ST. JOHNS — A new industry will be growing in St. Johns, which will bring much-needed jobs and economic opportunities to the city: industrial hemp farming. One Under Farms, a new company dedicated to growing hemp for cannabinoid oils for topical use and tinctures is locating in the Mountain View subdivision of St. Johns.
Hemp oils are popularly referred to as “CBD oils” but there are many medicinal cannabinoids within hemp, including CBD, CBG, CBC and dozens of others that can be used in various products. The company plans to build 18 greenhouses in order to grow the plants, which will then be sent off for processing and turned into oil products. The project has already broken ground and will begin operations soon.
A representative of One Under Farms attended a meeting along with the St. Johns Economic Development department head, Chris Chiesl and Paul Ramsey, the city manager and the Independent. Due to some on-going concerns, the representative from the company asked to not have their names printed while One Under Farm begins operations. The family-owned start-up is working to finalize some issues after breaking away from a previous business partner.
Initially, the hemp grower is looking to hire 30 full-time employees for the farm by December 1. The company says they will offer competitive wages for the area, opportunities for advancement, and even benefits as soon as next year. By springtime, the number of employees needed at the farm is expected to increase to up to 75. No particular set of skills is necessary, but “the best people are the people who have a bit of agricultural background.” Expansion projects may follow in the future, depending on the success of the business.
Hemp production is not the same as growing medical marijuana. The term “cannabinoid” can lead to some misconceptions and concerns, including the belief that all cannabis plants contain enough THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana — to get high with.
But with hemp grown for industrial purposes such as oils, it simply isn’t possible to use the plants as one would marijuana to get high. The representative from One Under Farm explained the process, pointing out that USDA regulation for this industry requires that the plants grown need to be incredibly low in THC content.
The 2018 Farm Bill allowed for the production of hemp in states where it has become legalized, and it excluded hemp from the federal list of controlled substances. The bill also gave the USDA room to regulate THC content and other aspects of hemp growing and transportation, creating basic uniform rules for all industrial hemp farmers in the US. As of next year, the THC limit for industrial hemp will be a total overall limit of 0.3%.
“It’s not pot,” the representative from One Under Farm clarified. “All industrial hemp has a small amount of THC in it. Studies have shown that there’s no psychoactive effect with THC until you reach two full percentage points (2%). So, our federal 0.3% [limit] is significantly lower than what we would ever experience to have a psychoactive effect.”
Although both marijuana and hemp come from the same species, Cannabis sativa, the specific strains used for industrial hemp plants are chosen for their extremely low THC levels. One Under Farm’s hemp plants would be useless for anything other than their intended industrialized purposes.
To ensure that farms are complying with these strict limits, state officials come to test plants during their growing cycle, and surprise testing visits are not unheard of. New USDA regulations will require that plants be at least tested 15 days before harvest, and that uniform samples that better reflect the entire farm’s crop be used.
Hemp farming was made legal in Arizona in May of 2018, when Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB 1098 into law, but the Arizona Department of Agriculture did not start issuing licenses to growers until May 31 this year. The first license went to a Tempe-based company, and since then, over 100 licenses have gone out to growers across the state as farmers are looking for more profitable crops that are well-suited for growing in Arizona.
Global sales for products containing CBD oils are expected to top $5 billion dollars by the end of 2019. According to a study done by the Brightfield Group, a market research company specializing in CBD and the legal cannabis industries, there will be remarkable growth for CBD products, and they predict the market value will increase to $22 billion dollars in just three years.
“There is a positive outlook on hemp in St. Johns, just for the fact that it produces jobs,” Paul Ramsey, the City Manager for St. Johns said. “It goes back to an agricultural base that this community was established on. I hate to speak for the council, but I would say that the majority are behind it and desire to see some new industry developed here in our community.”
“Our goal is for hemp to be successful in St. Johns,” the One Under Farm representative said. “We love this area. It holds a special place in our heart.”
Those interested in applying for a position at One Under Farm should contact their HR personnel, Lisa Edwards, at: Lisa.Edwards@OneUnderFarm.com.
Amber Shepard is an local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.