In second year of hemp project, the Colville tribes have doubled their acreage planted in Swawilla Basin
Keller – Farming hemp is still farming.
There are challenges of irrigation, equipment, weather…truly, there are a million things that might trigger Murphy’s Law.
Soil conditions are a big challenge.
“The soil is your baby,” said Colville tribal Conservation District manager Jackie Richter. “You nurture it, and it gives back.”
In the sandy soil along the Columbia River at Keller’s Swawilla Basin, tribal agriculture program staff planted 120 acres of hemp, Tuesday, in the second year of an agriculture project that is utilizing a state research permit.
But at this stage – with hemp planted at 18 pounds per acre, in 15 inch wide rows, at a depth of approximately a half inch – the soil is the key.
Last year, the program did not have time for soil preparation, said Richter.
In a March meeting with the Colville Business Council, Richter noted many tribal programs wanted a no-till farming method, which the agriculture program worked with last year – but the weed pressure starved the hemp, resulting in what Richter described as ‘anemic’ looking plants.
This year, the program tilled, and “we focused on building the soil, using organic methods prior to planting, to beef up the soil, getting the nutrients ready for the plants,” said Richter. “Our focus has always been to grow as organically and naturally as possible while benefiting wildlife and conserving water. It’s a balancing act.”
The program is also planting a month sooner than last year, and the acreage is doubled.
To date, the Colville Tribes’ 120-acres represent the only state approved hemp farm in Washington state this year, according to the Capital Press.
While last year’s harvest was considered a success, with more than a ton of hemp seed produced from a seed sourced from the Czech Republic, this year the program has sourced two varieties of seeds.
One will be grown for fiber. The other will be grown for seed. One comes from a French variety, and the other comes from a Polish variety, according to Richter.
Outside of the field, the challenges of hemp come.
“Anytime you try to do something with hemp, whether food or oil, in Washington it requires licenses and heavy restrictions,” said Richter. “It’s a slow moving process. We are working with the state to ease up on restrictions and use a common sense approach, so we are less regulated and so people can start growing.”
In June 2017, the Colville tribes were licensed along with one other company to grow hemp. The Stranger, a weekly paper out of Seattle, noted hemp had not been legally grown in the state in over a century, and although more than 30 states had passed laws to legalize hemp before Washington, the state program is unique in that it is one of only a few to receive approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
But, said Richter, the tribe is pushing the state to improve the program. In the meanwhile, the tribe continues to work to acquire a DEA permit of their own.
“Having a DEA permit would essentially give us the same operational authorities as a state run program, allowing us our own research permit governed by tribal code [as opposed to] the stringent state laws,” said Richter.
“It would allow us to permit tribal members to grow on the reservation,” said Richter.
And that is the program’s ultimate goal.