This week, I caught up with New York cannabis farmers to see how their crops are fairing this season.
Farmers’ reported healthy crops, despite a surprise guidance letter issued by OCM that limited the total usable land – including paths and vegetating crops – to no more than one and a half acres.
The regulatory change came as a surprise to farmers, some of whom had spent tens of thousands of dollars on seed, fencing, and fertilizer to manage both vegetating and flowering plants.
Before the guidance letter, many planned on managing multiple crops in different growth cycles simultaneously – with autoflower crops flowering while photoperiod plants grew. Autoflowering cannabis reaches a flowering stage after vegetative growth on its own, regardless of the amount of light it receives – unlike photoperiod-dependent plants, which take longer to harvest but generally yield larger harvests.
Since ‘canopy’ is generally interpreted as flowering plants, farmers could get two crops in and still adhere to canopy limits by harvesting the autoflower plants when the photoperiod plants flowered. After the new guidance limited the total land use for both flowering and vegetating plants, those plans were trampled.
One farmer, who declined to provide their name, said that despite higher than normal insect pressure their auto flower crop is fairing nicely, despite having to destroy 10,000 plants – 80% of their auto flower canopy – after the guidance letter was issued.
“As an organic farmer, wouldn’t you like to be able to get multiple crops in one season?” they said. “You know, with auto flowers, certain varieties are done in 70 to 75 days. And many of us made the interpretation that [regulations] said flowering canopy [was what counted] – so, if those were done before main season photoperiods came in and started the flower, it would work.”
As more cultivation licenses are granted with the roll out of adult-use, farmers are curious to see how they impact greenhouse growers and outdoor operations differently.
“As I understand it, this doesn’t really apply to a greenhouse grower, right?” the farmer said. “Because their vegetating plants are not listed as a flowering space. And so, for an organic farmer, we grow in the ground out in the field. So it’s not really how things work. So it’s definitely a very unlevel playing field, whether intended or unintended to this season.”
Another farmer said the OCM guidance – which effectively halved the yield Approved Adult-Use Conditional Cultivators can produce – was implemented for fear of flooding the market.
“Specifically due to the fact that dispensaries probably are not going to be open in time,” they said. “So, I think they’re we’re afraid of creating an oversupply, but I think that the OCM severely overestimated the amount of product that operators are going to grow and what the state will actually need.”
Seth Jacobs, who runs Slack Hollow Farm in Washington County, said he is hopeful that the roll-out of adult-use across the state will go smoothly and enough dispensaries will open to carry farmers’ yields. Yet, it is hard to say exactly how it will all pan out.
“Some of the gray areas of OCM guidelines are making sure that everyone’s strategy is on hold, so there is not a huge point and signing a lot of contracts,” Jacobs said, pointing out that OCM has yet to declare a milligram limit for edible products. “Because none of it’s worth anything until we actually see what we’re working with.”
In the short term, he expects to yield 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of biomass, which will sell at around $600 a pound.
“That would give us some capital that would give us more flexibility with financing and all that,” he said.
Still, navigating the regulatory process can be burdensome.
“I’m still thankful to be a farmer, and to provide food and medicine for my community,” one farmer said. “But sometimes you end up spending more time sending the paperwork than attending to your crop.”