SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For some, the loud sound of a blade being sharpened might be jarring. For Craig Reynolds, it’s the sound of untold potential in commercial farming of agave in California — the plant Tequila is made from.

After doing work on California water policy and growing agave in Mexico 16 years ago, Craig began to experiment with the idea of agave successfully being farmed in the sunshine state in 2014.

“It dawned on me that one of the problems is we’re growing a lot of high-water use crops in California and we should consider some low-water use crops,” Reynolds said.

With his coa sharpened — the tool used to harvest agave — Reynolds began removing the leaves to get at the heart of the plant which, he said, needs only a minimal amount of water a year compared to many other crops in the state. On average, the California Department of Water Resources reports across all crops grown in California, they use almost three-acre feet of water per year, per acre.

“Agaves, on the other hand, three-to-four inches per year. So, that’s a huge water savings,” Reynolds said.

That’s a big deal considering the state looks to be heading for a fourth consecutive year of drought.

The biggest challenge Reynolds said has been determining if frost in the Central Valley and beyond would be an issue.

“The bet we made is that climate change is real and that our winter lows have been rising, and we haven’t had any frost damage in the eight years we’ve been growing.”

Reynolds said it takes between three to five years for the plant to be ready to harvest.

On average, he said each agave heart from his harvest this year, called “piñas,” has weighed around 100lbs and sells for between $1.50 to $1.75 per pound.

UC Davis is also looking into the viability of commercial agave farming. Associate Professor of Enology Ron Runnebaum, who’s usually knee deep in grapes, said they hope agave could be a crop that grows on land usually left unplanted because of water restrictions.

“One of the important questions for farmers is how little water can they use to grow agave and what is the eventual yield that they will get from that?” Runnebaum said.

Runnebaum said farmers of agave have another advantage in terms of viable varietals.

“One of the interesting things about agave is that, historically, agave spirits especially can be made from different species of agave. And so this is a bit different from even wine grapes, where most of the wine we’re consuming is made from vitis vinifera [the common grape].”

For Reynolds, he feels the future is bright for the hardy plant in California.

“The agave spirits market in total is the fastest growing segment of the distilled spirits industry, and has been for the last five years,”

And said already he and other growers are struggling to keep up with demand from local distillers.