Pictured: Industrial hemp crops in Camarillo. Photo by Michael Sullivan.

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

According to the 2018 Ventura County Crop Report, 63 acres of hemp were grown last year, valued at $2.04 million. This year, with a new regulatory framework, Ventura County has issued permits for 4,000 acres.

“We have been issuing new hemp growing permits since early May,” said Andy Calderwood, Ventura County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner. He oversees the regulatory program for industrial hemp in Ventura County. Calderwood said there was a “queue of people waiting to register” when the new regulations went into effect and that much of the growing will be done by long-time growers of other crops.

Out of 33 applications, 31 permits have been issued. Calderwood emphasized that there are no restrictions on locations where hemp can be grown in agriculture-zoned parcels.

All registered grows must use an “approved seed cultivar,” pursuant to the new rules. “For it to be considered industrial, it can only have 0.3 THC [content] by dry weight or less. This is not recreational pot or marijuana,” said Calderwood. He said it’s the same type Canada grows for grain, “They grow it for the seed crop for food. You can buy it at Trader Joe’s.”

“The biggest [investors] are not growing it themselves but hiring existing local farmers, like Boskovich, Rutledge, Terry, Ishibashi and Swift. Each one of those is dabbling in doing one to four fields of hemp, acting as contract farmers and being paid for their farming expertise,” Calderwood added.

“If you were to take a drive out the 126 east of Piru, you’ll see about 300 acres of knee-high hemp plants,” said John Krist, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau. He said a group of investors have pooled their resources to grow at this location. The potential has “attracted investment money from outside the area . . . It’s a good crop in many ways for Ventura County . . . a water-efficient crop that generates high value is ideal . . . High value is essential if you’re going to make a go of it.”

“We saw the same thing with raspberries in the county,” Krist said, explaining, “Initial yields were low, then it became one of the top crops. The same kind of thing is going to happen with hemp. We have no processing capacity in the county. I’m not sure where it’s going to go.”

VC hemp not for CURE

Currently, that hemp won’t be going to Oxnard-based CURE Pharmaceuticals, the only company in Ventura County that has the ability to process and legally manufacture cannabinoid products. Instead, the company is sourcing hemp from an Oklahoma grower, Fytiko Farms.

“They are doing really interesting work in the tissue culturing of the hemp plant,” said Rob Davidson, CURE CEO. He said Fytiko is working at the genetic level to yield specific properties of the plant and that the product is different from what is being harvested by those who are “jumping into the green rush. A lot of non-farmers are starting to grow hemp. We are not interested in being a part of that; we want to work with true agricultural scientists with experience in growing many crops.”

CURE is developing a cannabinoid pharmaceutical product administered through a prescription-only oral thin film, which necessitates a very particular hemp product. “We are a registered pharmaceutical company with the FDA . . . with Schedule 1 certification,” said Davidson.

CURE is developing a thin oral film designed to administer a prescription only cannabis product still being developed.

“We are not selling or dispensing THC, CBD in dispensaries,” he continued — one of the reasons CURE hasn’t run into any hurdles in the county. All of its activities are federally regulated. “I have to credit my team. We are the only company in the U.S. to have a Schedule 1 DEA license as a drug-delivery company.”

Davidson explained CURE needs the “ability to really secure the supply chain from seed to end product,” and the growers in Ventura County are just getting started.

Hemp fields creating some fuss

“The whole idea is to do some vetting at the front,” said Calderwood, to ensure that only allowed hemp types are being grown. He points out that the only hemp strains allowed are different from the marijuana plant most people picture. One month prior to harvest “a team will take a standard sample, send to the lab for THC analysis. If it is above the allowed level of THC, then the crop will have to be destroyed.”

When asked about the concerns of odors near schools or homes being raised by residents in areas like Ojai, he said, “That is not a concern. It is not considered to be any sort of hazard for school children. The truth is, for a crop adjacent to a school, [hemp] is one of the best kinds [of crops] to have because only the mildest and least toxic pesticides can be used on it.”

He explained that the required pesticide testing hasn’t been done for hemp, so only a short list of things can be used, including peppermint oil, some bacterium agents and others that meet the organic standard. “No standard pesticides can be currently used on hemp,” said Calderwood.

Regarding the odors associated with the plant, “I’m not sure how the smell negatively impacts the kids, I’m guessing it negatively impacts the grown-ups more than the kids,” said Calderwood. “There is a certain amount of fussiness about this. People are not going to get high from this plant. If kids get some, dry it . . . well, it might cure them of any interest in marijuana. Frankly, they’d be very disappointed.”

For more information on growing industrial hemp in California visit: www.calcannabis.cdfa.ca.gov