Workshop scheduled tomorrow on hemp processing, manufacturing, more

Industrial hemp cultivation as an agricultural crop is the topic of a workshop tomorrow, Aug. 15, at the regular Plumas County Planning Commission’s bimonthly meeting.

Meetings are held in the building/planning departments’ meeting room in Quincy beginning at 10 a.m.

Finer points

When is it processing and when is it manufacturing?

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Those are some of the finer points about agricultural production that members of the Plumas County Planning Commission discussed Thursday, Aug. 1.

Those two points were part of a discussion focusing on hemp as an agriculture crop.

Commissioners were met with pages of definitions, a matrix and information on agriculture codes for the discussion to amend agriculture zones to allow for ag processing.

“This is the last item to consider,” said Tracey Ferguson, the new planning director. In previous workshops and public meetings, commissioners have responded to direction from the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on cannabis legislation proposals.

Both the federal and state governments recognize industrial hemp as an agricultural crop, but what are missing are details on terminology and specifics on management from both.

Agriculture versus horticulture

One of the issues commissioners dealt with concerned whether hemp can be cultivated in agricultural and horticultural areas. “Horticulture (someone’s yard) is not the place by virtue of code enforcement,” said Commissioner Jeff Greening.

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Commissioners had no difficulty determining that raising hemp as an agricultural crop is appropriate. They nixed it as part of horticulture plantings.

By way of explanation, Greening said that he is concerned about cross-pollination. In ag production, crops can be better controlled because of the land size. In horticulture it generally refers to landscaping ventures. “The cross pollination problem is huge,” Greening said.

In fact, Greening said it has reached a crisis level. Using Sloughhouse corn as an example, he said it is amazingly good corn and it’s isolated enough that other kinds of corn can’t contaminate or cross pollinate with it. That would change the character of the original variety. “There is zero corn for god knows how many miles,” Greening said.

Greening was also concerned that someone’s legal backyard marijuana grow (or illegal larger grow) could cross-pollinate with hemp giving the legitimate owner a crop that wasn’t intended.

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Hemp, according to Greening isn’t a high dollar crop. The grower needs to have acres in order to make any money.

During a public comment period, Christi Goodman, a member of the audience and a representative of the Plumas County Growers Association, said that by eliminating horticulture as an acceptable growing area commissioners were eliminating a wide audience interested in research.

At length the three commissioners present at the meeting voted that agriculture is the approved location for growing hemp and not horticulture-related locations.

“I absolutely support what you’re saying,” said Supervisor Sherrie Thrall as a member of the audience. “It is an ag crop and in ag zoning.”

Goodman stated that she thought commissioners were ignoring the fact that the real money with hemp is in the research. “I think you should broaden your scope.

Processing and manufacturing

With ag versus horticulture out of the way, commissioners then discussed when is it legal to process a crop on the land where it was grown and when it is considered manufacturing.

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“It’s a complicated discussion so we’ll walk through it together,” said Ferguson.

At this point, zoning has a lot to do with what happens on a particular parcel of land. Agricultural processing includes in part the raising, harvesting and selling of crops.

Manufacturing is a different part of farming. While processing hemp could mean its drying process, manufacturing could mean activities involved in getting it ready to send to market.

“There’s some confusion,” Ferguson said about the different aspects. “It needs to be codified now.”

Later, Ferguson said that processing still needs some level of discretionary review. Commissioners might need to consider site development or special use permits for processing. And a look at related concerns might be in order. Some sites might be subject to Williamson Act considerations, Ferguson added. (The Williamson Act is also known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965. It allows for restrictions on some ag land in return for tax advantages.)

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Plumas County Environmental Health Director Jerry Sipe said there needs to be some type of review process. The question is what is that process.

“I have a comment,” Thrall said. “We’ve had a definition for processing for many years in Plumas County.” The county has allowed processing on agricultural lands and now she’s hearing confusion between processing and manufacturing.

Using Apple Hill as an example, she said that apples are cleaned and sorted, which is a form of processing. Running the apples through a slicer for making apple pies is another form of processing. “I don’t see that as a problem,” Thrall said.

Higher intensity manufacturing could be what triggers a site review on what is permitted, she added.

Acting chairperson John Olofson said they need to zero in on the problematic situations.

After more discussion, commissioners said they needed staff to come up with language and then bring it all back for more discussion in a workshop.

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