Hemp — a world of possibilities

Photo by Brian Williams Corbett Hefner, CEO/Partner of Monte Vista-based Formation Ag, talks hemp at the 41st Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show. Hefner, middle, was a presenter at the conference, which runs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Outcalt Event and Conference at SLV Ski Hi Complex in Monte Vista.

MONTE VISTA — There are over 25,000 different uses for hemp. From fashion to flour, building materials to body care, paper to biodegradable plastic, an educational resource developed by the University of Florida Extension Services states that hemp is the oldest cultivated crop in history with recorded use dating back to 4,000 B.C. when archeologists found hemp rope in a piece of pottery on a dig in what is now modern-day Taiwan.

Even Henry Ford — 5,1941 years later — recognized the extraordinary properties of hemp. According to a 1941 article published in the New York Times, Ford used hemp in the construction of his first automobile that reportedly could “absorb a blow ten times greater than steel without denting.” So, change that number to 25,001.

But, of those 25,001 different uses, the one thing hemp does not do is get people high.

According to Corbett Hefner, CEO and partner of Formation Ag and one of the first presenters at this year’s 41st Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show held in Monte Vista, addressing that unfortunate, undeserved yet widely held misconception is often the first and main objection people have to developing a working relationship with this truly unparalleled plant.

Once the education is provided and that hurdle is crossed, Hefner has a lot of good things to say about hemp.

Hemp can thrive in a climate that gets between 8 and 8.5 inches of rain each year. It has a growing season of 90 days. Once planted, it requires no pesticides as the height of the plant literally “chokes out the weeds.” One hemp plant grown for fiber can provide two sources of revenue for farmers — fiber and grain.

When hemp fiber is used in textiles for clothing and furnishings (Hefner’s primary focus), hemp beats out competitors like cotton, especially related to durability and strength, And hemp is truly biodegradable, unlike plastics that never truly degrade to the point where they are no longer present in the environment.

“Everything we wear starts with plastics,” he says. “And having all that in the environment, well, that just isn’t good.”

Hefner’s clear that the second obstacle to greater production of hemp for fiber has nothing to do with the plant itself but is an obstacle that “takes hard work” to fix. The infrastructure — the planting, cultivation, harvesting and processing — needed to support the enormous diversity of products that hemp can provide is not yet where it needs to be.

“The supply chain isn’t there,” Hefner told attendees in his presentation Tuesday. So that is where Formation Ag — a wholly owned subsidiary of Global Fiber Processing, Inc. — is focusing its energies. “We’re building the supply chain from the bottom up,” he says.

Although Hefner can — and does — speak at length about the machinery his company is constructing to process hemp fiber for use in textiles such as fashion, his focus in Tuesday morning’s session was on getting more product to process.

“We need 4,000 acres of hemp to meet demand,” he says. “We may need 7,000. We’re not sure about that yet. But we need 4,000 acres for sure, and, right now, we have about 2,100 acres contracted.”

For that reason, much of Hefner’s presentation was devoted to the practice of growing hemp for fiber. When and how to plant, when and how to harvest. What to watch out for. What farmers could expect from their first crop and the potential yield.

But for those who may not want to grow the crop themselves — at least, not yet — Hefner also discussed the possibility of his company leasing the property and growing the crops themselves.

The presentation was short, especially in terms of the amount of information he had to cover. But, at its end, one attendee wanted to hear more and walked with Hefner out of the room. Just 15 feet from the door, a second conversation struck up between Hefner and a producer in the hall.

Hemp. A simple four-letter word that may potentially be a genuine game-changer.

Anyone interested in more information can contact Hefner, who is based in Monte Vista, via email at [email protected]

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