The International Ag Expo drew over 100,000 attendees and 1,400 exhibitors last week
By Kaitlin Washburn
TULARE – Of the hundreds of exhibits to explore at last week’s 53rd annual World Ag Expo, it was the historic hemp pavilion that drew the most attention.
The Hemp Education & Marketing Pavilion, tucked in the back corner of the 60-acre grounds, was constantly busy as attendees visited booths and sat in on seminars ranging from best hemp business practices to detailed explanations on how to grow, process and use the crop.
“It’s been so refreshing that, even though this is the first time hemp is here, everyone has been so receptive and interested in learning more about hemp,” said Kyle Broge, a microbiologist with Key to Life, an organization that provides hemp-related services and support. “Many farmers I’ve talked to are interested in hemp as an option to make their land valuable again.”
Hemp was one of many exhibits at last week’s three-day show, which brought over 100,000 people from across the country and around the world to learn about the latest in agricultural technologies and techniques in Tulare.
“What a fantastic show,” said Jerry Sinift, CEO of the International Agri-Center, in a news release. “There were 124 international business matchmaking sessions, hemp was included as a new option for farmers, new products were launched – there are just so many good things to say. Our exhibitors step up their game every year and it creates an even better business platform for our attendees.”
This was the first time hemp was featured at the Expo. After the plant was legalized federally in the 2018 Farm Bill, the industry has exploded nationwide as agriculture embraces the lucrative crop. The uses of hemp are wide-ranging — the fibers, seeds and flowers can be used in clothing, soap, lotion, seltzer water, animal feed, insulation and building materials.
In California, there are 40,735 registered acres of industrial hemp, according to CA-Hemp, a statewide organization that provides resources and support for the hemp industry. Brian Webster, the owner of CA-Hemp, said California is on track to be the largest market for growing, processing and consuming hemp.
“Agriculture is huge in California, and there will be a tremendous boom for hemp in the state,” Webster said.
There are two main types of hemp: industrial and CBD. Industrial hemp is used to make products like clothing and soap while CBD hemp is safe for human consumption.
Currently, Webster said, over 90 percent of hemp production in California is CBD. But over the next few years, industrial hemp will dominate as the plant continues to be used to make a wider variety of products.
“That’s when your Levi’s will be made out of hemp, and you’ll have a Starbucks cup made from hemp,” Webster said.
While getting into the hemp business has been a successful endeavor for many, Broge said there are some crucial steps to take before planting seeds.
“You need to learn what your local market looks like and who you can sell your crop to,” Broge said. “It’s extremely important to plan from the start to the end. The last thing you want to do is buy seeds and start planting before knowing where your final product ends up.”
Ray and Wendy Lynott stopped by the hemp pavilion to learn more about the crop. They’ve got 50 acres of land in Sanger, and they can’t decide whether they should plant a hemp field or an almond orchard.
“We like the thought of hemp, but there’s a lot we need to learn before we decide to go through with it,” Ray Lynott said. “And that’s why we’re here, to learn all that we can.”