By Jean Lotus
The western slope of Colorado has long been a great agricultural site for peaches, grapes and hops, so when industrial hemp was first approved in Colorado in the 2014 Farm Bill, a young local farmer and his wife from Grand Junction jumped on growing the crop.
Wacey Clarke and his wife Alex, both 37, got into the CBD hemp business early, on family farmland near the Utah border, expanding the family’s landscape, irrigation and cow/calf operation.
“Our region, Mesa and Delta counties are the perfect environment for really robust cannabinoids,” Wacey Clarke told Let’s Talk Hemp.
The Clarkes will participate in the agriculture events at Farm Symposium at the NoCo Hemp Expo on Saturday, Mar. 27.
With partner Tanner Willis, the family farm grew about 30 acres of hemp in 2017, under the auspices of their parent company, Moose Agriculture, LLC. They expanded to contracting for 160 acres in 2018, and then more in 2019, when the CBD market crashed.
“We got huge and that had its own growing pains for us, right in the middle of the [national] oversupply,” Clarke said.
Today, the company, Colorado Hemp Solutions, sells a line of CBD and hemp products, including topicals, gummies, gels, oils and bath products.
They’ve also partnered with local veterinarians to produce pet CBD products, including a fish-oil product with a therapeutic dose of CBD for inflammation and osteoarthritis in older pets.
Researchers at Colorado State University found a higher absorption of cannabinoids when combined with omega 3 oils, found in fish, Clarke said.
Clarke said partnering with outside labs and formulators, following best manufacturing practices, was the way to make the best products so they could focus on agriculture.
“We realized very early that subcontracting chemical expertise, in extraction, distillation and manufacturing of products with businesses that are licensed and certified is the way we could get good products made in a safe way,” Clarke said.
Getting an early start on growing CBD hemp has helped the company work through several generations of hemp genetic strains, partnering with researchers at Utah State University and a private greenhouse in Ogden.
“We’ve been working since the beginning on selective breedings, to build stability and consistency” to depress the level of THC to below .3% so the crops won’t grow “hot,” Clarke said.
As are many other farmers, the Clarkes are closely watching the USDA’s final rule which goes into effect this month. The rule allows the “negligence standard” of THC to increase to 1%.
Increasing the legal level of THC would allow the company to harvest when the plants had been “finished” with the highest terpene profiles.
“We cut it down early, even though you know that lady is half-done as far as what she can do,” he said.
The Clarkes have found their niche raising outdoor hemp gown in the rich soils of the Western Slope, even though they’re sometimes competing with hemp flower grown in greenhouses.
Crops grown “in the dirt underneath the sun, is where old Mother Earth gets to show off, that’s for sure,” Clarke said.
Alex Clarke, Wacey’s wife, is the secret to the oeration’s success, Wacey freely admits.
Appearing on popular podcasts to discuss hemp farming, and running an Instagram page as @thehempfarmerswife, Alex takes care of marketing and business strategy. The couple raise two children on the family farm.
Wacey Clarke said collaboration between hemp products manufacturers will help grow the market to consistently build consumer demand and consumer confidence.
“If we’re all going to exist in this market, it would be handy if we were not territorial,” he said.
The pandemic on top of a glut of harvested hemp and CBD has driven out some of the industry’s worst players, he said.
“Hopefully they’re selling real estate or bitcoin now, because this is a really hard business unless you love the plant,” he said.
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Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.