Many west coast cannabis growers have accepted the reality that forest fires and smoke are an inevitable part of the late summer and fall growing season each year, while some are considering other options.
That year, starting in July, smoke from forest fires covered much of the west, and some experts warn that the fire season could last until December.
Thick smoke can filter sunlight, reducing plant growth and yields. If a farm is too close to the fire itself, smoke can contaminate the cannabis and make it unsaleable, even if it passes laboratory tests.
Then there is the much more immediate danger: the forest fires that have destroyed countless cannabis plants have been increasing in recent years and are threatening again this year.
“It goes without saying that you will deal with forest fires during the season,” said Karla Avila, executive director of Trinity County Agriculture Alliance, a marijuana trade association in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle.
Avila said that while growers in the area prepare for forest fires and smoke year-round, it doesn’t ease the pressure.
“It doesn’t make it any less stressful, but we have to be prepared and working on it all year round to preserve our perimeters and keep our farms defensible,” she added.
Case in point: By August 23, the Trinity County’s Monument Fire had burned over 150,000 acres and was 20% contained.
And on Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom officially requested a major catastrophe declaration from President Joe Biden for additional federal funding to fight forest fires in eight California counties, including Trinity.
According to Avila, hundreds of cannabis farms are affected by the Monument Fire, which the US Forest Service said was difficult to control due to “prolonged drought, dry fuel and steep terrain.”
Avila stressed that the fire was still a threat and said she knew of cannabis farms destroyed and others that breeders were able to save.
“It has definitely been a number of consecutive years of fairly intense fires that have hit a large part of our county, so it feels like heavy work being in the middle of it for weeks or months,” Avila said.
“It carries. It is exhausting to be forced to fire for a long time. “
At least one grower is considering joining the forest service instead of facing the dire financial situation of growing marijuana.
Walter Wood, owner of Sol Spirit Farm in Willow Creek, Calif., Said four of his five growers left this summer because of poor air quality.
And last year, he said, his yield was down 40% because of forest fire smoke.
In fact, a potential customer blamed the smoke taste while refusing multiple batches of Sol Spirit’s buds – even though the cannabis passed the tests and had a clear certificate of analysis.
“Those pounds remain unsold,” said Wood. “I don’t know what else to say … smoked every year for four years.”
Graham Farrar, president and chief cannabis officer of California-based Glass House Group, said the industry needs to recognize that climate change is real and that humans are making a huge contribution.
“I love cannabis, but I love my children and their children more,” he added. “Learning how to be a good ancestor should be our number one priority.”
British Columbia on standby
Earlier this month, forest fires prompted Canadian marijuana producer Aurora Cannabis to evacuate an outdoor marijuana farm in British Columbia.
Marc Geen, founder of vertically integrated cannabis company SpeakEasy, which operates an outdoor cannabis farm near Rock Creek, British Columbia, said his area has so far been spared from fires.
“But we are ready and will probably be in extreme drought and extreme fire risk for another two to three weeks,” he added.
He said his workers were trained to fight fires and had access to fire extinguishers, generators and reserve water pumps.
“I’m afraid this might become the norm, but even if this is what we can expect, it is a climate where we can work well,” Geen said.
Oregon suspenders for fall
Last September, cannabis growers in southern Oregon watched fires devastate some marijuana farms and get dangerously close to others.
Takilma-based East Fork Cultivars said the Slater Fire narrowly avoided consuming their farm and they are on their guard again this year.
“We’ve been lucky with the fire season so far, but it’s still early,” said Mason Walker, the company’s CEO.
He added that the major cannabis growing districts of Josephine and Jackson in the southern part of the state are not currently threatened by the over 20 fires in Oregon.
But there is still a long way to go before the fire season is over.
“Last year we got inundated with the Slater Fire around September 7th, and the (wildfire) season hasn’t really let up until September 20th, so we may have a whole month to get through,” said Walker.
Searching for help
Back in California, Avila said many Trinity County growers are choosing not to evacuate and are willing to make a living instead.
Some growers there have asked the industry for assistance in the form of distribution trucks to get the crops from the farms to safe locations, Avila said.
According to Tawnie Scarborough, director of business development at Conception Nurseries in Sonoma County, this is an option as it allows cannabis growers in California to bypass Metrc’s requirements for tracking seeds through to sale in an emergency.
“But some of these farms don’t even have the resources to harvest their fields,” Scarborough said.
Meanwhile, the Origins Council, which represents smallholder farmers in several California regions, including the Emerald Triangle, is soliciting donations through a PayPal page to help farmers affected by forest fires.
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]