Fibershed’s Colorado Hemp Research Project

Fiber systems are best designed to minimize detrimental impacts on the biosphere, and to enhance ecosystem function where possible. Fibershed has chosen to research the use of industrial hemp as a fiber crop because it fits both of these criteria.

Background

Fibershed worked during the summer and fall of 2013 to prepare for a 2014 research crop in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. With support from Phil Warner of Ecofibre industries in Australia, Ben Doon and the County Commissioners in Costilla County and Patrick O’Niel of Agro Engineering, we designed a framework for the research with a focus on monitoring and comparing the growth period of two fiber strains to determine the timing of male flowering. Hemp is a ‘day-length’ species and responds to available light. Flowering occurs when the plant experiences shortened day length. Ideal fiber crops flower late, and allow for maximum growth before going into a reproductive state.

Education and outreach in Colorado

Thanks to the Blackie Foundation, our work in Colorado began in the Spring of 2014, with site visits to the San Luis Valley by Phil Warner from Ecofibre Industries and Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed.

soil tests, meeting researchers

Photo above, left (left to right): Phil Warner, Patrick O’Neil, Rebecca Burgess and Ben Doon taking soil tests for determining nitrogen content at the Carpenter Ranch Costilla County, Colorado. Photo above, right (left to right): Patrick O’Neil, Phil Warner and Rebecca Burgess at CSU to meet researchers to assess legal viability of hemp research. 

Phil Warner lecturing

Hemp Presentations by Phil Warner at Adams State University (left and center) and Costilla County Community Hall (right).

Visits to Colorado State University and the Colorado Department of Agriculture were key in developing our understanding of the political hurdles that remain within the state towards advancing hemp fiber research. Even though the American Farm Bureau has joined in efforts to legalize the crop—and the recently approved Farm Bill holds a provision for research for states that have legal frameworks—many institutions are holding back and are slow to adopt the necessary supports to move the agro-ecological research forward. Fibershed’s research has been affected by these hurdles, but has not been halted by these ‘slow-to-turn’ institutions.

Planting

Working with Costilla County’s County Commissioners and several very supportive community members, including Rio de la Vista of Shining Mountain Land Services, Fibershed was able to pursue planting of two fiber strains: Futura 75 and Kompolti.

hemp seed, soil samples

Photo above, left: Planting on June 8th with Futura 75 seed. Photo above, right: Soil samples taken to assess carbon dioxide emissions from soil tillage taken by Costilla County Commissioner Lawrence Pacheco (center), Rachel Briette (right) and Rebecca Burgess (left).

Eugene Jacquez
Fibershed site manager Eugene Jacquez walks through the field of hemp

Details of the research taken by site manager Eugene Jacquez

  • Soil type: sandy loam soil
  • Flood irrigation: provided via well water
  • Planting date: June 8, 2014
  • Area planted: one acre (½ with Kompolti and ½ with Futura 75)
  • Amount of seed planted: 24 lbs.
  • Soil samples: taken from tilled plots and untilled plots for carbon dioxide emission comparisons (soil testing in process)
  • Seed germination rate: within 9 days
  • Male flowering: July 20th-25th
  • Average stalk height at time of male flowering: 1 foot
  • Female seeded: August 1st
  • Total stalk weight: Kompolti 4 oz. average; Futura 75 6 oz. average

Water data

  • June 8th: Good rain watered the crop
  • June 14th: Fast watering through the corrigations (flood irrigation)
  • June 28th: Corrigated watering (flood)
  • July 14th: Rain
  • July 21st: Corrigated watering (flood)
  • July 23rd: Rain

Research outcomes from agricultural experiments

Both Kompolti and Futura 75 carry potential for the agricultural sector in the San Luis Valley, neither strain was mal-effected by insects or disease, and both strains succeeded with three flood irrigation waterings over the course of the growing season (low to normal water use for a crop in this region.).

It was determined that the final stalk height at the time of male flowering was lower than average (compared to commercial hemp farming weights), potentially due to a late planting date. Corrigations that were dug for gravity fed flood irrigation were determined to possibly be too deep—seeds were planted at 1 inch, and corrigations were dug below the seed depth, so germination may have been impaired.

Planting density was also effected by seed weight ratios to available acreage, 24 pounds of seed covered a one-acre site. A doubling of this ratio would be a minimum for achieving a better yield (40-50 pounds to the acre).

Early planting dates are recommended for 2015 experiments, as well as research into no-till systems to enable an even greater water reduction for irrigation.

Ongoing updates to the project will be posted on our Cottage Scale Hemp Demonstrations page.

hemp harvest

Hemp harvest 2014

collage5

Hemp stalks dry in the Carpenter Ranch Barn (above, left); Seed head collection (above, right)

Sange de Cristo Range

View of the nearby Sangre de Cristo range from a neighboring farm

4 thoughts on “Fibershed’s Colorado Hemp Research Project

  1. Two of us on the Upper Arkansas Conservation District Board in Salida, Colorado, heard Rebecca’s talk in Saguache last week. We are part of a larger group of people here who are interested in growing hemp to help our ranchers reduce soil degradation, erosion and wind damage. Salida also hosts the Salida Fiber Festival, which will be held on September 12 and 13. Anyone who can attend would be most welcome! Please email me at ebergsekr.com, or call at 720-201-9809.

  2. Since meeting Rebecca in Saguache last August, I’ve visited Rezolana Farms twice and each time learned a LOT from Arnie Valdez. I am planning to plant 1 1/2 acres of hemp in May on two sites in the Upper Arkansas Valley, using the Euro variety, which is more of a seed-producer than Arnie is growing. Nevertheless, it will grow thin and reedy if planted close together, and I hope to have enough seeds to try wide-spaced, bushy plants for seed, and tight-spaced plants for fiber.

    This is purely a test of viability in our harsh climate, but it’s similar enough to the southern San Luis Valley that I have hopes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *