With Arizona in drought, this farmer thinks hemp could be the future of small agriculture

Another Pinal County hemp farmer Paco Ollerton has spent almost his entire life on a farm, and he’s cautiously approaching the idea of growing hemp this summer. “As long as I’ve been around, you grow some things and they don’t work out that well,” he said. “Even though I’ve been here 38 years, we (still) don’t know everything about cotton.” /Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News

By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert |Arizona Republic

In the history of Eloy, Arizona, cotton is king.

But to farmer Salvador Ruiz, hemp could be its future.

On a one-tenth acre test plot, tucked into the corner of a ranchers’ roping arena, Ruiz grows around 200 hemp plants for fiber and for CBG, a cannabinoid, which he uses for his new tea business, Trail Light. The sizes of the hemp plants range from less than a foot to 8 foot-tall stalks, which rise above the trellis netting he set ahead of the windy monsoon season.

Further south in Yuma, where lettuce is king, another grower is researching varieties of hemp that can be eaten as a leafy green. But farmers primarily grow hemp for cannabidiol, the cannabinoid better known as CBD. People use CBD products, such as edible drops and candies, to help alleviate chronic pain, reduce anxiety and improve sleep.

Right now Ruiz is trying to find the perfect dual-purpose hemp strains for Arizona’s climate — plants that can be grown for both CBD and fiber.

In drought-stricken Arizona, where growing cotton uses six times as much water as growing lettuce, Ruiz wants to see hemp become a more accessible, sustainable and profitable substitute for farmers in central Arizona. It takes 5,283 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of cotton — roughly one cotton T-shirt and one pair of jeans, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

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