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.


Oregon Proposes Higher Medical Marijuana Fees

OREGON:  Medical marijuana growers would be subject to a $200 annual fee for every patient they grow for under a proposal being considered by the Oregon Health Authority.

Medical marijuana growers in Oregon can grow cannabis for up to four patients. Under current rules, the state charges $50 for every patient a grower takes on, but recent changes that expanded the health authority’s oversight of production and processing prompted officials to propose the steeper fees to help cover the agency’s expenses.

The fee increase is estimated to boost revenue from $1.3 million to $5.2 million in the 2015-17 budget cycle.

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.

Regulating Water Use By Pot Farms

CALIFORNIA: The California Assembly plans to hold an unprecedented hearing on April 15 to examine a proposal to regulate a controversial, billion-dollar state crop: marijuana.

At first glance, Humboldt County Assemblymember Jim Wood’s proposed regulation bill, the “Marijuana Watershed Protection Act” looks innocuous: It would add a single paragraph to the state’s water code, and one to the health and safety code. But, in truth, AB 243 represents a groundbreaking new vision for the future of California cannabis agriculture — especially when it comes to water use.