Hemp puts down roots in New Mexico

May 23, 2019

The hemp revolution is underway in New Mexico, with the potential for a sustainable crop that boosts jobs, local economies and state tax revenues.

That, after all, was the whole reason the Legislature supported making hemp a legal crop — despite opposition from then-Gov. Susana Martinez, who vetoed the legislation, only to have it overturned. Now, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is in charge. Together with the Legislature, she supported House Bill 581 allowing the manufacture, testing, regulation of and research into hemp.

This week came the most recent sign that hemp is a growth industry. Rich Global Hemp Corp. announced it will open a hemp production business in Doña Ana County, locating in a 750,000-square-foot greenhouse business in Las Cruces, eventually employing 180 people.

To help the company start up, the New Mexico Economic Development Department has pledged more than $2 million in assistance, a smart investment in a cash crop for New Mexico’s future. The project is expected to generate $136 million in direct spending over the next 10 years. That would bring its total economic impact to $247 million, according to a state Economic Development Department analysis.

It’s all part of a strategy from Lujan Grisham that identifies industries that will help New Mexico diversify its economy. Value-added agriculture is a key sector the governor believes can grow and improve the state’s bottom line.

Rich Global Hemp specializes in developing genetic strains of hemp that then become startup plants for farmers. But that’s not all. The company is building a research operation designed to identify certain genetic markers of the plants and creating a certification program for feminized seeds. Some of that work is being done in cooperation with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and New Mexico State University, offering research opportunities to students. Talk about value added.

The crop is logical for New Mexico. Hemp grows well with less water and in high temperatures and can be used in some 25,000 products. That hemp will be a crop possibility at all is due to the 2018 Farm Bill, which essentially legalized growing hemp across the nation. The growth potential is impressive, with the Hemp Business Journal predicting growth from $820 million in 2017 to $2.1 billion by 2020 — and that was before hemp became completely legal.

In addition to New Mexico’s suitable climate, growing hemp is a possibility for dairy farmers who want to find new ventures in agriculture as well as for people who are looking for new ventures for investment. Some believe it will rank with green chile and pecans as money makers for the state.

That’s still in the future, and growing hemp is more complicated than most crops because of the morass of legislation that still surrounds the plant. Known as industrial hemp, it belongs to the cannabis species of plants such as marijuana, although hemp varieties contain just traces of marijuana’s psychoactive components. You can’t get high smoking hemp, in other words. However, producers can extract cannabidiol, or CBD, for use in health, medical and beauty products. That’s a hot market right now in New Mexico and across the country.

By getting in early, New Mexico is making sure its farmers are not left behind. Hemp is going to be a lucrative crop; now, that money can be made and spent right here in New Mexico.

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