Growing Pains: Arizona farmers struggle with their first hemp crop

This summer is the first time since World War II that Arizona farmers have been legally allowed to grow hemp.

Unlike its cousin plant marijuana, people cannot get high off hemp. Much of it is used in popular CBD products, promising to fight off everything from pain to anxiety.

The crops mean new investments and jobs, at the same time other crops, like cotton, are failing to produce profits like they used to. However, it's safe to say Arizona's first hemp crop is coming with serious growing pains.

Nestled near a row of desert mountains outside of Eloy are 500 beautiful green acres, but look a little closer and things start to get ugly. 

"You can see what we have left for hemp plants. The rest have died of heat," said Arnold Burruel. He has been farming around the area for 40 years, but this is his first go at a hemp crop.

It isn’t going well, with the fledgling plants overmatched by relentless heat, weeds, and bugs.

"The success rate has been pretty low," said Burruel.

"Zero?" asked FOX 10's Brian Webb.

"I wouldn't call it zero, but to the point where it doesn't go on with the crop because it doesn't pay for itself," said Burruel.

A hemp plant that's about 60 days old should be two to three feet tall by now. The other problem is for the plant to mature too quickly, which will limit the amount of CBD oil they can get out of it.

The state legalized hemp growing this past spring, issuing about two hundred licenses. Arizona farmers are trying to cash in on the blooming industry, which is projected to reach $22 billion in the U.S. by 2022.

"Our environment is beneficial for the plant, and would probably produce multiple crops for the year and benefit our farmers and our industry," said Brian McGrew with the Arizona Agriculture Department.

Much of hemp goes into products with CBD, from food and drinks to oils and ointments, plus powder and pills. Each promising to cure what ails you or your pet.

Hempful Farms now has four storefronts, a restaurant, and a backroom of employees putting products on the shelves.

"It's time to share and teach and show them there is nothing to be afraid of," said owner Chris Martin.

Don't be surprised to see plenty of seniors either, as they battle pain and inflammation, stress and lack of sleep, and look for cures with fewer side effects and steering clear of opioids.

Joanne has been dealing with debilitating shoulder pain. 

"It's like your body is tight when it's in pain, and it just eases it," said Joanne. "You just become more relaxed, but you think clearly and can go anywhere."

Burreul, however, says just about every summer hemp crop in Arizona has been a bust. There is still plenty to learn, from new plant varieties to proper pesticides and herbicides, and to see how the Arizona soil will affect the THC levels, or the part of the plant that will get people high. Too much THC, and the hemp suddenly becomes illegal, making the crop a waste of time and money.

"We've learned a lot of what not to do, and we will not repeat that in the future, but I think the crop has a great future in Arizona," said Burruel.

Burruel and his investors are willing to bet the farm that hemp will one day be a bumper, and he even hopes come spring, the green acres will be producing the right plants, as well as new profits for Arizona.

Farming is a $23 billion a year industry in Arizona, but experts from the Arizona Farm Bureau won't even venture a guess as to how much the hemp industry could mean to the state's economy, because there are still so many unknowns.