Updated: June 16, 2022.
Dozens of cannabis farmers in New York are in the process of ripping out cannabis crops following a surprise guidance letter that limits total usable land – including paths and vegetating crops – to no more than one and a half acres.
The guidance letter issued by the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) on June 4, comes after many farmers provided documentation, and received OCM approval for, plans to use as much as four acres to manage both vegetating and flowering plants. As a result, many farmers who spent tens of thousands of dollars on seed, fencing, and fertilizer, will also likely lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit, as they are limited to essentially one outdoor crop this season, rather than two or three.
“The autoflower would be flowering the entire time they are growing [photoperiod plants]. The photoperiods wouldn’t flower until mid-August. The thinking of cultivators was, that doesn’t count until it flowers, and when it does flower, we can harvest our autoflower. Basically getting two crops in,” said Kaelan Castetter, a consultant and advocate for New York growers.
New York rules allow indoor and greenhouse growers to only count flowering plants towards canopy.
“The legislation allowing hemp farmers to grow adult-use cannabis on a conditional basis allowed cultivators to grow up to one acre for outdoor growing — this information was included in guidance provided with the release of the application in March, and the June 4 guidance reinforced that point. We want to be sure the value remains for adult-use cannabis currently being grown by New York farmers,” wrote Aaron Ghitelman, Deputy Director of Communications for OCM, in an emailed response.
Just a couple months ago New York was trumpeting plans to give average farmers an opportunity to jump start the state’s cannabis industry. But today, cannabis farmers tell Grown In they are afraid to provide their names for on-the-record comments.
“Nobody wants to say anything because they want to get along with OCM. They could come back and bite me really seriously,” said one upstate farmer.
“A majority of farmers had already submitted plans for cultivation, purchased, and were in the process of germination, or planted first round of plants in the ground, at the cost of $10,000 to 20,000. Seeds are $1 a piece. This adds up really fast. Then there’s guidance that puts real changes to language,” said another cannabis farmer from the south part of the state.
Farmers also sunk money into purchasing fencing for land that can’t be used for cannabis grow, laying down plastic for seedings, and set aside land that can’t be used for other crops because they are now fenced in. Farmers tell Grown In that could quickly add up to $70,000, a hefty sum for sole-operator farms.
Once harvested, New York farmers tell Grown In they expect a crop to provide about 1,000 pounds of biomass, which would likely be converted to THC oil. One rule of thumb is about 40 pounds of cannabis biomass creates a liter of oil, which can fetch between $4,000 and $7,000 a liter, depending on the market. Using that math, New York cannabis farmers could be out as much as $175,000 because of OCM’s new guidance.
“We all know we could sue for detrimental reliance and win. Our plan was submitted in writing and approved by a caseworker. We were told our plan was excellent and we should follow it,” said the upstate farmer.
“This letter says comply immediately or you will lose your license. So now all the farmers that have committed tens, if not hundreds of thousands [of dollars], are destroying plants, turning them over in the fields,” said the farmer from southern New York.
Update: This story was updated on June 16, 2022 to reflect a statement from OCM provided after publication.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that Kaelan Castetter was Vice President of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, he is no longer on the board of that organization but is a member and acts as a consultant.