Colorado Introduces First Hemp Seed Approval System in Country

The Colorado Cultivars hemp farm in Eaton, Colorado.
The Colorado Cultivars hemp farm in Eaton, Colorado.
Lindsey Bartlett

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is hoping to help bring hemp into the limelight with a new program that's a first for the country.

Under its brand-new seed certification program, created in conjunction with the Colorado Seed Growers Association (CSGA) and Colorado State University, the CDA aims to give the industrial hemp industry and its farmers more credibility by tagging hemp seeds with a “CDA Approved Certified Seed” label — something rye, wheat and other traditional crops receive after passing inspections for genetic identity and quality.

Known as marijuana's non-psychoactive, harder-working brother, industrial hemp still has a hazy legal status in much of America. Although still illegal at a federal level, hemp is allowed to be grown and harvested in accordance with state agriculture departments under a 2014 federal farm bill, and it was legalized as a regulated crop in Colorado after the Colorado Industrial Hemp Act was passed that same year. 

“This program’s first project is to grow hemp across Colorado’s diverse growing conditions to ensure mature plants comply with hemp standards. This is the first certified hemp seed program in the country and the first-of-its-kind study in Colorado," said Duane Sinning, the CDA’s division of plant industry assistant director, in a prepared statement. "We are on the cutting edge of this emerging industry and this new program can help shape the future of the hemp industry."

Roasted hemp seeds cost $21 per pound in 2015.
Roasted hemp seeds cost $21 per pound in 2015.
File Photo

Varieties of hemp will be grown and tested in several distinctly different landscapes throughout the state, including  northeastern and southeastern Colorado, the Front Range, the San Luis Valley and the Western Slope, according to the CDA.

After the department verifies that a plant's THC levels are at or below the 0.3 percent limit required to be labeled "industrial hemp," the seeds that make the cut will then be bred and made available to commercial hemp farmers. By purchasing CDA-approved seeds guaranteed to stay below this standard, farmers won't have to worry about state-enforced crop destruction for going over the THC threshold, the CDA says.

“Adding industrial hemp to the list of crops for which CSGA provides seed certification represents a milestone for the industry and positions Colorado as a leader in industrial hemp innovation,” says Rick Novak, director of seed programs at CSU. “Our collaboration with both CSGA and CDA demonstrates that the seed certification program can advance agricultural research while also serving as a resource for industry.”

The National Hemp Association estimated the U.S. hemp industry to be worth $620 million in 2015.

With fibers and compounds that produce biodegradable plastics, concrete, health food, paper, textiles and more, hemp has a largely untapped potential thanks to Uncle Sam. But farmers and manufactures alike view the crop as potentially a big player in the future of Colorado agriculture.

Colorado hemp growers are encouraged by the CDA to submit their seeds to be a part of the program. To do so, the legal owner of the hemp seed genetics must provide information to establish genetic ownership, as well as 5,000 seeds needed for the study. 

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The CDA says it hopes to have approved seeds available for farmers by the 2017 planting season.

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