Will Hemp Become Arizona’s Biggest Crop?

The green light has been given for hemp to be planted in Arizona. Just as the oil that comes from the plant— CBD oil — is becoming extremely popular due to its health benefits, Arizona farmers are looking to cash in on the crop. Supporters are even saying it may overtake cotton as the most profitable crop in the state.

Randy Pullen, a former state Republican Party chairman, is now a hemp processing company investor. He says hemp farmers in Arizona will be focused on harvesting the plant’s seeds and flowers to be used in the very popular oils.

CBD oils are growing in popularity being used in foods as pain relievers, and many praise it as a natural approach to various health conditions. However, the FDA warns companies about making illegal health claims about the oils and products containing them.

Farmers who grow hemp can see an increase in profits. It is projected farmers can make $600 an acre for the plants. Cotton can only produce approximately $100 an acre.

“Economically it’s much more profitable to plant and harvest hemp than it is to plant and harvest cotton or alfalfa,” Pullen said.

Despite the hype surrounding the plant, farmers may be cautious about gambling on a crop without an established market. “These guys have investments in land, in machinery, in everything that it takes to keep their farms going year after year,’ said Kevin Rogers, the executive vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, when speaking of cotton. “A guy may try five acres of it, but it’s way pre-mature. It’s great that there’s a new crop that we can look at, but it’s in the infancy stage for us.”

The state law allowing hemp farming and processing passed in 2018, and it was scheduled to take effect in August. However, it was moved up to May 31 after the federal Farm Bill passed.

Those who wish to grow hemp must have licenses from Arizona Department of Agriculture and fingerprint clearance cards. Licenses cost around $150 for harvesters and transporters. They are $1,500 for a grower and $3,000 for a processor.

Pullen believes hemp will overtake cotton as the dominant crop in a few years. There were 175,000 acres of cotton planted in 2017. “Probably half of that will be hemp in a few years,” he said.

Rogers says that isn’t likely until the hemp market is more established. “Obviously the price of (cannabis) oil is outrageously priced, so everyone’s looking at that and thinking they’re going to make tens of thousands of dollars,” Rogers said. “And you know, I hope somebody does. But our guys are going to want to have good contracts and make sure it’s going to work.”

Medicinal marijuana growers worry that hemp will cross-pollinate with marijuana strains. They say a hemp plant that is grown within 10 miles could cross-pollinate. “They are very worried about that,” Pullen said. “We’ve seen that across the country.”