Hemp: an unsung hero’s quest

Photo credit Rocky Mountain Hemp Build

ALAMOSA – If hemp was a movie, and the hemp plant (specifically, industrial hemp) was the hero, it would be a tale of a misunderstood, humble character imbued with extraordinary superpowers who was prevented from being recognized for who he was and the abilities he had to do good things in the world by forces that seemed, at times, unsurmountable.

But, unlike the movies, the obstacles in this tale would not be nefarious, evil bad guys plotting the hero’s demise. They would be (and are) much more benign with unexciting, unimpressive names like Infrastructure, Education, Marketing and Crop Insurance.

Insurmountable as those obstacles may seem, they still cannot diminish the uniqueness and truly vast potential of industrial hemp – something that is too often lost in the telling of the tale.

Hemp has been around since the days of Washington and Jefferson, and its history is one for the books. Prior to its illegalization, hemp was staunchly supported in the United States and used for everything from ropes to ship riggings, fuel for cars to soldiers’ uniforms in World War II commissioned by the federal government, itself.

But then, in the 1970s when the United States declared a war on drugs, hemp (like the quiet, unassuming cousin that was the model of usefulness) got swept up with its more raucous cousin marijuana (who was always the “life of the party” and getting people into trouble), resulting in both cousins being portrayed as outlaws.

It is a hard comeback from a reputation like that and it has been a steep, uphill climb since the 2018 Farm Bill acknowledged the mistake and hemp was back on the market, so to speak. Yet, despite an almost 200 year proven history as a remarkable plant, hemp is having to prove itself as if those 200 years had never happened.

After being legalized, some very smart people – farmers, of course – recognized the value in the product, especially in the San Luis Valley which is almost tailormade for industrial hemp (the most versatile of them all and especially suited to home construction) to not just survive but thrive. In 2018, the valley was one of only three regions in the entire state (in the state with the highest production of hemp in the nation) where there was significant production and a total of more than 6,000 acres planted.

But, sadly, nature was ahead of nurture, and the lack of sufficient processing facilities, market saturation, problems with crop insurance and other factors, obstructed hemp from taking hold and taking off as, had those obstacles not been in place, would surely have happened.

After its legalization, and with Colorado positioned as an innovating force in the promotion of this high-value agricultural commodity, CHAMP (Colorado Hemp Advancement & Management Plan) entered the scene. And the work that was done does, to a large degree, exactly what it promised: it identified all that was not known and all that was not done that needed to be determined and done if this crucial crop had a future.

Unfortunately, in 2020, the pandemic hit which threw a king-sized wrench in just about everything. And, once again, hemp was relegated to quietly waiting on the sidelines for its time in the sun.

Nonetheless, those superpowers are still intact and unphased. And there are more really smart people – like Rebecca Hill, Ph.D. with Regional Economic Development Institute and
Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at Colorado State University who wrote an excellent, comprehensive article on the findings of the CHAMP project – who have not given up on our hero and continue to gather information and see great promise, not just for the plant but for the plant’s role in the future of the San Luis Valley.  

When asked what makes her hopeful, Dr. Hill responded, “All the smart people who are thinking outside the box to be innovative and advance the industry. “

In the interest of doing our part in encouraging the hero’s quest, the Courier will be running a story on Tuesday about “The House that Hemp Built.”