Valley growers consider new hemp crop

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Southern California's Lawrence Serbin has traveled the world to bring hemp fiber products to Americans.

But now that industrial hemp is legal to grow in California, he sees new business opportunities and is eyeing the small Fresno County farming community of Riverdale for a hemp-processing factory.

"Hemp is a multi-use crop," Serbin said. "You can grow it for the flower, or you can grow it for the fiber, or you can grow it for the seed, but you can't really do it all at one time." "So you have to kind of pick the right seed and determine what you want to produce before you grow it."

Serbin wants to make hemp boards (like particleboards but without the need for trees).

He is not the only one interested in hemp (a variety of the cannabis plant that has very low levels of THC compared to marijuana).

Kings County Farm Bureau Executive Director Dusty Ference says local growers are also considering hemp, which can be grown on the ground where cotton has previously been planted.

"It's a fairly low water use crop and seems to have limited pest pressures which are good for growers in areas where they have a hard time growing other crops," Ference said.

"There's a lot of benefits to the product that hemp can create," said Kings County Sheriff David Robinson. "Soaps, oils, furniture, vehicle-type products, paper..."

Sheriff Robinson staunchly opposed Proposition 64, so it may surprise some he supports hemp production, made possible by a provision in the act.

But the sheriff actually sits on the eleven-member Industrial Hemp Advisory Board, which will help state officials roll out the regulatory framework for California's newest crop.

Sheriff Robinson estimates legal growing won't start until mid-next year.

"From my perspective, marijuana is still a horrible drug and I would love to see hemp be a product that cities and counties are looking at to grow instead of growing marijuana," he said.
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