Agriculture is big business in The Land of Enchantment, and Weekly Alibi had the pleasure to sit down with New Mexico's own Agricultural and Environmental Services Division Director Brad Lewis.
Weekly Alibi: For our readers who might not know, what does your role in the Department of Agriculture focus on?
Brad Lewis: I am administratively responsible for regulatory programs directed at pesticides, invasive plant pests and hemp.
So you work with all sorts of commodity crops?
Corn growers, pecan growers, chile growers, all the commodity growers in the state.
Is the existing infrastructure already accommodating to the hemp industry?
It's a good time between what I call traditional agriculture in the state and the newest agricultural crop, hemp.
Any equipment that extracts oil you can probably use with a bit of conversion, for extracting hemp oil. We have people who extract the resin from chile in the state are now extracting oils from hemp.
New crops must mean more work.
As with any new program, New Mexico Department of Agriculture has taken the first year to determine staffing requirements and additions to infrastructure including testing equipment, technical needs, etc. Currently we have been operating under a surge management plan.
A surge makes sense since hemp is a crop of many uses. On that note, I must not be the only one curious about what happens when a crop tests "hot." [A hot crop is one that tests above the allowed THC percentage.]
The New Mexico Department of Agriculture offers three options regarding "hot" plants/fields:
1) Destroy as ordered.
2) Request a re-test.
3) Petition the Secretary of Agriculture for alternatives.
Okay, so there's no messing around. Got it. Are you able to spend much time in the field?
As time permits. We are encouraged as an administration to make sure we understand the businesses that we are involved in and that of course comes with business travel.
Is that a perk of the job?
I do enjoy the travel. I've traveled a lot and given 20 or so talks in the last three or four months on hemp across the state [including at Weekly Alibi’s Hemp Fiesta Hemposium this past August] and I enjoy getting to know the people and the businesses and so forth.
Among your many other credentials, you have a faculty appointment at New Mexico State University that includes economic entomology, and you've taught with the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science. Is that a close community?
I know a lot of growers in the state, I have a bunch of friends in all the businesses that I'm responsible for regarding regulatory activities and so forth, and I've been part of [the agriculture] world for thirty-some odd years. I worked as a researcher in another life and I've been very fortunate working within the university system.
Many of our readers wanted to know how we can support this new crop in our state.
As with any developing industry, my best advice is to support by beginning to look for hemp products that are made in the state from locally grown hemp.
What governmental initiatives are on the horizon regarding the New Mexico hemp industry and which agencies or representatives should voters contact to voice their support for the industry?
As a government agency and a state agency and as a person in a state agency, we don't lobby for one thing or another. For any industry to flourish in the state, there has to be a regulatory framework that allows for that, and to have people in legislation that understand those opportunities and so forth, and I think this last session our legislators were very good about understanding that and understanding the help business. They asked good questions during the legislative period, they asked good follow-up questions, a couple of us were up there for probably a month and a half with the legislature.
Sounds like a good environment for people in the hemp business.
From what I've seen with the legislature, New Mexico is looking for business opportunities. Continued business opportunities that are sustainable and inclusive. That was one of the big things that the legislature wanted to make sure that as we develop the hemp programs in New Mexico, that they're inclusive of everybody that wanted to get into it. They wouldn't be excluded because of fees or anything like that. They were very cognizant of that fact.
That's good to hear.
It's been good and we're harvesting now and everything looks good in the state. No big hiccups here, we're in good shape.