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Cannabis Farming Practices Come Out Of The Shadows

For years, cannabis farmers were forced to grow their plants in the shadows. Farmers had two choices: grow outdoors at strategically camouflaged cultivation sites or take their plants indoors and lose the size benefits that comes with growing marijuana in the sun.

One of the most important outgrowths of the legal cannabis market is the necessity to follow strict cultivation guidelines. In the days when the black market was a farmer’s only option, nothing prevented unscrupulous growers from using questionable methods to bring their bud to harvest. Now that legalized cannabis must be tested before it reaches the retailer, the focus has shifted to the employment of sustainable growing practices.

Sustainability: Growing For The Future
The definition of sustainable farming is not exclusive to cannabis. Farmers across the world have been adapting sustainable farm practices for decades, and in some cases, much longer. There are a few hallmarks to sustainable agriculture, which are outlined succinctly by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at UC Davis:

“The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.”

One of the upsides of legalization is the necessity for farmers to incorporate sustainability into their farming practices. These include but are not limited to maintaining soil health, conserving water and utilizing environmentally friendly products in the growing and production of cannabis plants and products. Sustainability models also support healthy, safe environments for farm workers.

These days, the crossover between farmers, soil scientists, water boards and local and state regulatory agencies can make growing cannabis a daunting enterprise, but overall, the cannabis industry is moving toward the acceptance and utilization of sustainable agriculture practices.

An Industry In Transition
Farmers are working overtime to bring their gardens and industry into a world where science and technology can help to increase yields and protect the environment.

Managing water use is key to sustainable farming, and cannabis farmers are responding to the need to protect the environment by installing drip irrigation, using precise infusions of fertilizers to curtail runoff and following best practices from dairy and other agriculture to make every precious drop of water count.

Sustainable Farming Saves Money
There is growing evidence that sustainable farming is cost effective for farmers and for the energy grid. With power companies like California’s PG&E offering up to $100,000 in interest-free financing for LED lighting, there are many more incentives in legalized states encouraging farmers to replace outmoded technology with to more sustainable practices.

Farmers Reducing High Energy Usage
One of the differences between outdoor and indoor farmers is the exorbitant energy costs associated with expensive lighting and the overall energy costs associated with indoor gardening. But the advent of lower-energy LED lights and other conservation techniques are beginning to lead to a downtick in energy use.

Is Any Cannabis Organic?
If you visit a retailer who claims to sell “organic cannabis,” Russell Green, founder and owner of Kure Wellness in Ukiah would respond with “Caveat Emptor.”

For years, the USDA struggled with manufacturers marketing products as “natural” or “organic” before creating strict regulations that defined what these words actually mean. “Today, as unscrupulous marketers tout their wares as ‘organic,’ the cannabis industry is in much the same situation,” says Russell. “Because cannabis is federally illegal, the USDA will not allow cannabis to be certified as organic,” he explains.

In fact, the word “organic” is literally owned by the federal government, with fines of up to $11.000 per violation for businesses who illegally represent their products as organic.

Meeting the high bar for organic certification is complicated. In standard agriculture, inputs up and down the lifecycle of a plant must meet or exceed organic standards in order to be certified. “The majority of organically-based cannabis rooting substrates like coco coir and rock wool generally have inorganic elements added to them. Unfortunately, this means that the vast majority of cannabis seedlings start their lives in a product that would not meet federal organic standards,” he continues.

Fertilizers are another grey area. Many cannabis companies produce fertilizers containing a combination of synthetic and organic nutrients. Unless a product is consistent with the USDA’s [National Organic Program, it probably wouldn’t pass muster were the farm able to undergo a USDA compliance review.

Omri: Look For Their Symbol
“The best farmers use products and practices that exceed stringent local and state regulatory standards,” says Russell. “As a farmer myself, I look at the types of pesticides and growing practices used by cultivators wanting to sell their products at our store. Most farmers we work with rely solely on products certified by the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute).”

Because licensed retailers in California may only work with licensed farmers, all flowers and all other products are now subject to lab testing. “There are very few non-organic pesticides available to commercial cultivators. Any cannabis containing traces of unacceptable pesticides will never pass mandatory lab testing, and we’re seeing this play out with product recalls right now,” Russell notes.

Kure also looks at the ingredients in edible products. “We place preference on manufacturers who use certified organic ingredients in their edibles, and we prefer concentrate manufacturers who use solvent-free techniques,” says Russell.

For a fee, a few companies certify farms as meeting organic standards. “Until the USDA certifies farms as organic, we will respect the government’s definition of the word ‘organic’ and only use it to describe general growing practices, and not entire product lines or farms. Our existing relationships with farmers are the best way to determine use of inorganic chemicals and pesticides. Our standard is, ‘Would we feel comfortable giving this product to our grandmother?’ If the answer is no, we don’t have a deal,” Russell smiles.

Regenerative Farming: The Next Frontier
Many sustainable farmers are taking their practices to the next level. Dempure Farms is one example of a certification company that represents over 60 farms in Oregon, California, Washington and other legal states. They are committed to a “polyculture” approach. To receive a ‘Pure’ certification, farms are required to produce food, to have pollinator gardens, to practice seed-saving and to grow in the soil. No petrochemical solvents can be used and no farms are allowed to sell or give their product to manufacturers that extract cannabis oils using solvents. No GMO’s can be used, and no synthetic pots or synthetic fertilizers are allowed. The philosophy is that sustainability is not enough. They promote no-till farming, utilization of compost and compost tea, cover crops, crop rotation, worm farming and integrating farm animals into the operation.

Sound familiar? To a traditional farmer, it might sound like pot farms have come full circle, and are now just plain old farms.

This article originally appeared on www.HelloMd.com in August 2018,and is reprinted with their permission.