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“Grass” farmers prepare for new cannabis market

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 January Issue Newsletter

By Dan Bensonoff

As policy-makers busy themselves writing the regulations that will control the new cannabis market, many farmers and growers are busy figuring out how they can integrate the plant into their farm operations. To help farmers understand how this new market is likely to play out, NOFA/Mass and the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council (MRCC) organized a day of learning about craft organic cannabis cultivation.

Over 100 farmers and growers gathered at Hampshire College on December 12th to hear from veteran cultivators, advocates, and entrepreneurs on the future of weed in Massachusetts. Paul Brennan, a long-time cultivator and cannabis educator, spoke about the niche that craft organic growers are likely to inhabit. Like with beer, Paul said, the majority of drinkers are going to choose the cheap, mass-produced stuff - the Budweisers and Coors, in other words. But, just as we’ve seen an explosion in craft beer, there will likely be a market for consumers who crave soil and sun-grown cannabis that has been raised without pesticides and with care. As consumers begin to have more choices, they will become more discerning. And that’s where local, organic farmers can make their mark.

Although Cannabis sativa is often referred to as a “weed”, it is actually quite labor-intensive and demanding as a crop. Only females are grown for their psychotropic flowers, and a few stray males can essentially destroy one’s crop if their pollen wind pollinates a female cannabis plant. Paul warned that as hemp becomes more widely cultivated accidental pollination may become more of an issue.

And then there are certain conditions that make cannabis particularly challenging for our New England climate. Unlike in the tropics, where day-length more or less remains the same, cannabis, like most onions, is day-length sensitive. If it’s planted too late, you’ll get a small plant with barely any flowers. According to Paul Brennan, the more pressing concern for New Englanders is our humidity. September, the traditional harvest time, brings with it a dew that can bring all sorts of nasty mildews and molds to your crop. Luckily, we have glass and plastic to help us out.

For many growers, actually growing a beautiful, organic cannabis plant is the easy part. It’s the guillotine of regulations that threatens. Sonia Espinosa and Kamani Jefferson, co-founders of Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said that final regulations governing cultivation won’t be released until April, and by then, it will be too late to fix any issues. They urged farmers to attend meetings, write letters, and closely follow the roll out of regulations if they want to have a farm-friendly industry. There are still many questions left to be figured out: How much will cultivation cost? How will scale impact those license costs? What kinds of security measures will be mandated? How will town zoning affect cultivation?

With such high stakes for farm viability involved in these questions NOFA/Mass will continue to advocate on behalf of organic farmers as the industry unfolds. We’ve also set up a dedicated listserv for growers to share resources and interact with each other. To subscribe to the list, send a blank email to And stay tuned for another Cannabis growers seminar in spring of 2018!



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