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Company eyes Dove Creek for hemp plant

Purchase would provide jobs, boost economy

A Florida firm is interested in purchasing an abandoned sunflower processing plant in Dove Creek to process hemp crops.

Bayfront Capital, of Bradenton, Florida, is negotiating to purchase the private pressing facility located on land within a business park owned by the Dove Creek Development Corp., officials report.

“It looks promising, with hope that the purchase and land lease could be completed by the end of the year,” said DCDC chair Gus Westerman.

The firm has also expressed interest in purchasing an idle cement factory in the business park to manufacture specialized hemp crete, a type of building brick infused with hemp.

Bayfront has been meeting with Dolores County commissioners and the community about the plan the last few months.

“It’s generated a lot of curiosity and excitement,” Westerman said.

The proposed business plan would generate up to 17 new local jobs – five for the cement plant and 12 for the hemp processing plant.

“To get two idle businesses going again would put people to work and have a trickle-down effect into the entire local economy,” said Dan Fernandez, boardmember for Dove Creek Development Corp.

The company told county officials that they have lined up contracts for hemp from elsewhere that would be shipped to Dove Creek for processing. They reportedly plan to focus on pressing seed for oil at first.

Westerman, who is also the Dolores County agriculture extension agent, said there are currently no hemp growers in Dolores County, which requires a permit from the Colorado Department of Agriculture. That could change if the plant goes on line.

“This could be motivation for farmers to plant hemp,” Westerman said.

Colorado legalized hemp under Amendment 64, passed in 2012. Hemp is a form of cannabis and is a genetic cousin of marijuana, but has just minuscule amounts (.3 percent) of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient.

Hemps seeds can be processed for fuel, cooking oil, soaps and lotions. The fibrous stalks can be made into clothing, rope, paper and as a substitute for plastic. Cannabidiol can be extracted from hemp flowers and leaves for medicinal purposes with less side effects of traditional pharmaceuticals.

So far, 29 states have legalized growing hemp.

The Southwest Agricultural Research Center in Yellow Jacket is in its second year of experimental hemp trials, under a research provision in the U.S. Farm Bill.

Researcher Abdel Berrada said 13 varieties have been harvested and are being studied to determine yields. Samples will also be tested to insure the crop is within the .3 percent THC limit.

For best yields, hemp prefers irrigation. Last year, the research center harvested 500 pounds of seeds per acre. This year, they expect 1,000 pounds of seeds per acre.

If grown for fiber, hemp requires good amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to encourage vigorous stalk growth. Last year’s crop yielded 2 tons of fiber per acre.

“In one test plot, we are using deficit irrigation to see if the stress will effect THC levels and cause them to go over the standard,” Berrada said, but the results are not in. “That’s important, because if a farmer’s hemp crop is over the standard, it could be destroyed.”

The previous sunflower processing plant went bankrupt in 2010 due in part to a poor market for sunflower seed combined with the 2008 recession.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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