The Imperial Valley of southeastern California is known for several crops such as alfalfa, lettuce, sugar beets and carrots. But ag researchers have been tasked with looking into the potential for growing new crops, like Rhodes grass as a forage crop and, more recently, industrial hemp.
Seed companies approached Oli Bachie, agronomy adviser for Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties, and director of the University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources station in Imperial County, to look into the potential of growing hemp in the region.
The interest is based on the versatility of hemp, which can be made into different products — biodiesel, fiber, textiles, clothing, food and nutritional supplements. It’s also because cotton is no longer grown in the Imperial Valley, and hemp could be a potential replacement crop that consumes a lot less water than cotton.
If it shows potential, it would be grown primarily for seed and fiber.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are often lumped together, but hemp is different in its contents. A marijuana plant has 15% to 20% tetrahydrocannabinol — THC — the active ingredient that gives pot consumers a high.
Hemp can be classified as industrial only if it has a 0.3% or lower level of THC.
Bachie will get input and advice from growing programs in Kentucky, Michigan and other states. So far, he’s looked at the morphology and anatomy of hemp, which is technically Cannabis sativa, but expects to learn the rest through field experiments.
Bachie explained how there are some misconceptions about the environmental conditions needed to grow hemp. Some think it can thrive only in cool weather, while others think it has evolved to adapt to hot desert conditions with low rainfall, and this will be part of the trial’s focus.
“The plant produces dry