MANCOS – Local entrepreneurs in this small Southwest Colorado town see potential for a thriving local hemp industry, but they need area farmers to jump on board.
Green Lynx Farms built a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse this winter west of Mancos, and is growing thousands of hemp plants for the medicinal cannabidiol market.
Mancos brothers Jack and Bob Varcados and Bayfield couple Kevin and Connie Wing are partners in the large-scale venture. They have a startup staff of seven full-time employees at their grow facility and farm.
“We’re making a statement that we are doing this,” Kevin Wing said Monday during an open house and tour. “Hemp can provide a good income for farmers.”
The company sells young cloned hemp plants for $5 to $7 each and offers technical services. But to jump-start the local hemp economy, they need farmers to start planting fields of hemp.
“Our long-term goal is to build a (cannabidiol) extraction plant here, and pay farmers competitive prices for their hemp flower,” Wing said.
Hemp is a genetic cousin of marijuana but without the intoxicating chemicals. It is legal to grow in Colorado with a permit from the state Department of Agriculture, and is regulated to not exceed .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, on a dry weight basis. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is found in hemp and is one of more than 100 cannabinoids identified in cannabis.
Hemp’s fibrous stalks can be turned into rope and textiles, its seeds into fuel and food, and its flowers into a medicine derived from cannabidiol.
Green Lynx has a business partnership with Criticality LLC, a hemp bioextraction facility in North Carolina. Criticality is buying up the Mancos company’s hemp plants – 25,000 were shipped this week – to cultivate them and extract the CBD to be sold on the market.
Scott Propheter, head of field operations and outreach for Criticality, said hemp has cultivation similarities with tobacco, and that tobacco harvesting equipment can be modified to handle hemp. Tobacco company Alliance One International now owns a 40 percent stake in Criticality, according to company filings, with an option to increase to 50 percent after March 31, 2020. The filing showed Alliance One invested $10 million, which was likely the purchase price for the 40 percent stake.
CBD extract is used for healing salves and to make medicine to relieve pain and seizures, but without the side effects of opioids.
On a recent visit to the Green Lynx facility, Propheter discussed the specifics and pricing of growing hemp during a public tour attended by 20 participants.
Currently, cultivating costs are $10,000 per acre, including plants, labor, water and inputs, Propheter said. Typical yields were reported at 1,000 pounds of floral material per acre, or about a pound per plant.
Sales of harvested flowers are estimated at $20 to $25 per pound of dried floral material that has 10 percent CBD, Propheter said. The higher the CBD content, the higher the price.
Gross revenue per acre calculates to $20,000 to $25,000. Minus the production costs, net profit per acre is $10,000 to $15,000. “That’s better than alfalfa or beans,” said Wing.
The estimates were based on North Carolina growing conditions, at 1,200 to 1,400 plants per acre. But Propheter said the numbers could be better for Colorado because the low humidity and lower mold risk allow farmers to grow more plants per acre.
“With good growing conditions, a knowledgeable farmer could really knock it out of the park as far as the pay is concerned,” he said. “I’ve seen some make 2 pounds of flower per plant.”
He said Criticality’s bio-extraction plant in North Carolina provides well-paying jobs in an economically challenged area, “and the same could happen here.”
Risks of growing hemp include difficulty in obtaining crop insurance and lack of access to bank loans because the crop is considered illegal by the federal government. However, a bill in Congress aims to take hemp off the Controlled Substances Act.
Green Lynx plans to offer a suite of testing services as well so farmers know how much CBD their crop is producing, and to make sure they do not exceed the .3 percent THC threshold.
“We’re selling the plants to get people started. If we get enough support, we are looking to build a CBD extraction plant so farmers could sell their harvest locally,” Bob Varcados said.
Right now, the nearest CBD processing plant is in the Grand Junction area.
Tips for growing hemp were also discussed during the tour. The crop needs a lot of maintenance and monitoring to generate ideal yields. Scouting to spot nutrient deficiencies and mold is key. Hemp does not have significant pest problems. The crop copes with winds, but if plants are watered too close to the base, they do not get ideal root development and could lose stability. Harvesting involves drying the plants and bucking to remove the flowers from the branches.
The market for CBD is much better than for grain or textiles right now, Propheter said. Canada’s large hemp production has saturated the U.S. grain market, and it is tough to compete with cheap cotton and synthetics in the fiber industry.
After the flowers are sold, secondary markets could be available for the unused stalks and stems, such as for composting or selling to company that uses the fiber, including as a substitute for plastic.
“We’re putting our heart into this to generate something for the local farmers and the economy,” Wing said. “We’re testing the waters and hope those interested will contact us.”
Green Lynx Farms can be reached at 970-676-4200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.