Central California is already the breadbasket of the nation. But now, a new Oakdale company – in partnership with the University of California, Davis – wants to help make it the hemp capital of the country.
The California Hemp Corporation was created last year by Jeff McPhee and Kent Kushar, residents of Oakdale, and has entered into a research agreement with UC Davis to examine how the plant grows in the valley. Like cannabis, its most famous cousin, hemp is a kind of cannabis plant – but it lacks enough THC to produce high potency.
Instead, hemp has a long agricultural history in the United States and has even been famously cultivated by President George Washington. Over the years, it has been used in many areas: clothing, rope, cosmetics, construction and food.
"We want to grow hemp in the San Joaquin Valley, as in all our crops," McPhee said. "This culture will change California."
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With the expansion of marijuana markets for recreational and medicinal purposes throughout the county, including California, hemp has been further taken into account for CBD production. CBD, the other non-psychoactive compound of cannabis, has been hailed for its many medicinal benefits.
McPhee said the company is more interested in growing hemp for its CBD, which can then be used in everything from creams to tinctures to food and beverages.
The research project will begin with "a few hundred acres" of hemp planted this season in fields in Lemoore, south of Fresno. The study will show how hemp grows outdoors under Central Valley conditions using California's advanced irrigation and cultivation techniques. The genetics of the plant will also be studied in order to understand the best way to adapt it to the state as an agricultural crop.
McPhee has a background in agriculture and masonry and his associate, Kushar, has been working for 20 years at E. & J. Gallo Winery as a CIO. At UC Davis, the research project will be led by Edward Charles Brummer, Director of the Plant Science Department. This long-term, 10-year study is considered the first major cannabis research project launched by the University of California system.
"This will be one of the first major hemp improvement programs of its kind, for what could be the most important crop of a generation," Brummer said in a statement about the project. "This will also be our first use of a revolutionary breeding technology, which, in our opinion, could become the norm for the next generation of breeding professionals."
Hemp cultivation is currently regulated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. But unlike traditional cultures, it can not yet be planted freely. The growth of Oakdale was approved as part of the research agreement.
McPhee said the results of the research project will help farmers learn how to grow hemp in the valley and the benefits of growing it. But regulation is not the only thing McPhee and Kushar are arguing about with their hemp business. The link between hemp and marijuana – both plants have a very similar appearance and smell – has been difficult to shake.
"We need to move away from the stigma of the marijuana plant. We want more people to understand that hemp has little or no THC and understand the benefits of CBD, "said McPhee.
He said he wanted to help educate California farmers about hemp, CBD and its agricultural potential. A report released last year by the Brightfield Group, a market research company on cannabis and CBD, said the world hemp market could reach 22 billion dollars by 2022 .
"It's going to be grown, everyone will come out of the woods in the next few years and want to plant that stuff," McPhee said.