BONANZA, Ore. — With the thousands of products hemp fiber can make, Pat and Bob Clickener of Rock Bottom Ranch’s Bonanza Hemp were hopeful about the crop’s possibilities when they started growing it in 2016.
They were given some seed for a 1-acre test field, one of the first 70 Oregon growers to plant hemp.
At that time CBD was not in the mix and few knew anything about it.
“The hemp grew beautifully here in high desert country and the second year we figured if we did at least 10 acres we should be able to find somebody to use it,” Pat Clickener said.
“As an architect, I’m familiar with its possibilities in the building industry alone,” she said. “I thought in a couple years I’d be doing hempcrete in the garage and selling pavers but I never got that far because we haven’t been able to make any money at all.”
They continued to hope for a market in 2018, planting seed they produced the previous year, but without any market and fiber’s limited shelf life they had to till it under.
“We just didn’t take into account the money and time it takes to develop the manufacturing part,” Clickener said.
“Canada does really well with fiber,” she said. “The country got behind it and helped farmers convert their existing equipment and have developed a relatively large market.
“Kentucky puts more money into fiber than many other states trying to find a market for the farmers who grew tobacco all those years.”
By 2019 CBD had taken the spotlight, and the Clickeners put in 12 acres. Unfortunately, by then everybody was doing it, too.
“We lost money two years a row...,” Clickener said. “What really fouled us up was buying several pieces of equipment as we needed them; we became cash poor.”
Last year they planted a cautious 8% of the year before and are selling it — slowly.
“We’ve finally hit on something we’re starting to sell but the CBD market is still unstable,” she said.
They’ve also started renting out their house through Airbnb to increase cash flow.
“It’s because of Airbnb and being willing to move into our motorhome when we have guests that we have enough cash to pay our utilities and stuff,” she said.
“You see a whole lot of land for sale now because people lost their shirts,” she said. “In order to get investors together you must promise them something, which is usually the farm.”
This year the family will grow three acres of CBD hemp and 10 acres of the fiber seed they produced in 2016.
However, it will also complicate things. The crops require different irrigation configurations, and all the fiber plants must be out of the ground before the CBD plants start flowering.
“The processing and end-product manufacturing is just lacking in this country and if we don’t get on top of it the only people growing it will be those with out-of-country markets, and that’s not going to be the small farmer,” Clickener said.
“We have this land because Bob’s family lived an agricultural life and we’re trying to take the gift his parents gave us and make it into something our kids can benefit from and continue.”