IMPERIAL — Imperial County officials and farmers held a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the IV Fairgrounds board room to announce the Imperial County Hemp Summit and Expo scheduled for Sept. 27-28.
A panel of speakers included Ryan Kelley, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and District 4 Supervisor; Michael Kelley, Imperial County Supervisor, District 3; Carlos Ortiz, Imperial County’s Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Weights and Measures; John Currier, farmer and owner of Badlands Provisions in Brawley who farms 1,500 acres including 250 acres of industrial hemp; and Stephen Benson, farmer and owner of Desert Growers, LLC, who farms 5,000 acres of produce, forage and industrial hemp.
“We have the best climate to grow industrial hemp. Locally, we have manufacturing and processing plants here in the Imperial County,” said Ryan Kelley. “We want to see the development of an industry along with that of industrial hemp crop.”
A draft of the agenda for the expo lists panel and keynote speakers who will talk on the following topics: local opportunities and resources; local, state and federal legislation and compliance; best farming practices; extraction and processing; networking; banking, financing, and insurance; and tours of farms in the region.
As of press time, 37 exhibitors and about 200 individuals have registered for the expo. Registration is still open.
According to Ryan Kelley, “We are really excited to go forward with this. It is important that we champion the processing and manufacturing of hemp and its byproducts.”
Much of industrial hemp production is still yet to be discovered or learned. It is traditional to grow hemp in summer, but Imperial Valley farmers are searching for cultivar varieties that can withstand the stress of desert temperatures and the best method for providing water. So far, Benson claimed industrial hemp needs constant wetting patterns on the roots; and farmers are leaning toward sprinkler irrigation rather than the traditional flooding in the summer.
“The value of our county is going to be in the fall, winter and spring crops. This is something perfect for our weather. Industrial hemp growing in these seasons will thrive,” said Currier. This is promising and will likely increase, possibly to four from three crops per year, based on the industrial hemp’s 75-day life cycle for the shorter variety cultivar.
According to Currier, the average revenue for growing industrial hemp of $9,000-$10,000 per acre will give an incentive to learn more about industrial hemp and its possible ancillary services and potential jobs.
For instance, Currier is coordinating with Imperial Valley College to have student interns at different aspects of the industry. “We try to give them a full range of jobs in field work, marketing and extraction facilities. We will teach them about the industry and how they can work in the industry as they graduate from college.”
The question of losing farmland devoted to growing traditional produce being replaced by industrial hemp is unlikely to be an issue. “We’ve been already losing produce acres to Mexico because of the cost of labor here in California. We are losing it also to Florida and other states,” said Benson.
Edible food production will not be affected, according to Michael Kelley, who said “there are lands out there that are not being utilized right now that can be utilized.”
According to Ryan Kelley, having an expo locally will bring industry, corporations, and research to the Imperial Valley.