Sun Grown Farmer Survival Guide

As I wrote about last time, sun grown cannabis farmers are struggling in Legacy or historical producing regions such as the Emerald Triangle.  Amid rapidly expanding production and sluggish growth of retail outlets, prices have collapsed in recent months – down over 50% from a year ago. 

Despite scary times, not all is lost for the ganja warriors of Humboldt and beyond.  By aggressively focusing on sales/marketing, quality improvements, production increases and cost savings, sun grown farmers can stay in the game and eventually capitalize on better times to come with interstate and international markets.

Sales & Marketing

Launching a brand is an expensive endeavor and is out of reach for many family farms.  That said, several well-established brands exist that source product from partner farms.  These brands have already done the leg work in creating an online presence and securing valuable dispensary shelf space.  Some, like Cookies, are fans of sun grown flower and have an ever-expanding footprint that family farms can benefit from.  Co-branding or piggy backing on the success of a reputable brand, getting product into jars or pouches, and ultimately achieving retail shelf space can radically improve your price per pound.  Of course, without exceptionally high-quality product, this will never happen.

Quality Improvements

If I had a dollar for every time a grower told me they produce killer shit I’d be retired.  Having lived in Humboldt my whole life and having consumed cannabis for nearly three decades, I attest to the fact that most flower grown in Humboldt today is decent at best.  Over the years flower has declined in quality here in the Triangle.  Weed tastes greener and smokes hotter and harsher than it did a couple decades back.  Bowls don’t ash like they used to and instead, often char out and are largely un-smokable for me.

Truly high quality or top shelf commercial flower is visually appealing with a tight, podded out structure and heavy outer trichome layer.  It tastes like it smells and goes down smooth while delivering the desired effect.  It’s getting harder and harder to find weed like that nowadays.  Many “premium” flowers are poorly formed, ugly, hairy and harsh.  By focusing on genetics, plant structure, pruning, organic or quasi-organic nutrient delivery, sugar content and a flushing program, your flower can stand out from the rest and get some real momentum in the marketplace.   

Increasing Production

Increasing production is a real possibility for most farms, even those doing quite well.  I’ll never forget several years back when a retired soil scientist told us we could increase production by 20% or more if we got serious about soil structure and biology.  Note the garden he toured had two plants that went over 13 pounds.

Whether growing in soil or another medium, focusing on more advanced techniques like crop steering or simply manipulating the size and shape of your plants through topping, pruning and opening can meaningfully impact your bag weight. Supplemental feeding – especially through a foliar regime – is another way to radically boost yields, as are strain selection and quality of starts.

Of course, every grower you talk to is killing it.  Clearly not the case as I still see tons of Instagram posts where farmers are growing lanky Christmas trees instead of more stump-like bushes that really pack on the weight.  Many trellis’ have huge canopy gaps and lots of finished tops aren’t even fist sized. 

Cost Savings

During the multi-decade cannabis bull market where prices were quite firm, cultivators could be a bit loose with the budget.  They could “overpay” for products and services and many did.  Additionally, some farm owners quit growing altogether and spent time pursuing hobbies and passions while crew did the work for them.

As things have tightened up meaningfully, largely absentee farm owners should get back in the dirt personally as a way to reduce labor costs.  Putting goods and services out for bid is another way to potentially save.  Rather than simply accepting “dope grower” prices for inputs, construction or consulting services, requesting discounts, purchasing in bulk or shopping around can lead to significant savings.

National legalization is moving slower than many of us would like.  Biden is not a huge fan of recreational cannabis and there is growing chatter that republicans may make a strong showing in the mid-term elections.  Even with a national marketplace, some states will seek to protect their own producers and limit imports from other places.  Given such, I expect another tough year or several years here on the west coast.  Upping our cultivation game, being proactive with respect to sales and marketing, and tightening our belts seem like the best path forward.

Much Luck,

Jesse Duncan

Sun Grown Peanut Butter Breath Dep 2021

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