World Ag Expo putting hemp in spotlight for first time with exhibits, seminars

The World Ag Expo in Tulare is jumping headfirst into hemp next year by highlighting for the first time the marijuana-adjacent plant under one huge tent.

The 53rd annual international agriculture event, which is among the largest on the planet, plans 30 exhibitors and a seminar stage in a 9,400-square-foot tent devoted to hemp, a cannabis plant that is low in THC (the part that gets you high).

The 2018 Farm Bill ushered in a new interest in the product, according to expo representatives.

The expo is a good time for farmers to figure out their options for crops in the coming growing season, according to Jerry Sinift, International Agri-Center CEO.

“This year, that includes educational sessions and exhibitors focused on hemp, all in one tent,” he said.

Experts say there is a market for hemp in the country. The U.S. imports about $800 million worth of hemp used for fiber, seed and oil from foreign growers like Canada and China.

Many counties across the state embraced allowing their farmers to choose hemp plants. Others, like Merced County earlier this year, put a temporary moratorium on hemp while officials looked at their ability to differentiate the hemp plants from cannabis grown with THC.

By law, the THC level of industrial hemp must be at or below 0.3 percent. By comparison, some strains of marijuana can vary from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Hemp has great potential, advocates say, because the plant can be used in building materials and clothing, and as a pain reliever, to name a few of thousands of products.

Exhibitors will also share cautionary tales from early ventures, according to a news release. Some farmers, for example, have struggled with verifying seed genetics, arranging market contracts and working with banks.

The expo could benefit from experienced farmers, according to Alex McCabe, a farmer who is CEO of Farmer’s Hemp. He has about 240 acres of hemp growing in Fresno County with smaller operations in Stanislaus, Madera and Santa Cruz counties.

“This is another crop. For most farmers, this is no different than growing tomatoes, corn or (other food),” he said. “It’s good it’s not new anymore. Now we can have real farmers out to educate.”

The 2019 show offered six hemp panels aimed at informing farmers on their options, according to Christian Gray, an advisor at Plant Growth Group, an ag consulting firm.

“The stands were packed at each session, so we knew World Ag Expo was the right place to talk to farmers about their hemp options, and make sure they know some of the pitfalls,” Gray said.

The largest annual outdoor ag trade show in the world, the expo saw 102,800 attendees from 48 states and 65 countries earlier this year. More than 1,400 exhibitors covered about 2.6 million square feet.

The next World Ag Expo is Feb. 11 to 13 at the International Agri-Center in Tulare. For tickets, questions on exhibit space or other information, go to

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.