Dr. Rick Freeman: Getting it Together

By Dr. Rick Freeman

For family farmers, 1988 was a tough year.  Stuck between cut-throat competition from Big Ag and the devastation of a Big Drought, many small-scale farmers dropped out.  But, not all of them.  That was the year that seven bedraggled, small-scale organic farmers in southwest Wisconsin formed the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool. Their hope for survival was to pool resources and investments while focusing on sustainability and food quality.  That co-op blossomed into Organic Valley, which today includes 1,800 farmers spread across the U.S., Canada and Australia, offering over 500 products sold in 50 states and 25 countries.  Just last year, OV’s revenue exceeded a billion dollars.   That’s pretty good for a bunch of family farmers.

Today, small-scale marijuana farmers face a wall of adversity similar to those seven families who started OV.  Fortunately, they have a good example to follow.  By embracing a cooperative structure, a rigorous sustainability standard, and a focus on product quality, marijuana producers enjoy an opportunity to create a robust, enduring brand that will benefit a broad range of people. The time is right to get started.

With a cooperative model, marijuana farmers can pool resources for vital functions like equipment purchasing and sharing, marketing, accounting, legal services, peer-lending, and more, spreading and absorbing risk that could easily doom a lone farmer.  Benefits can include pricing leverage, shared risk and optimized investments (as in sharing a pricey piece of equipment used only once a year), among others.

With a rigorous, transparent sustainability standard, co-op members can assure consumers that farming practices are creating long-term benefits for the community and environment  – and will continue to do so for future generations.  A rigorous standard can be based on a point system that reflects the strengths of diverse approaches to farming – with some common benchmarks that everyone must meet.  For example, consider a farmer whose energy efficiency is well above the energy benchmark but whose water-use efficiency is barely above the water benchmark. This farmer might score equally with a farmer whose water-use efficiency rating is high but whose energy-efficiency standard barely makes the grade.  This “indexing” system would reflect the values of co-op members and would be transparent and easy to formulate and implement.

Quality standards would set cooperative product quality well above common industry standards, capitalizing on the benefits from sustainable agriculture while assuring the consumer that products are reliably healthy, safe and beneficial.  For example, a high-quality co-op product is free of pesticides and pathogens while demonstrating a terroir of excellence – reflecting the best genetics, a robust ecology and healthy, living soil.  A quality standard would also use verifiable cannabinoid and terpene profiles for various strains, guaranteeing consumers that product quality is reliable and excellent.

With strict quality standards, rigorous sustainability standards and an economically-sustainable business model, a marijuana ag co-op would benefit the entire community – consumers, producers and neighbors.  Community economies based on diverse producers and consumers are much more stable than those based on a single industry or company, because they can absorb the effects of a failure, while the failure of a business in a limited-player economy guarantees disaster.   When a multitude of diverse producers join for quality production, the result is sustainable communities.  Now, THAT is called getting it together!

Oregon Flags Potential Problem With Popular Pesticide Used On Marijuana

OREGON: The Oregon Department of Agriculture on Friday temporarily removed a popular pesticide from its list of chemicals cannabis growers may use on their crop.

Rodger Voelker, a chemist with OG Analytical, a marijuana testing lab in Eugene, said he recently noticed that abamectin, a common insecticide, had turned up in a handful of cannabis samples submitted by growers who said they grew organically. One mentioned he used only Guardian Mite Spray. Voelker asked for a sample of the mite spray, tested it and detected abamectin, an active ingredient not listed on the product label.

Voelker alerted agriculture officials about his results on Thursday since the mite spray is included on the state’s newly released list of pesticides growers may be able to use on their plants. The product is marketed as an all natural pesticide containing products like cinnamon oil and lemon grass oil.

Colorado Tries To Clamp Down On Pesticide Use On Pot

COLORADO:  A dry courtroom dispute unfolding here has the potential to dramatically alter how marijuana is grown across Colorado, as health inspectors try clamp down on pesticide use by pot growers.

The court fight is over whether Denver health officials and state agriculture inspectors have the right to quarantine and test marijuana they believe has been improperly contaminated with certain pesticides.

Marijuana store Organic Greens is asking a city judge to lift one of those quarantines and allow it to sell 15-20 pounds of marijuana its owner admits was treated with a fungicide called Eagle 20. He says the chemical is widely used within the industry and by other farmers to fight powdery mildew, and that it poses little risk to consumers.