Colorado Agricultural Commission adapting to workload associated with rise of hemp and marijuana |

Colorado Agricultural Commission adapting to workload associated with rise of hemp and marijuana

Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown firm on pot, pesticides

Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown spoke to a diverse group of ag operators June 8 at Library Hall in Steamboat Springs on subjects that ranged from testing commercially grown marijuana for pesticides to the urgency of supporting farmers and ranchers with access to broadband.

— Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown told an audience in Steamboat Springs on June 8 he is determined to hold commercial marijuana growers to high standards when it comes to pesticide use and safeguarding public health.

"One enormous thing on our plate has been pesticides on marijuana — we work on that non stop,” Brown said during a public forum at the Bud Werner Memorial Library just before the Agricultural Commission convened a regular meeting here. "This thing is not going to go away, but at the end of the day, the Department of Agriculture's job is to protect people. The manufacturers (of pesticides) haven't developed (cautionary) labels for pesticides on marijuana and are probably not likely to," because, with only a few states having legalized marijuana cultivation, it's a niche industry.

Brown said the Department of Agriculture has encountered resistance from growers regarding the use of pesticides, but progress is being made.

The Denver Post reported in March that a state Department of Agriculture investigation resulted in a significant recall of pot grown and allegedly treated with pesticides by a large Denver grower.

Steamboat Today has confirmed the licensed growers in Routt County have not been subject to recalls. More can be learned from the Department of Agriculture’s website devoted to the use of pesticides in "cannabis production."

Brown said his board and the Department of Agriculture have also been busy trying to facilitate the growing interest in raising industrial hemp in Colorado, as allowed by the 2013 Colorado Industrial Hemp Act.

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"Hemp is a growing commodity here in Colorado," Brown said. "Do we know its potential? No. But we think we really need to look at it — we need new commodities."

Jo Stanko, a Routt County cattle rancher who serves on the nine-member Colorado Agricultural Commission, said prior to Brown's remarks that, while visiting hemp growers near the town of Wray, on Colorado's Eastern plains, she learned that mothers of children with epilepsy have been asking farmers if it is legal to grow hemp in order to press the oil for use as a treatment for seizures.

"Finally, we're working on certified seed for hemp, and Colorado State University is on board” with a research program to determine the best varieties of the plant for Colorado's climate, Stanko said.

Brown said that, even though universities have been cleared to become test sites for hemp, some are concerned it could jeopardize their federal funding; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still considers industrial hemp to be the same as marijuana.

One of the challenges in Colorado is identifying sources of hemp seed that will meet legal standards. Specifically, Brown said that, in order to be legal, the amount of the psychoactive substance THC in hemp cannot be more than .3 percent (of dry weight).

However, it's been shown that seed sourced out of the area sometimes produces more THC than that in Colorado's climate. That, in turn, drives research on specific strains of hemp seed that will produce a legal crop here.

Young farmers, rural broadband

Brown praised state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush (D-Steamboat Springs) during Wednesday's meeting for her legislative work supporting young farmers.

"We're really worried about that," Brown said. "The average age of the U.S. farmer is 59 years old. That's not a good thing."

Brown added that broadband connectivity is essential to the future success of young ag operators.

Likening the need for connectivity to the arrival of rural electrification in the 1950s, Brown said today's farmer has to be able to react to ag commodity prices — corn, for example — that change every 10 minutes .

"You've got to be well-connected," Brown said. "We used broadband to buy calves from the auction in Steamboat last year. It's our job to bring broadband into rural areas."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1