Top Shelf Cannabis

Having spent a fair amount of time in conversation with both white and black market purchasers of the discerning kind, I’ve learned a bit about what constitutes top shelf flower.  Many farmers believe (d) that if it gets you high, it’s good stuff.  Not the case, at least not on the West Coast.

Top shelf cannabis flower is large, chunky, naked, white, stinky, potent, and consistent to the extent possible for your grow type and level of environmental control.

As I look around at farmer friends and consulting clients in total desperation, I feel sad.  Good friends who made a great living for decades are being upended quickly.  Many who thought they were good growers are learning (far too slowly and begrudgingly) that such is not the case.

As market demands and competition intensify amid a proliferation of indoor and greenhouse flower and amid increasingly availability of extracts and derived products, much of our Humboldt County sungrown flower – even light dep – is failing to impress.  Outdoor is now largely treated as “biomass” and the type of market flower largely produced in Humboldt across all grow types currently is commanding very low prices…go out of business type prices for smaller, poorer, and less efficient operators.  While some white and black market trades are still very firm for the highly skilled, average prices are falling fast, down significantly over the last 14 months after tanking the year before.  What was once considered killer stuff is now relatively leafy, larfy, and twiggy in relation to expertly grown outdoor, much less greenhouse or indoor flower where tremendous capital inflows now support operations of both scale and reasonable quality.

Because the definition of good flower seems lost on so many who are failing, it seemed warranted to pen a few words on the subject.  For flower sales, the market tends to want them big and showcasey…one bud or partial bud eights have more bag appeal and illicit a more wow type experience to discerning consumers.  If your flowers are small (which most are), learn about plant manipulation, living soil, organic feed regimens, and pest prevention.

Flowers should also be chunky, that is filled out and podded out versus the hollow and hairy flower now dominating our local scene.  If your flowers are failing in this area, learn to thin and learn about organic finishers.

Flowers should be trimmed naked, that is leafless.  What should remain is a solid bud structure, with contour.  This will only be accomplished through the use of skilled, human trimmers that care about the plant and the beauty of their work.

Flowers (regardless of the strain and its particular color profile) should appear white because they are completely caked with outer trichomes.  If not, check environmental exposure like temperature, humidity and UV.  Learn about phosphorus loaded garbage weed and think natural in your approach.

Flowers should be stinky, really stinky.  Your buds should be so terped out they cause mild nausea, dizziness or sensory overwhelm with prolonged exposure…say in an enclosed harvest or drying area.  Learn about artful stressing, terpene production and retention, organic feed, and lower and slower drying and curing processes.

Flowers, in order to compete with the effects of oil and extracts, should also be potent. Rampant and rapidly growing demand for hash shows demand for potency.  Many distributors won’t even purchase flower testing below 20% THC, so the trend for high powered products seems increasingly entrenched.  Use known, clean genetics of exceptional quality and grow them with extreme love and care and this should not be a problem.

To the extent possible, flowers should also be consistent.  While your early versus late run dep may well boast different characteristics and color profiles, your flower should be identifiable as your flower…uniquely awesome, delicious, and profitable, not because you say so, but because the market does.  For those looking to have staying power or to build a brand, differentiation matters and most farmers assume growing a unique strain is enough…it’s not.  Your finished product must be truly exceptional to compete in the flower market, which many argue is going away quickly. If you are struggling with consistency, seek to implement tighter environmental controls to the extent possible for your grow type.  Work with clone stock or sifted seed stock and implement a sound, repeatable, written farming process to increase predictability of outcome and improve overall business results.

I recently watched a piece by Mr. Steve DeAngelo from Harborside while taking a course through the Academy at Green Flower Media (which I highly recommend to those wanting to learn more about cannabis).  He noted that sales of oil and extracts were less than ten percent of their business just a few years ago.    The number is around 30% now and he joked that in another ten years, only old geezers like him would be purchasing flower in a very small corner of their dispensing facility.  You getting it?

Growing top shelf cannabis, the only kind of retail flower the market really wants anymore, isn’t all that complicated. It’s work.  That’s the problem for most.  On many “farms” it seems the plants are actually an afterthought.  Lots of attention is paid to infrastructure and farm operations, while plants, especially in the light dep space, receive amazing little attention other than keeping them alive.  Plants are often force fed and perhaps blasted a few times for bugs or pathogens, but that’s about the extent of things.  Some work is done each day, but the loving and meticulous details required to produce stellar cannabis go overlooked.

Many term grows are no different.  Plants are so big and unruly that broken down flower from 8-14 pound monsters often has little bag appeal.  Even leg sized colas tend to end up spongy as few actually rock them up for fear of bud rot.  It’s hard to maintenance spray really tall plants so many have festering bug problems that bronze flowers and lead to looser buds with funky odor.  While strict organic and “no spray” regimens can be effective, they are generally not full proof and have been shown to be less successful over larger operations.

At the end of the day we now produce a lot of crappy weed in Humboldt County and the broader Emerald Triangle.  It’s time we step up.  Rather than try to convince people of the quality of our product thru hype and marketing, it’s time to let the flower do the talking.  When buyers audibly gasp when seeing and smelling your product, you’re getting somewhere.  Even then you might not fetch the exact ticket you desire, but at least your stuff will sell, fast.  Average white market transactions are now just over three pounds a shot according to cannabisbenchmarks.  Distributors (like end consumers) are searching for that magic bullet, and they now have plenty of product to shop.   But trust me when they find the right stuff, they scoop it up fast.  Not to toot my own horn, but this past year’s product of mine was being requested in fifty pound lots and I could have moved boatloads more than produced.

Instead of growing pinner, poisonous, sterile shitweed, we must return to artisanal production more in line with market needs.  We can and must do better in order to maintain relevance and capitalize on the nation’s fastest growing industry.

Jesse Duncan


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