County approves hemp drying operation

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County planning commission approves hemp processing site, which will load wet hemp into silos to dry west of Richgrove

TULARE COUNTY – Two new silos are set to go up west of Richgrove, where they will dry an uncommon Tulare County crop: hemp.

Despite not actually growing the hemp or having any marijuana, it will likely carry the traditional “skunky” smell because hemp plants carry a similar scent to their marijuana counterparts, and can be especially potent when the leaves rub against each other. And that is what will happen when they’re, stacked in the two 36-foot-tall silos planned at the intersection of Avenue 4 and Road 188. The wet hemp plants will be trucked in and dried in 15,000-pound lots by forcing air through the silo and mechanically mixing the hemp. When nearly dry, the hemp will then be milled down to 6 millimeters and packaged on site.

Boxed, sealed and labeled, the packaged hemp will then be loaded onto trucks in 20,000-pound loads and transported to another facility.

The site was originally developed with a winery that produced bulk wine before being converted to an aqua-farm operation to raise fish using the former wine facilities. The site became a mushroom farm in the ‘90s and is currently being used for pistachio shelling and storage, as well as metal drum storage and processing for blueberry juice. The special use permit for the industrial hemp silos on site passed 5-0 through the Tulare County Planning Commission.

Tulare County adopted an industrial hemp ordinance in April 2020 and lifted the moratorium on cultivating industrial hemp. The industry is relatively new to the county, and permits can now be obtained for hemp growing, seed breeding, agricultural research and processing.

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, but the way they are grown and used differ widely. Industrial hemp plants—tall stalks and skinny leaves concentrated mostly at the top— are grown in a variety of climates closely together in multi-acre lots. Marijuana is broad-leaved and bushy, and is grown in a highly controlled climate to cultivate the flowers or buds with tiny hairs and crystals where high amounts of THC are contained. Industrial hemp is generally used for the stalk and seeds of the plant, which contain less than 0.3% THC, while marijuana refers to the flower of the cannabis plant.

A common use for industrial hemp is hemp fiberboard, touted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to wood products. Hemp board can be used in furniture, shelving, flooring and is often used in doors for insulation.

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