BY: Debra Borchardt
The fires in California are impacting the cannabis crops as some farmers are seeing their farms burn down, while others watch helplessly as ash and smoke contaminate sensitive marijuana flowers. The fires in Mendocino are south of the famed Humboldt County grows, but it’s still a part of what is known as the Emerald Triangle.
“Spark Farm in Glen Ellen was completely devastated,” said Kristin Nevedal, Founding Chair of the International Cannabis Farmers Association, a group of farmers and scientists that promote sun-grown cannabis products. “Phone service is interrupted and cell phones are only working intermittently. It’s hard for people to communicate.” Kristin noted that for some farmers there are tremendous losses because they are homesteaders and the fire could affect their water source.
Amanda Reiman, Vice President of Community Relations at Flow Kana said, “A few farmers did lose their farms in Redwood Valley.” Flow Kana is a branded cannabis distribution company that works with small farmers in the Emerald Triangle. She also pointed out that many of these farmers couldn’t get insurance because of their crops being federally illegal. “Many farmers had invested a lot of money to bring their farms up to code to meet the state’s new requirements and now it’s all gone.” She is referring to the state’s decision to regulate the cannabis industry as it legalizes adult use cannabis consumption. January 2018 is when the new regulations go into effect.
Not that there is ever a good time for a fire, but this timing was especially bad. It is at the beginning of harvest season and many farmers had only just begun cutting their plants. Nevedal said that a lot of farmers wait until after the Harvest moon, which is the closest full moon to the fall equinox. That was just last Thursday, October 5 and the fire began on Sunday.
“It is too early to know the full extent of the damage to our home,” said Dennis Hunter, CEO of CannaCraft. “Presently, more than 120,000 acres have burned (an area three times larger than Washington DC), upwards of 25,000 residents have been evacuated, thousands of homes and businesses have been lost. We are fortunate that the CannaCraft manufacturing facility in Santa Rosa has not been impacted and remains operational. We are committed to continuing to serve our patients and helping rebuild our community. Effective immediately, a portion of all CannaCraft sales will be donated to The Red Cross to assist in local relief efforts. We will evaluate where our funds and efforts can be of most help to our neighbors as more information emerges.”
“It’s apocalypse now for two of Northern California’s legendary crops: wine and weed,” said Sara Browne cannabis market researcher and founder of Radar MRX, a consumer insights center for cannabis. “In Sonoma County alone, there are an estimated 3,000 to 9,000 cannabis gardens linked to hundreds of millions in county revenue.” Browne also noted that the smoke taints the taste and smell of a crop, much like wine will taste smokey if exposed to fire smoke. While some may be joking about calling these crops with silly smoke nicknames, it is no laughing matter to these farmers. Woodland smoke contains compounds like carbonyls, phenols and organic acids that can be absorbed through the leaves. “Smokey crops are more susceptible to diseases such as mold, mildew, and fungus,” said Browne.
One possible solution for farmers that might not have lost their crops is to sell the smoke-exposed product to be used as a concentrate for cannabis oils or vape pens. The process of extraction can clean some of the impurities away, however, marijuana that is sold for concentrates generally commands a lower price than specialized flower.
“Some supply will be destroyed or ruined, but from a wholesale market perspective, the delta is so small, especially this time of year, that there will be little impact on average wholesale prices across the state,” said an industry insider who tracks marijuana prices. “However, there would or will be higher prices for local dispensaries that will need to find replacement sources. Also, if any brands have long-term purchase contracts from impacted growers, then they could see disruption in getting the product to market as well as the inconsistency of end product. This is not a state story. It’s a story about a few farmers that put everything into a single harvest, lost it all, and could go under because of it.”
Even if it doesn’t affect overall prices, it has deeply affected a region of close-knit farmers. “Having experienced total loss of our family farm just two years ago in the Butte Fire, my heart is broken for all of those affected by the Northern California fires these past few days,” said Bloom Farms Founder & CEO Michael Ray. “We all need to take care of each other. We are mobilizing and coordinating efforts in the cannabis community to provide any relief that we can in this terribly sad time.”