By Craig W. Anderson 

While the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors felt comfortable enough to approve cultivating hemp in the county, the San Joaquin Farm Bureau believes more needs to be done to ensure the introduction of hemp is trouble-free and a successful, ongoing crop.

“Our issue is that many steps must be taken first to ensure that we’re legal,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “Neither the state rules or the federal rules have been finalized and CBD production still faces challenges by the federal government.”

Obviously, this could create uncertainties with hemp’s CBD production being legal in California but not legal in the eyes of the federal government.

Strecker’s questions

“I think the county’s jumping head first into murky waters,” said SJFB President David Strecker, who noted there remain many unanswered questions, including: the extravagant profit numbers associated with growing industrial hemp may not be there forever – “CBD is great now but what about its future?” he asked rhetorically. And what about price fluctuations? What will the costs be, the capital investments to begin hemp farming? Have the potential cross-pollination issues been resolved? And what are the security issues?

“There are more issues to be worked out, but at this point there seem to be too many unresolved risks,” Strecker said. “It would be better to ease into it over time as more information becomes available.”

More questions

Will hemp deliver the touted positive financial results to growers? Perhaps, said Blodgett, but important questions remain: “Who will process it? Who will buy it? Where will those facilities be located? And we have to consider the matter of shipping hemp products out of state to locations where various uncertainties have yet to be resolved.”

History lacking

Strecker pointed out that hemp has very little, if any, history of being grown in San Joaquin County soils, adjacent to other crops with its own unique history of pests, disease, runoff and illegal activities. “The history of hemp grown here is minimal at best. Our other crops have been grown here for generations – which is not the case with hemp – so we don’t know what to expect based on accumulated knowledge; risks are more prevalent than when changing to other, established crops.”

Universal ingredients, success

A major positive promotional aspect for growing hemp here is its use as a universal ingredient; it can be a paper, canvas, rope, used as an additive to bread, energy bars, waffles, granola, coffee, beer, pretzels, salad dressings and body care products. It is also a biofuel used in producing ethanol.

The Hemp Business Journal calls it a “market commodity” worth $688 million nationally in sales in 2016. Sales have continued to increase complimented by successful hemp cultivation pilot programs in numerous states. In all, sales of hemp products boosted the industry to a 5-year 22 percent compound annual growth rate.

Have to deal with hemp

“It was bound to happen: Hemp is here and we’ve got to deal with it,” explained SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel. “Viewpoints in the county seem to range from wanting to move forward to others not being ready. Whatever happens, we, as agriculturists, should be at the forefront, involved in the process.”

Rules not uniform

As some crops decline, replacing them with hemp potentially holds a positive result. But Samuel also advanced a cogent point about cultivating industrial hemp in San Joaquin County: “As long as the state, feds and the county agricultural commissioners have the legalities and regulations figured out, we can probably deal with it.”

Ag Commissioner’s report to Supervisors

San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Pelican presented the supervisors with a detailed analysis of the hemp situation, recommending support of “developing an ordinance proposing reasonable regulations on the cultivation of industrial hemp in the unincorporated county” and that the supervisors  “provide direction to staff” regarding such regulations relating to growing industrial hemp.

Ordinance approved, but what now?

The ordinance approved by the supervisors takes effect Oct. 24, 2019 when the county will begin accepting applications for state registration and county licensing for industrial hemp production which will begin next year.

The details include licensing, where hemp can be grown; the permits required; consent forms for leased property; declarations about whether seed, fiber or oil is the end product; setbacks; greenhouse production; fees and more.

Hemp on crop report

“The requirements for growing hemp in San Joaquin County are above and beyond what is required by the state,” Pelican wrote in his report to the supervisors. He also said hemp will appear in the 2021 Crop Report and interested parties should “Stay tuned. We’ll soon find out if hemp will be all it is touted to be, the savior of the family farm, or a bust. My guess is those who painstakingly plan may reap most of the benefit.”

Controversy, questions remain

The cumulative effect, said Blodgett, is that “We’re seeing the popularization of a controversial crop with many aspects of it still needing resolution. I doubt all that needs to be known about hemp is known yet.”

But San Joaquin County’s farmers, citizens, government agencies, cities and rural areas will know soon enough what hemp is all about; whether that news will be good or bad remains to be seen.