I was fortunate to meet Chad Crivelli, third-generation farmer of Crivelli Farm, who has grown a diversity of crops, including pistachios, cotton and tomatoes, melons and other vegetables.
He comes from a long heritage of central valley farming, “My grandfather was a dairyman, and my father grew cotton. Chad said, “As a family, we have grown almost anything you can think of.”
His latest endeavor is championing organic hemp.
About 10% of the land he manages is certified organic. He doesn’t have any certified organic hemp yet, but some hemp is grown on organic land.
When I spoke with Chad, he told me, “I plan to get certified because of the market premium. Hemp really lends itself to organic because it doesn’t attract many pests—there are very few registered pesticides.”
Chad went on to explain, “I started growing hemp because the market dictates what we grow. I am constantly looking for new crops. I’ve grown hundreds of different crops over my 25 years in farming.”
He began investigating hemp in 2017 on a trial basis because he knew it was on its way to being legalized. What piqued his interest was the fiber and the CBD health benefits that were helping people.
People involved in his farming operation shared stories about how CBD had helped somebody in their life.
Chad said, “I heard stories of people with cancer using CBD and getting great results.
My best friend’s Labrador had a tumor, and the vet said it was inoperable – they gave him a week to live. My friend gave the doggie CBD, and the tumor shrunk. Now he is like a puppy.
It was really touching, and it empowered me. This is a spiritual crop. I felt like I was doing the Lord’s work with this crop — for the first time ever.
I am growing a crop that people want and need, that people believe in.”
His first year’s crop was a failure in 2017, but he got good experience, made contacts and developed testing procedures.
The next year he worked with a seed breeder who was breeding to lower the THC levels and increase the CBD levels. The legal limit of THC in hemp is 0.3% before it’s considered cannabis.
Chad took the seeds with low THC and high CBD and started growing, doing research projects for institutions. He experimented with seed spacing, direct seed versus transplants, nutrients, security, harvesting, processing and marketing.
In 2018 he wanted to try it on a larger farming scale and worked through the proper chains on his bigger project.
Chad remembers, “I knew it was controversial crop, so I began working with the county Ag commissioner, the sheriffs and the farm bureau. I started to work through the issues growing hemp, to educate them and myself.”
I was testing at CDFA guidelines, going above and beyond, and the Sheriff department was getting my tests and aware of the site. It was registered in the county with my agricultural permit.”
He never really got a yes, but he never got a no either – yet everybody was curious.
Chad said, “Everybody knows me, I am a third-generation farmer in the county and on this land. I am very active in the community.
I think everyone knew I was looking to follow the rules and do things legally and develop a state pilot program and have a great rotational crop that is also a moneymaker.”
Chad doesn’t know what politics were at play, but in November 2018 his plants were ceased and destroyed. Headlines throughout the Valley decried, “Nearly 200 acres of Marijuana Found, Largest Ever Seen in the Central Valley.”
Chad wonder, “It might have been fellow farmers who didn’t want me to be first – or the size of the acreage. I don’t know, but at some point, someone was worried about it, and they didn’t want it anymore. But, it was already in the ground.
The Sherriff had copies of all my tests, and they were all at or under .3% THC.
Law enforcement has ways of testing that are different than the Ag department. They can test any part of the plant or take the oil off the plant and get the results they want.”
They got one bad test and shut down his operation and called the Feds in. They chopped the crop up and blew it into the air. No charges were pressed, and he was never arrested.
Chad says, “I wasn’t even contacted on that day! I was on a cotton picker half-mile away.
It was a strange deal; perhaps they wanted the publicity of having “The Biggest Marijuana Grow in Ca” – calling it marijuana instead of hemp.”
He firmly believes it’s a good crop that will be a good fit for California growers in the future.
Chad believes that “We have a great system set up in CA – we lead the US in organic, we have the most stringent employee and wage regulations – the best food safety and ground water regulations. Everything that is grown here is a higher standard than anything else grown anywhere in the world.”
Chad reflected, “When you are growing big agronomic crops, you aren’t really connecting with people. With hemp, I feel I am making that connection like I am doing something good. I truly feel like I am doing the Lord’s Work.
All the stars aligned so far – it’s one of the easiest first crops I have ever grown.”
Is Hemp a sustainable crop for California?
Chad thinks so. He said, “It’s an environmentally friendly crop; it doesn’t use much water, doesn’t have huge pest pressure, and there are thousands of uses: CBD oils, fiber, sustainable building supplies – with a low carbon footprint. Hemp sequesters more carbon than other crops.”
It’s going to be huge!
William Randolph Hearst had a big influence on the prohibition of hemp in the 1930s to protect his timber interests. The hemp growers would have put him out of business because it’s so much easier and environmentally friendly.
Chad told me, “Hemp is part of the green wave, and once people get past the stigma of being associated with marijuana, it will be big.”
Chad has been a volunteer firefighter and substitute teacher. He serves on the Merced County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, CCOF Board of Directors, Dos Palos High School Ag Advisory Committee, Agribusiness Committee of Merced County and CDFA Cotton Pest Control Board. Additionally, he served as an alternate on the National Cotton council and Processing Tomato Advisory Board.
A portion of this article was originally posted on The Organic Produce Network News.