Regulating Hemp in Sonoma County
On April 2, 2019, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on the recommendation of the Agricultural Commissioner voted to approve a temporary moratorium on the cultivation of industrial hemp. The moratorium is set to sunset on April 30, 2020. During the public hearing, the Board gave direction for the Agricultural Commissioner to develop and have in place a local ordinance for the regulation of hemp by the time the moratorium was to sunset. At that time, the justification for the moratorium was primarily based on the fact that the state had not yet finalized their regulations and that with so many unknowns, it would be appropriate to take time to evaluate how hemp would fit into the agricultural landscape. Prior to the meeting, the Farm Bureau wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors opposing the proposed moratorium. I applaud the Farm Bureau for taking a position on this issue that is reflective of their core values such as the support of private property rights and opposition to creating additional regulations to place upon agriculture. As discussed at that meeting, the local regulation would be aiming to address zoning with regard to where we should allow hemp to be grown, enforcement provisions to mitigate the potential for hemp cultivation to be used to grow unpermitted cannabis, and finally to regulate pollen produced from male plants to prevent pollination of legal cannabis farms and other hemp farms. Time is of the essence in this effort, since there are already over 30,000 acres of hemp being grown in California by the 24 counties that did not put a moratorium in place. We knew we had to work diligently to get this done in time for our farmers to plant hemp in 2020.
Since that time, an informal advisory group was formed that included representation from many different stakeholders including the Farm Bureau. Through that process, we received input on a variety of issues. As a result, a proposal has been drafted that I believe addresses the specific areas of concern. Throughout the drafting of the proposal, we wanted to be cognizant of the fact that hemp is a legal crop at the state and federal level. We wanted to avoid setting precedents for hemp that could affect how other legal crops are regulated in the future. There certainly is the tendency for many people to treat hemp just as we have treated cannabis with regard to how it is regulated. When crafting the proposal, we realized we would have to consider concerns that have been expressed by members of the community regarding odor from hemp farms. We also understood that this was an important opportunity to reaffirm our right to farm in Sonoma County as it applies to lands zoned for agriculture. In addition to the zoning issues, we wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to prevent people from abusing the right to grow hemp as a way to grow unpermitted cannabis. And last but not least, we wanted to figure out a way to prevent pollination of hemp and cannabis from mismanaged hemp farms. No other jurisdiction has attempted to regulate pollen dispersal, including Oregon where over 60,000 acres of hemp is currently being grown. When I spoke to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and hemp farmers in Oregon, they identified the pollination issue as a major problem spurning lawsuits throughout the state.
The first step in getting the ordinance passed is to present the zoning elements of the proposal to the Planning Commission. This will occur on November 7, 2019. After the Planning Commission makes its recommendation on zoning, it will go to the Board of Supervisors on December 16, 2019. It will be important for farmers who would like to have the opportunity to grow hemp in Sonoma County to have their voices heard by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, as we are likely to face stiff opposition from neighborhood and anti-cannabis groups that are well organized and well-funded. Please coordinate with your Executive Director, Tawny Tesconi, on this effort as Tawny has been integral in the development of the proposal and is well versed in the issues.
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
On September 23, 2019, Agricultural Inspectors Daniella Reagan and Meghan Sullivan found a suspect egg mass on a shipment of 451 hazelnut trees delivered to Sonoma County that originated in Oregon. The shipment was put on a quarantine hold. On September 24, the egg mass hatched in our office and the nymphs that emerged appeared to be Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB).
The nymphs were sent to the California Department of Food and Agriculture entomology lab for identification. Results from the lab confirmed the nymphs were BMSB. The BMSB is a “B” rated pest, which gives the Agricultural Commissioner the discretion to decide how the shipment should be treated. In this case, Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar requested the plants be returned to origin. Arrangements were made to pick up the shipment of 6-foot-tall trees for transport back to Oregon.
Our inspectors regularly examine shipments of plant material that come into Sonoma County from other parts of our state, as well as other states, looking for pests and diseases. One of our primary missions is to promote and protect the agricultural resources of the county and the environment. Excluding invasive pests like the BMSB provides the ounce of prevention that eliminates the pound of cure.
Kudos to our inspectors for finding the egg mass and working with the shipper and receiver to get the trees removed from Sonoma County.
2019 Annual Grower Workshop Topics
Our Annual Certified Private Applicator Workshop will be held on December 5, 2019, providing certified private applicators and state-certified applicators continuing education hours. This year, topics will include a refresher on the Pesticide Use Near Schools regulation, pesticide use report issues, a Bee-Where update, VESCO’s Best Management Practices Manual and web portal, and an update on new, invasive pests. Two hours of continuing education units have been requested from the Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The workshop will be held at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, with registration beginning at 8:00 am and the program starting at 9:00 am. Watch for additional information by mail, email and on our website at www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/awm.