WELD COUNTY, Colo. -- Just across from a cornfield in Weld County is a 15-acre plot growing hemp. While small, the hemp crop could be worth a lot more to a farmer than the corn.
"Farmers are really desperate to find something that could be more profitable, and hemp has at least show the potential to be more profitable," said Brent Young, an agriculture and business expert with the Colorado State University Extension.
Hemp farmers can thank the CBD boom for soaring demand. Cannabidiol is derived from hemp plants. Unlike marijuana, the THC content is extremely low, and CBD is not psychoactive. The FDA is currently studying how to regulate CBD and claims about its health benefits. Users have claimed it helps with everything from anxiety management to pain relief.
Because of that demand, an acre of hemp with around 3,000 plants could be worth over $100,000. It's an attractive option for farmers who have been dealing with depressed prices for crops like corn and alfalfa.
"Interest is taking off in the farming community," said Hollis Glenn, with the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Consumer Division. "We are seeing the number of registrations to grow hemp almost double year after year for the last five years," Glenn added.
When the federal government legalized hemp in 2018, it required states to come up with plans to regulate hemp growth and transportation. The Colorado Department of Agriculture is going a step further, with the Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan, or C.H.A.M.P. Its goal is not only to regulate, but to develop and promote every aspect of the hemp supply chain. Dozens of stakeholders from a variety of industries applied to be part of C.H.A.M.P.
"We have everyone from the Colorado Bankers Association , the National Hemp Industry Association, local law enforcement, state agencies (and) health agencies," said Glenn.
Another goal of C.H.A.M.P is to give farmers a clear direction and assurance that the state is behind them.
Growing hemp requires a substantial initial investment. There is currently no insurance for it, and there are plenty of unknowns when it comes to the future of CBD.
"We need to look long term as well," said Glenn. "We don't know where we're going with CBD. It may be here to stay, it could change radically. Our concern is the farmers aren't hurt or economically disadvantaged because of this," he said.
Young, who is also a farmer, advises growers to weigh the costs and benefits before jumping in.
"If you decide that you want to produce hemp, look at it as a speculative crop and be sure that you’re only investing what you can afford to lose."