In the month since Sutter County opened up the opportunity for the new crop, 1,150 acres have been permitted to grow industrial hemp.

The crop – which somehow contributes to some 25,000 products including rope, shampoo and concrete – is the same plant as cannabis, but bred to contain no more than three-tenths of 1 percent of THC (the compound with psychoactive effects). In December, President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, legalizing the production of industrial hemp and removing its categorization as a schedule I drug. 

While other counties waited on the state to announce regulations, the Sutter County Board of Supervisors decided against taking action on the matter at a meeting in April — which essentially opened the county up for business. Since beginning the permit process May 3, the county has registered 19 sites. 

Residents may not have noticed, yet. At this early stage, the plants look more like tomatoes, Sutter County Agricultural Commissioner Lisa Herbert said in an email. Rules outline that farmers grow the crop on no less than one-tenth of an acre, making it a commercial crop. The remittance fee for registering is $900 and goes straight to the state.

Two weeks ago, the state finally released its regulations on sampling and testing — a key piece of the program. The regulations – covered in five pages on the state Department of Food and Agriculture website here: https://tinyurl.com/yykppa4k – cover who can collect and test samples, approved testing methods, and destruction of non-compliant crops. Here’s some of the highlights:

– Sampling will occur no more than 30 days before harvest.

– Registrants must submit a pre-harvest report to the commissioner at least 30 days before harvest to initiate the sampling process.

– Samples for THC testing will be collected by the commissioner or a third-party sampler.

– Each primary sample must include all parts of the plant including stems, stalks, flowers, leaves, seeds and buds.

– A composite sample must include at least five primary samples from different plants, and a separate composite sample will be taken for each cultivar within each field—with indoor and outdoor growing areas treated separately.

– Samples must be delivered to the testing laboratory within 24 hours of collection and the testing laboratory will document the chain of custody.

– Labs will provide a test report to the registrant and commissioner within 10 days of the collection of samples.

– Registrants may harvest the sampled crop upon receipt of a lab test report that indicates that THC is equal to or less than three-tenths of 1 percent. 

– Registrants will submit a harvest report to the commissioner within 72 hours of the completion of harvest.

– Registrants must destroy a crop that does not comply with the approved percentage content of THC. They must submit a destruction plan, which must be approved by the commissioner. 

Jered Micheli is a fourth-generation Sutter County farmer with roots in rice and peaches. From 2015 to 2018, he sat on the board of directors for the California Growers Associations and last year, he managed over 700 acres of hemp production in Kentucky and Tennessee. Though he hasn’t applied for a permit to grow hemp in Sutter County, he hopes to serve as a consultant or conduit between growers and the state.

“There’s a lot more to learn because this industry is still in its infancy,” Micheli said Thursday. “There’s a steep learning curve to it.”

Micheli said he’s been surprised at the reluctance of some farmers to give the crop a chance, but understands that they may be waiting for the market to mature. He said his biggest concern with county regulations is how the sampling and testing protocols will affect growers.

And while most of the interest in hemp is tied to the CBD oil industry (extracted from the cannabis plant and credited with helping treat medical issues like anxiety and insomnia, though there’s little research into this; there has been evidence showing its use for epileptic seizures), Micheli is looking forward to the next decade as more and more byproducts are utilized.

“One benefit is most of these crops we grow, you only get one product out of it,” he said. “With hemp, you can double crop it, even triple crop it. You are going to be able to harvest the flower then harvest the seeds separately and what you’ll have left standing will be the fiber which … has 25,000 different uses.”

But Micheli understands the challenges growers face not just in operating within a new industry, but in misunderstanding from the community.

“My biggest concern is just educating the community,” he said, “having conversations that separate it from cannabis so hopefully there’s less confusion and less setbacks for the community.”

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