A slow start to the outdoor marijuana grow season didn't hamper efforts by Franklin County sheriff's deputies to harvest the illegal plants before making it into the hands drug dealers.
This year, sheriff's officials found 24,357 pot plants hidden in corn fields and got to them before the marijuana could be processed and sold on the streets.
"I was kind of surprised," Undersheriff Kevin Carle told the Herald. "We did surpass last year's count."
Last year, Franklin County seized 23,509 marijuana plants from outdoor grow operations.
"The last few years, we usually found it in several different spots," he said. "This year, it was only in eight locations. We had a couple of large ones in corn fields. In one field, we found close to 8,900 plants."
Another 2,700 plants were discovered along the Columbia River bluffs by members with the state Cannabis Eradication Response Team.
In Benton County, just 3,559 marijuana plants were found in outdoor grows this year, said sheriff's Capt. Clay Vannoy.
Grant County sheriff's officials said they were second this year, behind Yakima, with the most marijuana plants discovered by the Cannabis Eradication Response Team, which includes officials from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Justice and the Washington State Patrol.
Detectives with Grant County's Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team also helped the eradication team investigate the grows.
More than 35,000 plants were harvested and destroyed in Grant County, officials said. Statewide, about 180,000 pot plants were seized this year, down from a high of 600,000 in 2009.
Using a conservative standard for production and pricing, more than 8.5 tons and about $15 million of marijuana was removed from Grant County before it could be produced, consumed or exported, officials said.
Marijuana plants have a street value of $2,000 to $3,000 each.
In Franklin County, Carle has taken to the air for more than three decades to look for the marijuana grow operations.
Cornfields were a favorite planting spot for years in the 1980s, before growers started using asparagus fields and Russian olive trees to try to mask the plants, he said.
"They're still doing it in Russian olive, but we haven't found as many as in past years because we've stayed on it and hit the same places over the past years," he said.
Now, Carle said he's once again spotting tall marijuana plants amid the cornstalks in Franklin County fields. Just last week, Carle said he spotted two big plants while hovering over the corn in a field.
Deputies also found an old, unoccupied tent in one of the fields near some plants. Carle said he suspected it was a grow site that likely was used for the past several years.
No arrests were made this year connected to marijuana grow operations in Franklin County.