Hope and headaches for hemp in NM - Albuquerque Journal

Hope and headaches for hemp in NM

Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte says there are about 7,000 acres dedicated to outdoor hemp production, with another 7.4 million square feet of indoor greenhouse space for growing hemp in the state. Above, Stan Bader, a farmer and owner of Las Parras de Abiquiu, has a 1-acre field of hemp. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The harvest of New Mexico’s first crop of industrial hemp since legalization is well underway, and early returns show reasons for optimism and some challenges for the new industry.

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture reported Friday that it has issued 400 hemp-growing licenses since state and federal laws legalized the crop 10 months ago.

Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte told the Journal there’s about 7,000 acres dedicated to outdoor hemp production, with another 7.4 million square feet of indoor greenhouse space – about 170 acres – for growing hemp in the state. Witte said more farmers joined the program than the department initially anticipated, including some who are new to farming entirely.

“There’s a lot of excitement about the new crop in New Mexico,” Witte said.

It’s also a learning year for hemp producers, with plenty of trial and error as growers attempted to find the right approach to growing in New Mexico’s sometimes-unforgiving conditions, said Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health, New Mexico’s largest medical marijuana producer and the parent company of Ultra Hemp.

He said he expects only a third of the hemp grown this year to be successfully harvested.

“Even for our own grow, we had what I would consider mixed results,” Rodriguez said.

Hemp, the non-psychoactive variant of the cannabis plant, was legalized nationwide last December under the federal Farm Bill. The federal law defines hemp as cannabis with concentrations of THC, the compound most associated with getting a person high, no greater than 0.3%.

While hemp has a long history of being used in textiles, paper and other material, the modern industry is largely centered on the production of cannabidiol, an increasingly popular compound that advocates claim has curative properties.

In New Mexico, House Bill 581 passed earlier this year, establishing a statewide legal framework for the industry and farmers began applying for permits the first day they were able, Witte said.

The 400 state licenses are scattered across New Mexico, in 19 of 33 counties from Rio Arriba in the north to Doña Ana in the south. Witte said the largest grows were concentrated in southern New Mexico.

Among industry growing pains is finding an end market. Witte said federal legalization brought on a rush of new farmers all over the country, with around half a million acres dedicated to production. With so much product on the market and concerns about possible links between CBD and the recent rash of vaping injuries and fatalities, Rodriguez said, some of the hemp grown in New Mexico could end up in storage.

Consequently, Witte and Rodriguez agreed that it would be beneficial for New Mexico’s hemp industry to focus on processing and extracting oil from hemp going forward, through public or private investment.

Additionally, Rodriguez said new growers had trouble adapting the crop to New Mexico’s growing conditions. An abnormally hot summer across much of the state caused plants to bloom early, and New Mexico’s signature wind proved bothersome. More recently, autumn rain in southern New Mexico made harvests another learning experience.

“She is a very finicky and prissy plant,” Rodriguez said.

Ultimately, the growing pains will be a good thing for New Mexico’s hemp industry, he said.

The learning process helped growers find strains and growing techniques that will thrive in New Mexico’s climate. In fact, given the available land and direct sunlight, New Mexico could become a “major powerhouse” in hemp production, he said.

“These could be our glory years for the next decade, and I think hemp will play a part in that,” Rodriguez said.

Home » From the newspaper » Hope and headaches for hemp in NM


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Jemez Pueblo native starts a business focused on healthy ...
Columnists
I'm not a vegetarian, much less ... I'm not a vegetarian, much less a vegan, so talking about food in those terms is a bit like le ...
2
GivingTuesday: Every act of generosity counts
Columnists
GivingTuesday is a global movement unleashing ... GivingTuesday is a global movement unleashing the power of radical generosity. GivingTuesday was cre ...
3
Using third-party hotel booking sites can cost you
Columnists
Book directly with a hotel to ... Book directly with a hotel to avoid possibility of getting charged twice
4
Editorial: Fatal shooting on UNM campus raises serious safety ...
Editorials
"I want to come home." That's ... "I want to come home." That's what former Lobos women's ba ...
5
Growing an innovation rainforest in New Mexico
From the newspaper
New Mexico is in an exciting ... New Mexico is in an exciting position when it comes to new business innovation, and there's an ...
6
WIPP begins filling new disposal area
ABQnews Seeker
New area consists of seven separate ... New area consists of seven separate rooms for placing special boxes and barrels
7
City, UNM hope to reduce live animal testing
ABQnews Seeker
City Council OKs plan to reuse ... City Council OKs plan to reuse normally-discarded animal tissue for research
8
ABQ native son, Navy vice admiral was at Pentagon ...
ABQnews Seeker
John Mateczun maintained strong ties to ... John Mateczun maintained strong ties to New Mexico
9
Acequias face challenges, uncertain future
ABQnews Seeker
Fire, flood damage to NM irrigation ... Fire, flood damage to NM irrigation ditches threaten a way of life