YELLOW JACKET – Hemp plants between 4½ feet and 3½ feet – their height dependent on the amount of irrigated water they had received – were shown off Wednesday at the Southwest Colorado Research Center in Yellow Jacket.
The center, an agricultural research and experimentation facility run by Colorado State University, opened its doors Wednesday to more than 70 visitors for its annual Field Day.
“During Field Day, we can communicate to the farmers, convey the research that’s going on here, things that might help them,” said Emily Lockard, a research associate with the center. “We’ve got a good website, but it can’t replace face-to-face meetings and walking the fields.”
Zane Wilson, a CSU intern from Mancos, who works on the research hemp plot at the center, said researchers are targeting feeding half the plants 20 inches of irrigated water and half the plants 12 inches during the growing season to measure the effects of low and high irrigation amounts.
Wilson measures the plants’ heights, the number of main branches on a plant, the stem diameter and the temperature of the leaves.
Besides the irrigation affecting the plants, three types of biodegradable plastic mulch used on the test plot also affect the plants’ growth, and Wilson is measuring the plants’ characteristics based on the type of mulch used as well.
The plot is using 48-inch-wide biodegradable, compostable plastic strips as mulch. The strips break down to fertilizer over a growing season. The mulch is either colored black, white or white on the edges with a black strip down the center.
Jack Roger, with FilmOrganic, the maker of the plastic mulch strips, said, the strip with black down the center and white around the edges should produce the healthiest plants. The two-colored strip should be best because the black center provides heat for the main stem of the plant, but the white plastic on the edges doesn’t heat up enough to damage the plants’ leaves.
“It’s too early to get full data to determine if we’re right or not,” Roger said. “The reason for the test, our goal, is to help farmers increase yield.”
Katie Russell, the center’s manager and research scientist, said very little research was conducted on hemp until passage of the 2018 Hemp Farming Act, which made the plant legal to grow in the United States.
“If you think of other commodity crops, we’ve made huge strides with genetic understanding, their growth habits, their drought tolerance, but there’s been virtually no research on hemp,” Russell said.
The dearth to research is coming to an end as agricultural research centers across the country, the window opened by its legalization, are now actively studying hemp, Russell said.
Jack Varcados, facilities operations manager for Green Lynx Farms, located near Mancos, said hemp requires less water than most crops, and he thinks that will be help in creating a commercial crop in Southwest Colorado, but he doubts hemp will be viable as a dryland crop.
Green Lynx Farms has a 13,800-square-foot greenhouse where it started hemp plants and it now has them growing on a 4-acre plot.
“No one’s grown hemp in this country since the 1930s,” Varcados said. “All the hemp farmers are deceased, so we’re having to start all over. The real experts that we have are personal marijuana growers who grew a limited amount of plants on small locations, and the lessons they learned don’t always translate to a farm’s scale.”