By RACHAL PINKERTON
QUINCY — The Small Business Development Center, a part of the Grant County Economic Development Council, based in Moses Lake, hosted its first hemp conference on Jan. 8 at the Quincy Valley Business & Conference Center.
“It went better than we anticipated,” said Allan Peterson, the Small Business Development Center coordinator for the event. “Based on the feedback we got, people were appreciative that we did it.”
Growers, people interested in possibly growing hemp, bankers, insurance agents and others interested in learning more about hemp were in attendance at the event. The SBDC made the decision in December to host the conference.
“We have had a lot of folks interested in growing,” Peterson said. “We needed farmers and growers to get this information as early in January as possible so they can make decisions before they get licensed.”
Anyone who wants to grow hemp in the state of Washington, whether commercially or recreationally, must have a license to grow and is required to have their product tested for THC, the compound in marijuana that gives users the feeling of being high. All hemp must test at 0.3 percent or less for THC.
“It is probably easier to be in the marijuana business than hemp,” Peterson said.
Peterson works with the small businesses that are value-added agriculture. Hemp can be used in many different ways, such as rope, CBD, fiber, grains, soaps and even a type of concrete.
While other states, such as Oregon, have been growing hemp for a while, Washington has only been allowed to start growing it in the last couple of years. In 2019, the state issued approximately 120 licences and more than 5,400 acres of hemp were grown.
But the production of hemp is higher across the country. In 2016, 9,770 acres were grown. This past year, over 230,000 acres of hemp were grown nationwide.
As the amount of hemp being grown increases, the prices farmers receive are dropping. During the conference, several speakers said that people shouldn’t grow hemp and expect to make money. One presenter compared growing marijuana to being at a roulette table. There is more hemp being produced than the market is demanding.
Those interested in growing hemp were encouraged to start small and gain experience. Only those with experience are getting contracts from processors. Even with growing experience, there is no guarantee of making any money. Potential growers were encouraged to partner with other growers, to diversify the type of crops they grow and not grow more hemp than they “can walk before lunch.”
They also warned to beware of where seeds are purchased from and of those who say they are experts at growing hemp. Because of the newness of the hemp industry, everyone is in the learning stages. While some people know more than others, no one is an expert.
Even with the warnings not to grow, the presenters did highlight the variety of hemp varieties available. They also gave information on how to grow hemp, what kinds of soil hemp likes and how to think about harvesting it, as hemp harvesting equipment isn’t available in the United States.
“We consider it a successful event,” Peterson said. “We’re making plans to continue to follow up and produce more learning opportunities.”
Peterson said that he was hoping for 40 people to show up to the event. Instead, over 140 came. Seeing how many companies had multiple people in attendance, Peterson is thinking of doing break-out sessions at the next conference. “We have a lot to think about how to do the next one,” Peterson said.
While the next one hasn’t been scheduled yet, Peterson is contemplating holding another conference after harvest. He and others think one needs to be done at least once a year.
“We’ll see,” Peterson said. “We’re still following up and getting feedback.”
To learn more about future events, contact Peterson at the Grant County Economic Development’s Small Business Development Center at 509-764-6579.
Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at email@example.com.