Farm productivity, a field notorious for its difficulty in making a living, hinges on the severity of the latest water shortage. Some Utah farmers believe one plant could change it all, if only they were allowed to grow it: cannabis. About two dozen farmers met at the Utah Farm Bureau Federation’s conference in Friday, discussing whether growing marijuana for medicinal purposes could prove lucrative locally. Scott Ericson, deputy commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, told the bureau that he believes the state Legislature will likely pass a law legalizing some form of medicinal marijuana next year. While this will open up opportunities for local farmers, the feasibility of a cannabis farm sourced locally will depend largely on how the state chooses to regulate its production.

Recent state proposals to legalize marijuana would have limited cannabis production to one facility for every 200,000 residents, requiring farmers to demonstrate at least $250,000 in liquid assets up front, while also paying $35,000 in application fees. In Colorado, the state Department of Agriculture must devote $300,000 to inspecting pesticides applied to cannabis crops. Brett Behling, a farmer from Emery County, took an interest in researching medical marijuana when he learned it might effectively treat his Crohn’s disease. Behling stated that other medications cost thousands of dollars a month, and can lead to devastating side effects. Marijuana is well suited to growing in Utah’s climate, and additional factors can make greenhouse production more efficient.

Behling said he figured he could set up a hydroponic greenhouse for marijuana at his farm for about $50,000-$100,000. After his initial startup costs, he said he thought he could keep the operation going for a couple of years, raking in profits in the range of $300,000 to $400,000 annually. This is the first time the Utah Farm Bureau has discussed the production of cannabis at a conference, so the federation hasn’t adopted a formal position on the topic. Given the possibilities, Behling said he thought it was possible the organization would move towards adopting a policy regarding cannabis at its annual conference this fall.

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