Demand for CBD oil is high, and investors are clamoring to get in on the action by growing hemp in Arizona.
But make no mistake: This is very much a gamble for our state.
That’s because the varietals of hemp that produce CBD, or cannabidiol, are the most water intensive. Getting heavily into this part of the hemp business could end up sucking up as much water as thirsty cotton – at a time when the pressure is on farmers to find more water-wise crops to grow.
Colleen Keahey Lanier, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association, says hemp could produce water savings, but it largely depends on which strains of the plant are grown here. Varietals used for CBD oil require far more water than those grown for clothing, industrial or food uses.
It’s also an open question whether hemp can grow here, because the more sunlight it gets, the higher its THC content tends to be. That’s the active ingredient in cannabis, and according to state law, any hemp crops that exceed a certain percentage of THC must be destroyed.
A plot in Hyder will make a good test case. The first hemp seeds were planted in June for CBD production, which means the plants will be growing when Arizona’s sunlight exposure is its longest and strongest.
The good news is there are lots of private investors eager to finance what essentially are grand experiments. That reduces the risk for farmers to try a crop that has not been grown extensivelin the desert Southwest.
But I hope someone is keeping close track on how much water these plants use, particularly as compared to the state’s other cash crops, including cotton and alfalfa.
Agriculture used 74% of the state’s water in 2017. Where the hemp market goes – and which varietals it focuses on – could have either positive or negative implications for our water future.
Reach Allhands at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @joannaallhands.
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