TULARE — The 53rd Annual World Ag Expo got underway Feb. 11 at the International Agri-Center, where representatives of the agriculture industry across the globe came together.
More than 1,450 vendors from across numerous agricultural sectors showed off their products on 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space. The three-day event draws an annual average of 100,000 individuals from 70 countries, according to worldagexpo.com.
Special seminars dedicated to hemp dominated a majority of the Feb. 11 events at the Hemp Education and Marketing Pavilion.
Hemp has become a hot topic in Kern during the past year. No county in California has more registered hemp acreage and local officials view the plant as both a crop diversification opportunity and a deterrent to illegal marijuana fields.
One vendor with a connection to Kern County was HiLo Seeds Co. based in North Carolina.
Started in late 2018, the company produces hemp seeds aimed at giving farmers more flexibility in terms of when they plant and harvest their crop. Christian Gray, strategic consultant for HiLo, explained that the company works in hemp breeding, production, sales and anything in between.
“We know that Kern (County) is very active in the hemp industry,” said Gray. “We can work as a middle-man or help throughout the whole process (of hemp production).”
One new product HiLo Seed Co. showed off Feb. 11 was the hemp strain “Matterhorn CBG.” This specific plant, according to Gray, has more than 120 purposes ranging from anti-inflammation to other forms of pain relief.
Some hemp vendors marketed their products as grains for a variety of uses, such as the Canadian-based company Hemp Genetics Information. Its seeds are marketed as salad toppings, salad dressings, oils, and concentrated protein powder, according to Jessa Hughes, a plant breeder with the company.
Another booth was dedicated to marketing an entire county for hemp growers to bring their business to. Imperial County representatives have approached hemp growers with open arms and dubbed the area a “hemp Mecca,” according to Sean Wilcock, vice president of business development for the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.
“It’s kind of ironic because many counties are skeptical of the hemp industry,” said Esperanza Colio Warren, deputy county executive officer of Imperial County. “We welcome all businesses.”
She said Imperial County has the highest unemployment rate in the state. That statistic was a primary reason the county attended the exposition in hopes of attracting growers for the first time, Warren said.
In 2020, Imperial County is offering an inaugural Agricultural Benefit Program in order to incentivize those in agriculture to bring business to their region. The program provides money in the form of loans and grants for agricultural business development, research and development and agricultural stewardship, said Linsey Dale, public information officer for the county’s executive office.
“The most difficult part about the hemp industry is getting financing,” said Wilcock. “We decided to incentivize business in our area we’d lend money through a new program and this program is only unique to Imperial County.”
Ag equipment manufacturer New Holland had many of its tractors on display at the exposition, which opens its doors to a variety of crops including grapes, almonds, olives, blueberries, oranges and pistachios.
“A lot of our equipment is designed to cater to high-density planting in order to cut down on labor,” said Mike Voelker, store manager of Coastal Tractor, a salesman of New Holland BRAUD 9090X tractors. “In California, they’re adapting (the agriculture industry) to cut down labor in order to increase efficiency.”
One vendor that did not tout much new equipment was the dairy department of Vandenberg Manufacturing out of Artesia. Welder Ezequiel Puente, who has worked over 40 years with the company, said that his company’s customers “like the old style” of equipment.
“It’s pretty typical across the dairy industry,” said Puente. “I’ll get comments from people telling me that they bought a piece of equipment 30 years ago and they haven’t had to replace it yet.”