New Jersey Cannabis Summit, ‘Growing a Sustainable Industry In The Garden State,’ Set For Oct. 24

NEW JERSEY: NJ Cannabis Media will host the inaugural New Jersey Cannabis Summit, “Growing a Sustainable Industry in the Garden State,” Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township.

The keynote speaker will be Barbara Brohl, the former executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue who helped to  develop legislation and rules around regulatory and enforcement matters for the marijuana industry.

Brohl, currently a principal at B J Brohl Strategies, where she consults on drug policy strategies for the 21st century, will be joined at the event by speakers and panelists representing a broad cross-section of the industry that includes: Shaya Brodchandel, chief executive officer of Harmony Dispensary; Jeff Brown, assistant commissioner, Medicinal Marijuana Program, New Jersey Department of Health; Bob Daino, chief operating officer of Acreage Holdings; Dianna Houenou, policy counsel of ACLU-New Jersey; Devra Karlebach, chief executive officer of GTI New Jersey; Skip Motsenbocker, president and co-founder of Floris Capital Management LLC; Leise Rosman, chief operating officer of 4Front Ventures; Tara Sargente, owner and founder of Blazin’ Bakery; George Schidlovsky: president of Curaleaf New Jersey; Beth Stavola, chief operating officer and president of MPX NJ; Sean Stiefel, founder, Navy Capital LLC and Bert Steinman, mayor of Ewing Township.

New Jersey Cannabis Summit – current sponsors include Brach Eichler, Connell Foley, Riker Danzig, Norris McLaughlin and Pennoni – will highlight the opportunities and obstacles in this multi-billion-dollar industry in the Garden State. It will focus on doing business in an industry that faces unique issues – especially while marijuana remains prohibited at the federal level.

The all-day event, which will begin with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., includes panels on: Establishing a legal and compliant cannabis business; the application process; access to capital – funding options for your cannabis business; opportunities and obstacles in running a dispensary; opportunities and obstacles in manufacturing; and opportunities and obstacles in growing.

For more information and tickets: www.bit.ly/njcannasummit

The Dirt On Growing Green: Soil Texture & Composition

By Sunny Kaercher

Every grower has their own approach to cannabis. Varying techniques and products are plentiful, but one thing that remains constant is that healthy plants depend on healthy roots. This is the beginning of a series dedicated to creating and maintaining a vigorous root zone, also known as the rhizosphere. These articles will range from horticultural to scientific, with the goal of educating cannabis growers about natural cycles and what makes the perfect organic growing media.

My name is Sunny Kaercher and I work with Miller Soils. We offer all-natural, cannabis-specific container media catered to growers that want to minimize their inputs and see big, beautiful yields. We design our medias to mimic and support ecological balance, both within the container and out. Now, let’s dig in.

This being the opening piece in The Dirt on Growing Green, it seems appropriate to cover some of the basics of soil science.

One of the first things to understand is soil composition; what’s in your dirt?

45% of soil is composed of mineral particles, which originate from the parent material several horizons below the surface of the earth. These particles, sand, silt and clay, are measured and identified by their diameter. Together, their ratio determines soil texture, which greatly affects important soil properties. Sand, the biggest of the three (.05-2mm), is great for drainage, but has a very low holding capacity. Clay, on the other end of the spectrum (less than .002mm), has a high surface area for adsorption of water and nutrients. Though this retention is cornerstone to a thriving rhizosphere, too much clay leads to compaction, meaning inadequate drainage and roots that cannot breath. A balanced soil, called loam, will have all sizes of particles, and in turn embody all characteristics.

Another 5% of soil is composed of organic matter (including roots) and soil organisms. These I will tackle another day… but what about the remaining 50%?

The remaining half of soil is a delicate flux of air and water, existing in the pore spaces between the physical substrate and active biology. This pore space, though ‘empty,’ is incredibly important to the success of any plant. Unlike leaves, plant roots breath in oxygen (O2) and respire carbon dioxide (CO2). Soil microorganisms and fauna need porosity for this same reason. Soil must allow gas exchange with the greater atmosphere. Water also moves through these pore spaces, but it is infinitely more complicated. There are 3 types of soil water, gravitational, capillary and hygroscopic. The latter is adhered so tightly to particle surfaces, plant roots cannot absorb it. Gravitational water drains from the soil in a matter of days, whereas capillary will be available for longer. This is directly tied to pore size and porosity. It is critical to understand soil water behavior in your cannabis container, whatever it may be, because it affects everything else, from pH to watering/feeding schedule to root vigor.

Now that we’ve covered the foundation of life in soil, air and water, we can move on to the food web.

Stay tuned for next time!

Homegrown: Plant That Bell And Let It Ring

By Dr. Rick Freeman

Homegrown is alright with me

Homegrown is the way it should be

Home grown is a good thing

Plant that bell and let it ring.

 

            Neil Young, “Homegrown,” American Stars and Bars, 1977


Neil Young has written some classic songs about marijuana, and he’s been “rocking in the free world” for decades.   As a businessman, Mr. Young has built and sustained a long-standing “brand” that still sells after 50 years – a brand based on a large, diverse body of music with themes ranging from personal anguish to love, pink cars and social causes.  What’s more, Neil has gone further by directly engaging in these struggles for justice and environment.  Clearly, Neil Young’s business acumen, musical talent and a dedication to doing the right thing have made for a potent mix – one that appeals to the hearts of everyday people all over the world.

Neil’s successful mix of quality and social message is well-suited as an example for us in the fledgling marijuana industry, which recently arose from an ongoing social struggle.  Whether creating a brand for an individual company or creating an image for the industry, a focus on community benefit can boost any business model, and of course, a community focus is a natural fit for the marijuana industry.  From my perspective, an obvious starting point for community action is embracing the legal homegrown movement.  Homegrown marijuana production  directly supports the causes of community health, sustainability, self-reliance and the personal liberty to grow pot, and it represents significant business opportunities.

Marijuana consumers would benefit greatly from a robust community of homegrown enthusiasts while expanding and diversifying the marijuana industry’s customer base.   The benefits to consumers and community are promising, starting with obvious cost-savings and health and quality guarantees – clean, green and not-mean!  At a home scale, the economics of growing extremely clean pot are much more flexible than growing clean at industrial scale.  So, homegrown offers the consumer peace of mind and reliability.  Plus, growing marijuana is FUN. It makes an excellent hobby and one can enjoy tangible benefits at beginner level, learning and improving along the way.  (I make my own biochar, composts, bulk media, whatnot, but one can buy all that.)  What’s more, the satisfaction of burning some properly grown and cured herb is beyond words.  Finally,  but significantly, growing herb represents two of our most revered, traditional values – the sanctity of individual liberty and its companion, self-reliance.  Given the significant material and cultural benefits of growing at home, a LOT of people will come out from hiding and grow sustainable, clean herb when empowered to grow their own.

These industrious home-growers will expand the marijuana market and help support a plethora of goods and services providers.  As with any market sector devoted to a hobby, the home grown market sector will be hungry for  a wide range goods and services.  From cultivation and curing gear to paraphernalia for packaging and consuming, home growers will buy products from a variety of businesses.  These market opportunities will only expand as Cannabis integrates into the mainstream, attracting long-time food gardeners – at a time when food gardening is rapidly expanding.

Empowering marijuana home production is appealing on so many levels, and the timing is perfect. Let’s “plant that bell and let it ring.”

Putting Pests in Their Place

By Dr. Richard Freeman, aka Dr. Rick 

By now everybody knows that pests and pesticides are a big problem in the Cannabis industry.  With a grow house full of nitrogen-rich, moist pot plants, the little critters are going to come, by hook or by crook.  And, what’s a farmer to do? The answer depends upon the farmer and the alternatives that are available.

Fortunately, alternative farming systems do exist.  One of these systems is ecological agriculture, a synthesis of practical farming and scientific research that applies ecological patterns to agriculture, eliminating the expensive and harmful chemical addictions that commonly degrade modern farming.

Professor Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley, represents what ecological agriculture is all about. On one hand, Dr. Altieri and his colleagues have created a lucid, science-based methodology for designing farms based on ecological patterns.  On the other, he has helped apply these methodologies to a range of endeavors, from assisting the global campesino movement in its effort to thrive in a tough environment to helping California grape growers avoid pesticide use.

A prolific researcher and writer, Altieri has written hundreds of books and articles on ecological agriculture, the methodology he’s helped create.  Eco ag is an ingenious approach to harnessing the full complexity of ecology with easy-to-implement practices.  The general goals are simple: build biodiversity and build soil organic matter.  The pay-offs are soil fertility, a natural pest management system, and in general, resilient and sustainable farms.

To build organic matter into the soil, the farmer can choose any combination of beneficial practices.  Adding carbon sources like compost and biochar, avoiding pesticide damage, and carefully choosing diverse plant species known to stimulate soil life are common Eco Ag tactics.

Planting diverse species also supports the goal of boosting biodiversity, and in addition to soil fertility, one of biodiversity’s perks is pest management.  A variety of plants confuses and distracts pests by exuding and emitting a diverse range of volatile plant oils that attract or repel them.  Many of these plants support pest predators, parasitoids and parasites by providing shelter, moisture, and food (nectar, pollen and pests).  The most commonly used tactic for building biodiversity is planting polyculture buffers, corridors, strips and blocks.  Buffers can offer crops protection from wind-borne and migrating pests, while corridors can lead beneficial critters to the target crop or to strips and/or blocks within the crop field.  In these systems, pest species take a small and balanced proportional position among a complex, diverse and abundant ecology, and they play their proper role as food for our hungry beneficials.  Eco Agriculture put pests in their place.

These simple practices are applicable to a wide range of farming scenarios, as Dr. Altieri has demonstrated.  Through his work with Food First! and other organizations, he has helped the global campesino movement adopt and promote ecological agriculture in several developing countries; through the Campesino-to-Campesino project, thousands of farmers are benefitting from and promoting ecological agriculture while forming networks for education and idea-exchange, plant genetics exchange and marketing.  Through his work on California vineyards, Dr. Altieri has helped grape growers replace pesticide use and conserve water with ecological practices in a big-money industry.  These growers are recovering from serious losses and systematic problems caused by conventional practices, while vastly improving the quality of their produce.

Vineyards depend much on the “terroir” of the grapes they produce – the deep, rich taste bestowed by the very land itself.  This revered relationship between ecology and quality is also common to our old friend Cannabis sativaa crop perfectly suited to ecological agriculture.  As the industry expands with the end of prohibition and as the herb emerges as a fungible commodity, margins are shrinking.  As margins shrink, farm resilience and sustainability are taking on more importance.  Fortunately, as these ecological systems mature and take root, their benefits increase, while conventional inputs (and money) disperse into the barren ecosystems they create.  For those looking to farm Cannabis into the future, Professor Altieri has charted the path.

Growing Opportunities From Problems

Exclusive MJNN Report by Dr. Rick Freeman

The emerging marijuana industry is all about innovation  – just like its underground parent was.  The very idea of legal weed is innovative, not to speak of all the ingenious growing and processing techniques and accouterments.  Innovators are growing this industry into a whole new world, applying adaptive, creative thinking to problem-solving and far beyond.   When meeting a challenge, the innovator goes beyond fixing the immediate problem to address the dysfunction that generates the problem in the first place.  The innovator transforms problems into opportunities and creates value in the process.

In this sense, the marijuana industry faces a giant opportunity – an opportunity that might seem like a problem.  The “problem” side of the opportunity is our recent bad press for being caught – repeatedly – selling pesticide-tainted products.  Colorado growers have attracted the most attention, and the press isn’t just local.  Here’s a doozie from the Huffington Post:  “Dangerous Pesticides Are Being Found in Colorado’s Weed.”  Here’s a story (separate incident) from USA Today: “Denver Halts Some Pot Sales Over Bug Spray Worries.”  Ugly.

But, that’s only the “problem” side of the equation.  The opportunity side offers an encouraging vision.  Please let me tell.

First of all, bad press is press, and it is free press.  Free press means free publicity, and publicity is a marketing asset.  In the end, people are looking, and they’re looking at us.  Some are seeking information; some are merely curious.  Others are lapping up evidence to support their contempt for marijuana; others for their unflagging support.  But, all of them are wondering what comes next, and hence, my next point.

In our hands we hold a juicy, engaging and unfinished story that is ours to complete.  If we don’t write the rest of the story, someone else will.   Better it be us.  And, that story has to carry a load.  It has to regain the trust of a large group of consumers who believe that buying marijuana in retail stores is risky.  Plus, it has to make consumers feel good about the industry and the social and environmental good that it’s doing.  And, of course, the story has to be interesting.

Fortunately for us, we have that story.  Our story is teeming with life, complexity and potential.  It’s about pairing marijuana agriculture with ecological pathways to grow clean, high-quality pot at commercial scale – sustainably and profitably.   It features designed agro-systems that mimic and interact with natural ecologies – systems with numerous advantages.  These systems invite natural pest-enemies to thwart mites and other pests, and they grow super-productive soils that accumulate organic matter and disease-thwarting biodiversity.   Through time, productivity and resiliency increase, and the systems require less effort to maintain – the reverse of conventional agro-stories.  What’s more, as scale increases, natural resiliency and natural defense mechanisms become more robust.  On the operations side, well-designed systems optimize labor, equipment and material flows, trimming wasted labor hours and saving tremendous costs over the years.  In this story, the grower combines ecological function with operational function to sustain the agro-system over decades.

This story of clean, sustainably-grown commercial marijuana has yet to be told.  It’s yet a vision for the future that combines the best of what we know with a bold optimism, and it is only one of many possible story lines that are emerging in the industry.  It’s really up to us to determine which story line we want to read about when we sit down to read the news – and what kind of products we want to eat or smoke at 4:20.

Dr. Rick Freeman: The Big Eco Squeeze

By Dr. Rick Freeman, Exclusive to MJNewsNetwork.com 

COLORADO: The advent of the legal marijuana industry has spawned some scale-up effects. One obvious outcome is that inefficiencies have surfaced as significant liabilities.  Another is that farmers are getting squeezed and are, therefore, compelled to push their agro-ecosystems to maximum short-term productivity.   In this environment, risky and sometimes questionable practices emerge and often result in catastrophe.  The bad press around pesticide abuse is a case in point: in Colorado, this year, agencies have mandated large-scale recalls of edibles, while in Washington, private researchers have identified forbidden pesticides in a variety of products.

This pattern is likely to continue, given the current industry environment, with farmers facing the squeeze from all sides.  The current combination of regulatory structures, low energy prices and low profit margins for farmers almost guarantees a certain level of pesticide abuse, pushing farmers towards over-crowded growing conditions in environments devoid of natural checks on pests and pathogens.

In agricultural ecosystems, most of our pesticide problems follow from management practices that attract pests to vulnerable crops in the first place.  Farmers well know that a dense canopy of luscious, nitrogen-rich cannabis is a giant pest target.  Critters can move happily through the canopy, swinging on webbing, piercing and sucking and having a grand time.  To make matters worse, because these indoor agro-ecosystems are isolated from natural ecosystems, they have no contact with native natural defense systems.   Instead, farmers have to buy, preserve and apply pest-thwarting critters and microbes, which can rack up materials and labor costs.  In many cases – as in an infestation crisis – farmers will deem pesticides to be a more economic choice.

In Washington, the state’s tier system forces over-crowding by mandating area limitations based on canopy area, pushing growers to accommodate as many plants as they can possibly fit.   Under this system, farmers can grow up to 30,000 square feet in a Tier III operation, 10,000 for a T-II and 2,000 for a T-I.  That means that every square foot has premium value and must produce a maximum value.  To add to the fun, spatial limitations encourage  growers to use hydroponic systems – as containers and media are bulky – and hydro spawns pests.  With few other affordable options, pesticide use is an obvious outcome.  In contrast, Colorado marijuana growers are now able to stretch their limbs, since the state has lifted vertical integration provisions that forced most cultivators to grow on-site.  And, having learned from others’s mistakes, Oregon has avoided this pitfall from the beginning.

But, other forces continue to push farmers to crowd too many plants into confined spaces.  In Colorado, where real estate is expensive and square footage is dear, many producers still grow on-site because they are locked into investments from the days of mandated vertical integration.   What’s more, in all states, growers face a tough economic climate, wherein marijuana behaves like a fungible commodity and the price paid to farmers trends ever downward.  Enter cheap fuel, which means cheap electricity, and the compulsion to grow indoors is irresistible.  Equally important, growing indoors is a familiar mode for a large sector of the industry, and farmers do what has proven to work for them.  And, finally, to exasperate the situation, because of federal prohibition, farmers can’t borrow money and buy insurance to buffer their risks.  So, they contain losses with pesticides.

But.  We’re learning.  As consumers continue to step up and demand clean marijuana – and as ecologically-minded farmers emerge and voice their opinions – the political climate will change and regulatory change will follow.  Consumer health and healthy ecosystems are important issues these days, and in the case of marijuana, they are tightly linked.  We’ll live to enjoy clean legal pot.

Putting Pesticides In Their Place

By Richard Freeman

Pesticide use in the Cannabis industry has received some bad press lately.  In Colorado, producers have recalled several large batches of edibles over the last year due to pesticide contamination. In 2015, consumers in the same state sued a producer for selling organically-labeled products tainted with pesticides. Denver health officials quarantined 60,000 plants from the same producer, and Colorado’s governor has promised a robust regulatory response.  Change is coming.

Of course, farmers have used pesticides in one form or another for well over a century – on food, tobacco, and non-consumables like hemp. That use has sewn controversy for decades, so the basic arguments are well known.  Proponents assert that pesticide use can and does increase production and avert risk of disaster.  The underlying assumption is that the products are safe if used correctly (strictly within guidelines of the label).

Opponents assert that residual pesticides pose health risks to consumers. The case is especially poignant with Cannabis farming, since pesticide companies have yet to test pesticides in marijuana and CBD Cannabis production. (Federal prohibition has thwarted such testing.)  Opponents also assert that through unintended contamination, pesticide use affects people, pets and wildlife, reduces biodiversity of non-target organisms, and ultimately selects for pesticide-resistant pest strains.  From this perspective, unintended contamination is common, and farmers routinely use pesticides outside the label guidelines. (By definition, applying pesticides on Cannabis will violate labels until the Environmental Protection Agency updates them to include use with marijuana and CDB cultivation.)

Aside from their differences, however, both sides will agree that if farmers do use pesticides, they should use them sensibly, effectively and efficiently.  In this regard, any pesticide use should be part of a larger, comprehensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy.

IPM is a pest management framework that emphasizes maximizing net value (profit) – the spread between expected benefits (income) and expected costs.  When considering pesticide use – or any other cultural practice – the farmer compares the expected costs from pest-induced damage to the expected management costs for labor, equipment and materials – in addition to the risk of decreased product value due to pesticide contamination.  The farmer avoids cultural practices that don’t show a return.

IPM includes a large set of cultural practices – of which pesticide application is only one.  These practices fall into four groups. Environmental/ecological practices create a low-risk growing environment that’s healthy for plants and isn’t vulnerable to pest outbreaks.  Monitoring is key to catching problems early, before serious infection or infestation.  Indirect controls involved adjusting growing environments (lighting, atmosphere and soil) to thwart pests.  Direct controls follow or accompany indirect controls.  Direct controls include mechanical, biological and chemical controls.

In IPM, chemical controls function as a direct control of last resort.  They vary significantly in mode of action and toxicity from product to product, and the intensity and scale of their use depends upon the growth stage of the crop and the type and scope of the pest problem.

IPM offers several benefits to commercial Cannabis cultivation, small-scale as well as large-scale.  Aside from maximizing value, the farmer routinizes pest management, thereby avoiding crisis responses (which are expensive).  Budgeting and scheduling become more reliable and costs are more predictable.

Equally important, IPM benefits the consumer and minimizes costs borne by people and critters who might suffer the effects of pesticide exposure, and farmers get mimimal exposure, as well.  It’s a win-win scenario. The farmer benefits in many ways, and society and the environment benefits.  And, well-designed IPM puts a much better face on our industry than headlines featuring pesticide-caused calamities.

 

Marijuana Growers In The US Are Using Up $6 Billion A Year In Electricity

As more states legalize marijuana in the US, pot cultivation is sucking up an ever-growing amount of energy from the grid.

Since most of the legal weed is grown indoors, the pot industry burns through large quantities of electricity used to power lamps, ventilation systems, and air conditioning. A square foot of planting requires some 200 watts of electricity (pdf, p. 20), about the same as a data center, according to a report this year in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law.

The paper notes that marijuana plantations soak up at least 1% of the country’s electricity at a cost of $6 billion a year.

 

 

Pacific Power, Portland General Electric Say Indoor Marijuana Grows Straining Oregon’s Electrical Grid

OREGON:  Indoor growing operations for legal marijuana businesses are causing problems for Oregon’s electrical grid, according to officials from a state electrical utility company.

Pacific Power said Wednesday that grow operations have taken grids above capacity, blowing out seven transformers since July and causing outages and equipment damage, the Statesman Journal reported.

The problems are a remnant of marijuana’s black market past, when substandard electrical work powered the lights at growing sites.

Portland General Electric has had similar problems, according to spokesman Steve Corson. He said anecdotal reports from PGE crews show about 10 percent of their transformer blowouts are from growing operations, with about 400 blowouts each year.

Growing Sustainable Profits With Cannabis

Dr. Richard Freeman, Ph.D.

We’re hearing the word “sustainable” a lot these days. It’s coming from activists and journalists, from politicians and the marketing agents, writers, anyone in public life. I hear it talking with friends. Sustainable agriculture, sustainable development, and sustainable living – I certainly use the word, myself.

So, when I use the term “sustainable,” I try to maintain a clear understanding of what I mean. And, really, it’s pretty straightforward. If we can keep doing it the way we’re doing it year after year, generation after generation, without running out of resources and trashing our living environment, then it’s sustainable. The details can add a world of nuance, but that’s the basic idea.

Growing cannabis sustainably means growing plants in ways that will keep working in the short term and long term while returning a profit. Sustainable business models work in the natural environment AND perform on the bottom-line. If we’re growing Cannabis and we’re doing it sustainably, then we’re going to stay in business, by definition.

Sustainable growing can reduce costs in the long-term and short-term, grow the kindest quality product, and sustain and preserve health in our own living environment. It benefits the growers, the consumers, and pretty much everyone else. Sustainability offers us a win-win-win situation. Assessing an operation for sustainability begins with analyzing energy-use and materials-consumption in the working environment, equipment and materials, and horticultural methods. And, it requires analyzing associated production costs. In assessing equipment and materials, direct impact on ecosystems is part of the picture, but so is “embodied energy” – the energy required to create these items.

Assessing methods means understanding how our growing techniques affect our environment. Are they life sustaining? Are they a source of throw-away costs? Do they degrade the quality of our goods? Sustainable responses include increasing efficiencies and “closing loops,” which both cut costs. If we can produce an equal or superior product for less money, then profits increase. If we save money by using super-efficient lighting without sacrificing quality and pay for the investment with the savings within a reasonable time frame, then why not? Closing loops means local-sourcing and re-using materials whenever we can – for instance recycling our bio-abundant soil mixes and composting vegetative residues (fan leaves and root balls) into valuable soil amendments. Or, closing loops could include developing nature’s “environmental services,” such as encouraging insects that kill pests. With some imaginative thinking and a little number crunching, we can pick the low-hanging fruit and benefit immediately.

When it comes to benefiting, who can argue with cutting costs, especially when the outcome includes better quality and value in the product? As the market becomes savvy to the benefits of healthy-grown plants – including the taste benefits – the value of sustainably grown Cannabis can only rise. People can taste fertilizer salts, and they can taste pesticides. Anyone who has tasted high-quality organic flowers will never go back to “chem pot” and they’ll pay premium for the good stuff. The same holds true for folks who eat herbal products or rub creams on their skin. As lab testing becomes the standard (and it will), the ability to detect chemical residues will improve. People will be able to tell the difference. And smell the difference. And customers will start asking for the good stuff. Sustainable, indeed.

In future posts, we’ll offer some more detail on ways to close the loops and increase efficiencies – and ways to grow Cannabis that maximize the benefits of good plant genetics while producing outstanding flowers.