California farmers are known for producing some of the finest fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world. But what if the state’s big agriculture also included marijuana?
Some Central Valley growers are already eyeing that possibility, including a Central county farmer who discovered a 1-acre illegal marijuana grow on his land.
“They had made reservoirs and they were pumping water,” he says. “They had buried generators. They had this whole encampment and we knew nothing about it.”
He says the forbidden plantation was worth around $19 million. That’s more than he makes on 11,000 acres of tomatoes, cotton and other crops in one year. It got him thinking. “I don’t know, I guess if I thought if I put in a 200-acre planting of marijuana, would the market sustain that?”
Cannabis becoming a major player in big agriculture depends on whether Californians vote to legalize pot. If a legalization measure passes, the state would still have to develop regulations on how marijuana can be grown — and farmers would have to figure out which crops grow best. Even still, becoming a big grower early on makes sense for farmers, who have land and resources.
“To me it’s just another potential option for something that could be a benefit to the farm, and then also make some money hopefully,” he says. But small farmers already growing legal medical marijuana say they don’t want big ag to push out smaller existing farms.
“I don’t really see any clear benefit,” says a rep for the California Growers Association, who represents over 500 members. “Certainly our hope is that we kind of avoid consolidation and we don’t really move in that direction.”
He also thinks one role big farms can play: growing hemp, which has lower THC levels and can be used to make paper, cloth and soap.
Even if marijuana cultivation becomes legal across the state, a big question still looms. Will law enforcement crack down on these new growers if cannabis remains illegal under federal law?
Federal raids on medical marijuana are still happening in California. Some local sheriffs are going after pot farms, too. One Fresno County Sheriff, for example, has waged an all-out war on marijuana, raiding grows not only in cities but in the Sierra Nevada and on farmland. Around 20,000 mature cannabis plants were found at this marijuana grow in 2013 in Fresno County.
Ouch! The blisters on their hands from trimming all them plants down! A crew of Bud Trimmers or Bud Trimming machine operators would have been salivating over that pile, 20,000 plants!!
She also doesn’t think farmers used to growing peaches or tomatoes will want to pay taxes and fees that could come with legalizing the marijuana crop.
But companies that sell supplies for growing medical marijuana say they’re getting ready for a boom if big ag gets in on the game.
One Hydroponic retailer who sell to cannabis growers says “We’re not leaving the hobby segment, but we’re creating a whole new segment in our business that’s specifically for commercial,” He’s expanding, and anticipating that orders will increase if a measure legalizing recreational marijuana passes later this fall.
Michael Garay ~