“It was a big year of learning”
Harvesting 60 acres of anything by hand isn’t easy. Neither is making history. Crested Butte’s Ryan Loflin is doing both, but it isn’t the method or the scale of his harvest that’s exceptional. Loflin has succeeded in harvesting industrial hemp in Colorado, the first such harvest in the state in 60 years.
As this is the first year and the first hemp crop to come up since Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 last year, opening the door to industrial hemp production, Loflin admits this growing season was a grand experiment.
Since the federal government still considers hemp, a close cousin of marijuana, a controlled substance and as such shut down production across the country decades ago, Loflin was left to look for industrial hemp seeds anywhere he could find them.
Eventually he came by seeds from Canada and Europe. He planted these seeds across 60 acres on his family’s farm near Springfield, on Colorado’s eastern plains. Then he put in another small “research plot” off to the side, with varieties from France, Germany and China.
After the crop was planted in May, the outcome was anyone’s guess, in either the crop’s response to the soil or the government’s response to the crop. But neither turned out to be a cause for concern and now Loflin is preparing to make history
The occasion has turned out dignitaries of the hemp world. David Bronner, purveyor of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, and executives of hemp-friendly companies such as the clothing manufacturer Prana and the natural grocer Whole Foods held their annual Hemp Harvest Dinner at the Loflin family farm in June, the first time the event has ever been held in the United States.
As the hemp plants grew in the record-breaking rains of late summer, it was clear that the crop would be a mixed bag: perhaps somewhat disappointing in its yield and still an incomparable success in what Loflin and his partners at the newly formed company, Rocky Mountain Hemp, had learned. Not to mention seeing the growing season through without being arrested.
Finally, the plants are ready for harvest. Of the two varieties of industrial hemp planted on a large scale, the European variety did well while the other, from Canada, didn’t, getting lost in the foxtail grass, Loflin says.
On the small research plot, the variety from China is beating expectations. Loflin said there’s a strong possibility that it’s added to the mix next year.
“It was a big year of learning. We didn’t know how [the hemp] was going to react in Colorado,” Loflin says. Ultimately, he says he’s happy it rained in record amounts and everything turned out the way it did. That’s despite keeping the bulk of his crop closer to home than he might have liked, since most of the harvest won’t go to market.
Loflin isn’t sure what to expect from the first harvest. His crop could yield 3,000 pounds of seed or it could produce twice that. Seeds can be made into oil (yielding about one gallon from 50 pounds of seed), food products or even high protein dietary supplements.
There’s also the fiber of the hemp plant to be harvested and processed into fabric and building materials. The outer layer of the hemp stalk, or dast, can be used as insulation or animal bedding, while the inner fibers of the stalk, or hurd, is used in natural polymers and to manufacture a number of building products.
Loflin says he even has people interested in researching the medicinal properties contained in the root balls of each plant.
So to make the most of his harvest, Loflin is hoping to draw volunteers to the farm for a camp-out and harvest party starting Saturday, October 7, to help hand-pick all 60 acres.
Then he’ll collect the seeds, either with a combine or by hanging the plants and collecting the seeds by hand. He’ll dry the stalks and then process some of the seeds into a ceremonial batch of hemp-seed oil. Much of the remaining seed, he says, is likely going to supply the start of next year’s crop.
“We’re hoping to plant 300 acres next year,” Loflin says. “By next summer we’ll definitely know a lot more about the seed production and start trying to provide hemp for the American market.”
For more information about helping with the harvest, check out Rocky Mountain Hemp’s Facebook page.