Column: Plastic Caught On Barbed Wire Indicates Failure Of Hemp Plan

Rachel Gabel, assistant editor of The Fence Post Magazine, the region’s preeminent agriculture publication writes on rural issues and agribusiness. 

The Montrose County farm has been her home for decades. Her late husband and she raised their children, cow herd, alfalfa field, and garden here. Neighboring farmers row sweet corn, pinto beans, and onions. Her farm had tail water rights starting in 1936 because the farm above hers grew produce. Any remaining water from irrigating that farm went into her ditch, alfalfa field, and draws to water livestock and wildlife, not fighting gravity or wasting water.

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When an out-of-state hemp firm offered three times the value of the land to the other farmer, he ultimately decided to sell. At retirement age, he sold the property. The firm covered the rows with black plastic and placed a water pump at the field’s base. Using a diesel-powered generator and energy, the woman’s water was pumped back up to the top in order to defy gravity and be environmentally friendly.

The hemp was planted and irrigated after the governor and his Department of Agriculture heralded it as the farmers’ savior. It was thereafter abandoned.

It turned out that there was no market for hemp. Insufficient processing capacity was available, and the manpower required to control weeds and harvest the crop was excessive.

The weather-exposed drip irrigation lines rotted and splintered. The tailwater never passed the plastic to benefit crops, livestock, or wildlife.

The hemp company went bankrupt, and the landowner thought it was too good to be true. Shredded plastic and weeds covered once-productive farmland. Other hemp producers nearby abandoned greenhouses and fields to weeds.

She reported on Greenberg’s 2020 goals presentation to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees. Greenberg’s CDA goals included increasing hemp acres.

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Legislators responded angrily. Rep. Richard Holtorf said the growers had no market. Sen. Don Coram called the industry “dying on the vine” due to Colorado’s limited federal input. Sen. Kerry Donovan is concerned about labor availability in an already tight labor market. This was before the summer’s tighter labor laws.

Donovan cited low commodity and cattle prices and suggested the CDA focus on traditional ag.

Soil health, hemp, organic farming, and expanding a new farmer bill Donovan carried won’t support the graphic’s numbers. “There’s no question in there it’s a genuine request that ag across the state is feeling more concern than positivity, you’ve heard those stories, and I don’t think these goals will make them feel less anxious. I think they’ll feel like we’re not talking about big markets, issues, or problems, but rather trying to connect with new farmers.”

Plastic wrapped around barbed wire fences became the state’s flag of failure. The governor and his Department of Agriculture continued to call the state a hemp leader. They wrote a state hemp plan and brought in a national hemp expert to build a vibrant hemp industry. A year ago, the governor announced Colorado’s hemp plan had been approved, allowing farmers to grow the crop. During his announcement, he unveiled a Willie Nelson portrait with a quote. Really.

Gov. Polis and his CDA harmed growers by promoting the hemp industry in Colorado. Don Brown established the framework after Polis legalized the crop in the Farm Bill. Northeastern Colorado farmer Brown doesn’t grow hemp.

In 2022, Gov. Polis and 15 others, including Agriculture Commissioner Greenberg, were sued for conspiracy. The 125-page suit alleges libel, slander, bid rigging, and blacklisting of a hemp industry veteran.

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BoCo Farms is owned by Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics and Reproductive Biology Grant Orvis. His BoCo Farms owns hemp fiber and seed genetics. In the filing, he alleges that “public and state official defendants conspired with private citizen defendants to rig the bidding processes” According to the filing, the entire process was corrupt and no documents, including CHAMP and the state hemp plan, are legitimate.

A developer now owns the farm across the county road from the widow’s porch. It will eventually be retired, but for now, it’s leased to another farmer. The widow saw plastic and drip tubing removed. Bundled trash was hauled to the landfill and more burns were in piles. The Polis administration continues to dole out grants to expand the industry and promote hemp, calling Colorado the “undisputed leader in the cannabis industry” and the hemp plan a “model for the country.”

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