The first industrial hemp grower in Los Angeles County foresees the burgeoning industry as a big win for California farmers, despite the difficulties involved in getting a crop started. Donald Collins is the President of SoCal Farms, which recently planted 100 certified acres of organic hemp in Antelope Valley. As an alfalfa and cotton grower, Collins sees the availability of hemp cultivation coming at an important time.
“I think in farming, as in the dairy industry, there’s a lot of attrition due to low margins. Row crop farming is heading that way, and I think this is an opportunity to allow some of these family farms to live on to the fourth, fifth, sixth generation,” Collins noted.
While the prospect of growing industrial hemp is a new development for today’s farmers, the cultivation of hemp was fairly common in the early days of the United States. It was not until federal barriers were put in place that the domestic production of hemp was prohibited. Collins expressed appreciation for the efforts to bring hemp back as a potential crop for farmers, describing it as “a monster deal for California growers.”
“We’ve been very diligent, worked very hard with our politicians and our scientists to help us bring this opportunity back for us to work with,” said Collins. “After decades and decades of work we’ve been able to get it back in the toolbelt to help us and I think a lot of people miss that.”
While the availability of industrial hemp cultivation can provide another opportunity for California growers, Collins acknowledges the fact that there are still significant challenges to getting the industry developed. Regulatory differences between counties present an issue for growers interested in growing hemp, especially for those with acreage in multiple counties. There is also comparatively little information available for large-scale cultivation of hemp.
“Some of the techniques cross over quite well from either cotton or tomatoes; your drip systems, your sprinkler systems, tractors, cultivators, all cross over,” said Collins. “But the hemp plant is a very unique plant that doesn’t have a lot of history to begin with. So, there’s not a lot of baseline information on scale.”