A pair of grants from the Imperial County Agricultural Benefit Program totaling more than $121,000 were awarded for agricultural research for local college students and to help offset expenses for an industrial hemp expo planned for late September.
The county Board of Supervisors approved both grants unanimously July 9.
The Ag Benefit is funded through fees collected when development, such as solar farms, takes otherwise productive agricultural land out of rotation.
The board first approved $96,059 to Imperial Valley College’s Agricultural Education Department for student research on collecting and analyzing agronomic data, according to Rose Lopez-Solis, an administrative analyst with the County Executive Office.
The grant request was reviewed by the Ag Benefit advisory committee, which recommended the approval, said county Agricultural Commissioner Carlos Ortiz, who chairs it.
Efrain Silva, dean of the college’s Economic and Workforce Development Department, and agriculture professor Michael Kanyi attended the board meeting to lobby for the grant.
Silva told the supervisors that the grant would fund a student internship program and pay for Kanyi’s time in the development of a research project geared around growing crops in a one-acre plot near the college campus.
As an example, students would grow the crops while collecting data on such topics as crop yield, irrigation types, pest and weed control and soil pH, according to Silva’s application to the county.
Silva also told the board crops grown would be used in the “IVC Kitchen” program that helps feed food-insecure students.
Supervisor Mike Kelley asked what would be grown in the school’s research plot. The supervisors were told the student program would start out growing four vegetable crops that coincide “with the pattern of growing here in the Valley,” Kanyi said. He didn’t specify what those crops would be.
Kanyi added the $96,000 grant would cover one year of growing.
Silva said the research data collected through the program would enhance course curriculum at the college and all research findings would be posted to IVC’s website for public use.
The second request for grant funding came from the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp. for $25,000 for expenses related to the planning of the Imperial County HEMP Summit and Expo scheduled for Sept. 27-28.
IVEDC has partnered with the county to stage the expo that focuses on the burgeoning industrial hemp industry. The county board has made it known it wants Imperial County to be a hotbed of industrial hemp development in both growing the crop and manufacturing the myriad products that come as a result of processing industrial hemp.
The 2018 Farm Bill recently decriminalized the production of industrial hemp.
Ortiz said the advisory committee again recommended funding the request.
Sean Wilcock of the IVEDC told the supervisors that the “core fundamentals of the expo is education,” that is, the mission is to better inform local growers and businesspeople about the industry in terms of growing the crop and manufacturing the byproducts.
He said the grant funds will be used for such things as marketing materials, venue fees, website development, advertising, and third-party vendors such as audio-visual professionals.
Wilcock added that any revenue generated by the expo would be paid back to the Ag Benefit Program in an amount not to exceed $25,000. Also, a certain amount of the grant will be used as seed money for another hemp expo the following year, he said.
Topics at the expo will include federal, state and local legislation and compliance, best practices in farming industrial hemp, product manufacturing and related opportunities, and banking, financing and insurance, to name a few, according to information provided by IVEDC.
Supervisor Jesus Escobar said that while he supports the request for funding, he’d like to see the county establish specific milestones related to what the county hopes to accomplish with the expo. He also said he wanted to see questions answered, such as what will the total cost of the expo be and what will be the county’s return on investment.
“We need more information. It doesn’t mean I don’t support this, I just need more information,” Escobar said.
Wilcock assured Escobar that a budget was part of the grant application and is included in the agenda backup materials.
In supporting the grant request, board Chairman Ryan Kelley said that he wanted it to be known that “growing hemp in the Imperial Valley will happen.”
Ryan Kelley has championed local industrial hemp development since the board began talking about it and taking action in 2017. The summit/expo was his idea.
In other county business on July 9, the board, seated as the Air Pollution Control District board, approved a funding agreement between the APCD and Calipatria Unified School District for an air-filtration system for up to $244,000.
The cost was split from $150,000 in air-pollution violator fees and $94,000 in the APCD’s Clean Air Fund Balance. Both sources of funding are from the district’s Clean Air Trust Fund.
As the result of a recent local air-pollution violation, the APCD is implementing a program in which the violator contributes directly to an air-pollution mitigation project rather than paying a fine to the APCD, according to information provided by APCD Officer Matt Dessert.
The funding will purchase an air-filtration system for Grace Smith School in Niland. The filtration system from IQ Air North America targets “ultrafine toxic diesel particulate matter (PM 2.5),” according to Dessert’s information.
The board also presented 31 scholarships totaling $63,000 to students pursuing majors in agricultural-related fields. The scholarship funds were made available through Ag Benefit Program, according to a press release from the county.