Hemp In The Valley

Hemp plant at a farm in Josephine County (Trish Glose/News10)

“Right here on top, you can see this one starting to flower,” Grower Paul Kodydek points out on one of his many hemp plants.

Kodydek grew cannabis for 18 years years and started growing hemp about 3 years ago. According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, he’s not alone. The statistics from the last few years are staggering.

In 2015, across the state, the ODA recorded 13 growers, 13 handlers, with a total of 105 acres registered to plant. In 2018, there were 584 growers, 212 handlers and 11,514 acres registered. So far, this year, as of September 9th, the ODA says there are 1,915 growers, 475 handlers and a whopping 62,576 acres registered to plant.

“The industry is getting big, but we're only producing about three percent of what the demand is, there's a lot out there, there's a lot of people growing for the first time, there's that fear of missing out. A lot of people came in this year and really weren't prepared or really didn't have the knowledge, so just because there's a lot growing doesn't mean there's going to be more than there was last year,” Kodydek says.

On this particular farm, Kodydek is just the grower, he doesn’t own the land. It’s 45 acres, with a total of 110,000 plants and he has to keep up with them on a daily basis. He checks for bugs, dying plants, or something much worse.

“We found about 256 males out here or hermaphrodite plants, which is a plant that half of it will be female, the other half will be male,” Kodydeck says.

The males can pollinate the females, causing them not to flower, which is the most critical part of all these plants. Other than that, he says it’s a typical farming operation.

“We put down about 6,000 gallons of water per acre and we'll do that about every three to five days. The plastic helps us keep the moisture into the plants so we use less water, so we can actually conserve water. So, we're using less water than we would if we were doing hay,” Kodydek says.

Kodydek says after harvest, the plastic and drip tape will be rolled up and saved for the next planting. Some are concerned no research has been done on the use of plastic in these fields and how that could affect the health of the soils.

“It's just like strawberries or anything else... you just have to buy the plastic,” Kodydek says.

“Nobody will catch the Rogue Valley, you're four or five years ahead of the rest of the nation, that's like four or five decades in terms of agricultural life cycles,” Bruce Perlowin says. He’s the CEO of Hemp, Inc. and he says that boom is a good thing.

He calls himself a visionary. He started his company about 11 years ago, all in an effort to change the world.

“I saw hemp plastics, one division out of the 25,000 things you can make out of hemp was bigger than medical marijuana and recreational marijuana put together. Why stick with something that's going to level out? It hasn't yet because older people are just now discovering medical marijuana. But hemp has a 20-year curve,” Perlowin says.

Perlowin is passionate about the plant, sporting hemp denim jeans, hemp shoes and carrying a hemp wallet with a hemp business card inside.

“The roots are good, the stems are good, the stalks are good, the buds are good, the CBD, CBG and CBH are all good, and the other 113 cannabinoids that we just now are discovering,” Perlowin says about the positives of the plant. He thinks the industry is booming, and while he says that’s good, he can also see why some would consider it a negative.

“It's growing too fast too quick, at the same time, that's part of any growth curve. You're going to make a lot of mistakes. Every farmer is going to make mistakes and they're going to lose a lot of money. They're going to learn from those mistakes, but they don't learn by reading it in a textbook. You learn by actually doing it. Why are those plants so small with these 6 foot plants? It's because they're at the end of the irrigation line and the water didn't get there. So, you learn that,” Perlowin says.

“I think a lot of people are just seeing the dollar signs. I think it's really sad people are making the decision to rip out an oak savanna or an orchard that took a long time to grow or grapes that took so many years to get ready to produce fruit, they're making decisions on a crop they're going to get profits on this year,” Brie Malarkey says.

Malarkey owns Breeze Botanicals and Sun God Medicinals. Her company processes hemp for tinctures and topicals, and as a certified organic company, she’s worried about growers who are simply looking to make a profit, without taking into consideration the health of local lands.

“I'm a little concerned, hemp is a bio-accumulator, which means it pulls from the earth, the good and the bad. There are a lot of chemicals in our soils leftover from the fifties and sixties from different tree crops and fruit production here in our valley so I'm very happy the hemp is going to clean our valley up, but I'm a little concerned if we're cultivating and using that for medicine,” Malarkey says.

While she is an advocate, she’s also worried no one has thought through this industry, specifically worried about where all the plants will end up.

“So, I think we should create an appellation if you will for cannabis and hemp goods, create artisan and craft products and since we cultivate it well, we now need the processing and manufacturing facilities to develop around that. I think we have a real opportunity to create a regional name for high quality medicinal herbs so whether people are looking for a high THC marijuana variety or low THC hemp variety, that plant grows really well here,” Malarkey says.

Perlowin agrees, “A farmer can grow this all day long, but the big mistake that 60% of farmers across America made, was oh, now what do we do.”

Perlowin believes hemp could save the small family farm, saying a family can grow a couple of acres of hemp and survive for an entire year on the profits.

“Hemp, industrial hemp has way more applications and way more economic benefits and it's clean. You can stop cutting down trees if you start using that for paper,” Perlowin says.

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