“It will be a group discussion, with participation from the audience and other growers,” Berrada said.

At 11:30 a.m. in Classroom A, Kat Bagley, of Venus Moon Ranch in Hesperus, will give a presentation on the hemp supply chain, organizing grower cooperatives, research and education. The talk will be followed by discussion. Other topics explored will be hemp rules and regulations, production practices, seed varieties, markets and processing.

As the former director of the Colorado State University Southwestern Colorado Research Center in Yellow Jacket, Berrada studied and grew experimental hemp crops using a variety of seeds and growing methods.

He organized the event to encourage the local hemp industry.

“Farmers have been looking for an alternative to alfalfa and beans, and hemp offers a good opportunity that has profit potential,” Berrada said.

Hemp, which is a genetic cousin of marijuana but without the psychoactive effects, is used to make hundreds of products, including from fuel, oil, clothing, paper and rope, medicinal products, food and salves. It also works as a substitute for plastic.

The crop took a giant leap forward when the 2018 Farm Bill legalized it at the federal level. Growers must obtain permits from state agricultural departments, and the crop is subject to testing to ensure it does not exceed .3 percent THC.

According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, 22 farmers are licensed to grow hemp in Montezuma County, 40 in La Plata County and zero in Dolores County.

“It is a good niche market, and now with the federal legalization, it will become more mainstream,” Berrada said. “Even on a small or medium-sized plot of land, growing hemp can be profitable.”

As more growers jump on board, demand for processing plants will increase and spur that side of the industry as well, he said. CDA has approved 13 varieties of hemp seeds for growers, with strains adapted to the southwestern Colorado climate.

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