“Rocky Mountain High: A Tale of Boom and Bust in the New Wild West ” is a new book coming out this month detailing one Boulder farmer’s story of trying to capitalize on the recent hemp growing revolution in Colorado, only to watch those dreams crumble as the price of hemp plummeted.
Longtime cannabis correspondent Leland Rucker visited author and farmer Finn Murphy’s land in north Boulder and brings us an advanced look at the tale of how Colorado farmers touted hemp as a cash crop and then, for many, a cash disaster.
The Cannabis Report – June 15th, 2023
Boulder Farmer Writes About Massive Losses In Colorado’s Recent Hemp Boom And Bust KGNU News
The story Finn Murphy tells in “Rocky Mountain High: A Tale of Boom and Bust in the New Wild West,” is not a comforting one.
He shows me the acreage he planned to fill with hemp. It’s beautiful. That’s all people talked about some years ago, he says, and he tells me that there were once about 90 hemp farmers in his general area of north Boulder.
Hemp was touted as a panacea crop by the state of Colorado. It was easy to grow, and the state promoted it as a way for farmers to employ another crop that would help them and help rejuvenate the soil.
As he explains, the hemp revolution in Colorado was not led by stoners. “It started at the universities and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA). Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Boulder have had serious hemp research going on for over a decade, with the support of the CDA. Everyone’s motivation was to develop a cash crop that might reverse the subsistence farming endemic to planting crops on a rocky, alluvial plain in a semi-arid climate.”
This is not about marijuana, which is the same plant and is legal, although the designation for hemp, which has to have less than .03 THC, helped cause all hemp to be grown indoors now in Colorado and people in lab coats are running the show.
“I was planning to grow hemp for smokeable flower on my farm. That’s different from hemp biomass, which is used to make CBD oil. Smokeable flower is hemp that has been dried, bucked (meaning the stalks and branches have been removed), and then trimmed into buds that look just like marijuana buds. You can smoke it in a spliff or put it in a vape pen or pipe.”
Murphy’s story is instructive. He wasn’t a neophyte. He had started businesses before. “I’d been researching hemp for the past year. I was reading that growing hemp could clear over $100,000 an acre.” As he put it, that’s a lot of money, and that’s what the talk in North Boulder was about.
He’d been in Boulder for years, and like the rest of us here, loved the area, and traded in Nantucket Island on the E. coast for here. He had written a book about being a long haul trucker. He had started companies, dealt in the cashmere trade and was a good businessman. This wasn’t his first rodeo.
“I figured the best way to get Western was to be either a rancher or a farmer. The looming hemp revolution made farming look like an easy layup. It all seemed like a Great Big American Dream. Easy money, ride the wave, invest in farmland on the endless prairie. Go west, young man. The frontier holds endless opportunity. There’s an American story so old it has gray whiskers, just like me, but no less compelling for all that.”
“Colorado had become hemp central due to pilot programs begun prior to full legalization, and money was pouring in from New York, Dallas, Toronto, London, and Dubai. The Colorado Department of Agriculture was enthusiastically promoting hemp. Their young and dynamic director was beating the bushes to the farm community: plant hemp and beat the cycle of bust and then bust. That was the sales pitch, and it was a pretty good one; good enough, anyway, to pull me and a few thousand others into its powerful maw.”
Murphy missed the deadline for getting crops in the ground the first year. So he decided that he would help process CBD products for his friends and neighbors. He did the homework and found a place to keep plants while they dried. Worked his ass off, but when it came time to present a bill, the growers found that the price of hemp had gone to zero. So everybody lost money on hemp.
Murphy, who had won and lost in other businesses, is renting his land to farmers with cattle who need the space. It’s a great view, and the book is a great read. We’ll hear more about it in the coming weeks.
About Leland Rucker:
Leland Rucker is a journalist who has been covering the cannabis industry culture since Amendment 64 legalized adult-use in Colorado, for Boulder Weekly, Sensi, and The News Station. Leland has been keeping KGNU listeners up-to-date on cannabis news for nearly a decade.