Hemp farming up as farmers look to cash in

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On a sunny fall day at the tail end of harvest season, wagons piled high with what looks like bushy, green tumbleweeds are rolling in caravans past a dry, rattling cornfield, heading toward a new hemp-processing plant near Delta.

These loads are piled high with hopes. Growers are banking on hemp to bring a payday that outstrips any other crop grown in the fertile Uncompahgre Valley. The shift to hemp is obvious in this valley: more than 250 registered hemp fields have replaced traditional crops like corn, soybeans and alfalfa. They fan out along U.S. 50 and line up on the mesas next to grain and vegetables.

Since December, when the federal 2018 Farm Bill moved hemp out of a controlled-substances drug classification and deemed it to be an ordinary commodity, growers around Delta and in all of Colorado’s agricultural regions have been racing to get in on the ground-level of a hemp frenzy. 

It is driven by a big demand for the all-purpose, officially-unproven magic elixir of CBD oil. Consumers are snapping it up to treat everything from eczema to depression, and in the process, pushing the outer limits of profits for growers as sky high as $60,000 an acre.  

The promise of hemp riches that far outstrip the going rate for traditional crops has unleashed what growers are referring to as a modern version of the Gold Rush. This rush has the same outsized get-rich-quick dreams, the naivete, the flimflam profiteers and the downright crooks. 

The payoffs are big for some who have learned to navigate the still-murky complexities of the newly legal status of hemp while also beating the traditional gamble involved in any farm crop. The failures can be huge for others.

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