It’s been decades since hemp has been grown and sold commercially. The last commercial hemp fields were planted in 1957 in Wisconsin. In 1970 the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act went into effect, abolishing the taxation approach of the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively making all cultivation of cannabis illegal by setting a zero tolerance for THC.
Things have certainly changed.
Thanks to changes in both federal and state law, the very first hemp harvest was earlier this month in Socorro County at the Lopez Farm north of San Antonio. The farm dedicated six acres to hemp production, and the harvesting began Sunday. It was a community affair with 25 to 30 helping out, including friends and relations, and even some of their children.
J.J. Griego, who heads up the farming crew said it was an excellent year for the hemp crop and praised the people who helped make it a successful year.
“I think we were successful because we were able to partner with some really good people like Mr. Richard Lopez, nutritionist David Hicks and others. They work hard and they know how to get the best from the land,” Griego said. “This is my hometown, so I’ve got good ties with Richard and everybody. With the people who I respect."
Griego said he was also fortunate to connect with geneticist Manny Ordaz of Fresh Grown Systems in Estancia who provided the baby plants. Ordaz has been in the cannabis business for eight years and supplies plants from his greenhouse to a handful of farms across the state.
We can provide anywhere from a seven to a twelve inch plant,” Ordaz said. “They are the foundation of the crop. The baby plants.”
He said knowing one's land is critical.
“These guys have really good farming practices. That comes from their years of experience. They really utilized that skill for this crop this year. It really shows,” Ordaz said. “You’ve got to know your land, and they do.”
Strips of white plastic mulch was used for weed control.
“It also assists us in controlling water flow, so there’s very little waste,” Ordaz said.
“And it not only conserves water but it also protects the root system. When you’re putting the baby plants in the ground you really want to protect that root system the best way you can so it gives them a good start,” he said. “Every time you do a transplant you always have that little bit of stress. The more you can reduce that stress the better it’s going to be for that plant.”
The technique also negates the need for pesticides, Griego said, “because the plastic mulch helps with that. It’s a weed control. We did hire some great guys that took care of the weeds in between. But we’re really clean because the plastic mulch allows the water to be entrapped."
Griego and the others were shown how to lay the tape in the irrigation system and put in the plants.
“Fortunately these guys know how to farm and we watched it very closely,” Griego said. “It’s almost like having a baby, you’ve got to watch it every day.”
He said the Lopez crop ended up with only a 20-30 percent loss.
“The state overall saw a 60 to 80 percent loss,” he said. “So, we did an incredible job and next year we’ll be able to do even better.”
Griego had nothing but compliments for the Lopez’s; Richard Lopez Sr. and son, Richard Lopez Jr., who also is a Socorro County Sheriff’s Department detective.
“I’ve never seen a man work harder; the epitome of what Socorro is,” he said. “He works all day at the department, comes here and works at night. Exactly the kind of work ethic that Socorro needs in this community. I wouldn’t’ve done it with anyone else.”
Now that the harvesting is done, the plants have to go through a drying period, hanging in the barn, not unlike tobacco plants. The next stop is a testing facility which measures the THC content, if any, in the plants to make the crop is federally compliant.
You have to be under .3 percent (.003) THC content,” Ordaz said. “Your yield depends on genetics and good farming practices.”
Then it goes off to a processor who turns it into CBD oils and other products.
“The oil is the base. That’s what everyone makes their products out of,” Ordaz said. As for rope fiber, “we’re just not there yet. We’re looking to get there, though.”
Richard Lopez Sr. believes adding a hemp crop was the right decision, but profit was not the prime motivator. He said it was working with good people and leading the way in hemp production in Socorro County.
“Money’s not the issue, I don’t think,” Lopez said. “Being the first ones, yes, and working with J.J. He’s the best basketball player that ever came out of Socorro. And Richard Sanchez, too. It’s not the money necessarily, but the thought of being number one.”
Is it a matter of pride?
“Whenever they say we’re the best in the state, being our first year, it’s something to be pretty proud of,” Lopez said. “We don’t want to show off or anything, but it’s a matter of being the first one and working with the best people."
“When he came down with the idea I told him, we’ll do it but I don’t want to deal with weeds," he said. "I don’t want to fight the weeds. So he came up with this idea. We put the plastic down and it worked out great.”
“It turned out to be a really good partnership,” Griego said.
The senior Lopez has been farming in the valley all his life.
“We came here from Magdalena when the mines shut down. Dad brought us all down here when I was three years old,” Lopez said. “Down here you were a farmer whenever you could drag a bale of hay. Once you could drag a bale of hay you already graduated. If you were six years old you already got your diploma.”
The Lopez farm has traditionally raised alfalfa and black angus cows. And now hemp.
“I think this may turn out to be our main crop, and I’d like to see more people get interested in it,” Lopez said. “This is a medicine for people that are in pain. I’ve been using that CDB oil for a year or so for back pain. This farming lifestyle goes to your back, you know. I couldn’t believe how well it worked.”
Griego added that the uses for CDB oil and hemp in general, are virtually limitless.
“There are so many uses. Too many to mention,” He said. “From medicinal uses to lotions. You can even use it for livestock feed, and bedding for livestock. There’s a ton of uses for this plant.”
Uses for hemp can also include paper, textiles, building materials, food, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, and fuel.
Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker also was on hand on the first day of harvest. He said it opens up a new growth area for the county and the city.
“It’s a new industry, and if there’s some way the city can get involved with helping them expand and generate more revenue, we would like to work with them on maybe trying to develop a processing plant in the industrial park,” Bhasker said. “If it’s considered manufacturing we can look for leader grants.”
He said a model would be a cooperative of hemp producers.
“Maybe get the five to seven farmers or more that could form a co-op and participate in the profits of the total market. That would be the way,” Bhasker said. “They are talking about the hemp industry up in Santa F, anyway. But we would be looking at some sort of co-op that would bring hemp into a processing plant.”