Image via World Ag Expo

published on September 13, 2019 - 12:17 PM
Written by David Castellon

In its more than 50-year history, the annual World Ag Expo in Tulare has been the place where the agriculture industry has introduced new products.

But during the next Expo in February 2020, plans are to introduce the 100,000-plus attendees to an old crop — hemp.

Once a common crop grown and sold in the U.S., hemp — mostly used to make rope and textiles — was made illegal back in 1937 because of its similarity to its very similar-looking cousin marijuana, despite not possessing the ability to get people high.

More than eight decades later, hemp was made legal once again at the start of this year under the latest U.S. Farm Bill.

Now, some hemp farms are sprouting up across the country, including some here in the Valley, but many of those farmers are just learning the ropes on how to grow hemp and need advice and the right equipment to do it.

Officials at the Ag Expo plan to help, working with an organization advocating hemp to operate what essentially would be a hemp pavilion during the next World Ag Expo, running Feb. 11-14.

“There would actually be exhibitors under one roof and seminars”
on hemp, all in its own tent, or “pavilion,” said Jennifer Fawkes, marketing manager for the International Agri-Center, which puts on the annual expo, the largest farm show in the world.
February will not technically be the first time the expo has hosted hemp advocates.

Last February, hemp advocates had a “vote hemp” booth run by advocates of legalizing the plants, and a series of seminars on hemp were held, though the crowds showing up for them were too big for the Agri-Center’s meeting rooms.

So the hemp sessions were held in the stands of the Demonstration Pavilion — an outdoor space mostly used for demonstrating farm equipment — each drawing 50-200 people.

With so much apparent interest in hemp, Fawkes said discussions began right away on holding similar educational sessions on hemp during the next expo.

At that time, hemp still was illegal nationally unless grown under specific guidelines, and only a few farmers were growing here in California.

Since the plants became legal this year, farmers here in the Valley are dipping their toes in the water to grow it, while some entrepreneurs are developing plans to process harvested hemp and manufacture it into potential products that number in the thousands, from T-shirts to medicinal oils to a concrete substitute.

Discussion for next year’s expo has changed, with a company called “Echo Blue,” a Los Angeles-based advisor on hemp growing, asking the Agri-Center to give the fledging industry its own pavilion next year.

“Epoch Blue is working with the Kings County sheriff and different folks in Kings County just to go over the law and make sure that whatever a farmer does lines up with the law,” Fawkes said, adding that the Agri-Center is working with the business because “We’re going to want to make sure we make educated decisions for whatever we put into place at World Ag Expo.”

Officials at Epoch Blue couldn’t be reached for comment.

Fawkes said her organization will work with Epoch Blue to sell 10-by-10 exhibit spaces in the pavilion, though how many spaces will be needed wasn’t clear.

Plans are for some of the potential exhibitors to be directly related to hemp, with farm advisors and seed sellers possibly among them. Other possible vendors could hawk tools, fertilizers and other products not created for hemp farming but could be used for it.

As for the seminars, their topics could include the new federal hemp law and various topics on growing and getting into the business. Fawkes said they would occur in a part of the pavilion.

She added that industrial hemp and cannabis are different, “and we are working with a group that understands industrial hemp to make sure we don’t get any of the wrong people,” as no displays or booths on cannabis — though legal in California, but still an illegal narcotic under federal law — will be allowed at the expo.

As for hemp, no seeds or medicinal oils made from it will be sold or given out as samples on the Agri-Center grounds.

“We’re going to sell the space,” for exhibitors, Fawkes said, while Epoch Blue “will put on the seminars and give us information on what exhibitors we should be working with.”

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