WEED FEED / John Ross Ferrara / Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 @ 10:25 a.m.

Weed Feed: California's Blooming Cannabis Industry Hit Harder by Wildfires Than Vineyards or Wineries



Graphic by John Ferrara.

As cannabis buds bloomed and Northern California growers prepared for the fall harvest, smoke and flame reportedly laid waste to nearly $1 billion worth of crops between Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa Counties. Despite being located within the same general region, the state’s even-more profitable wine industry emerged from the flames mostly unscathed.

Lost Coast Outpost file photo.

The reason? U.C. Davis Agricultural Researcher Jim Lapsley told NPR’s Here & Now reporter Robin Young last week that roughly 90 percent of wine country’s grapes were already harvested when the fires struck. And that the vineyards themselves can actually act as breaks in fire lines.

“The way that most vineyards are grown these days is that the ground between the rows will be plowed, so it’s open ground. It doesn’t have vegetation,” Lapsley told NPR. “[The grape vines have] liquid in them. The water is being pumped through the plant as it’s going into the grapes — so they are a natural buffer.”

Much of the regions marijuana on the other hand, is grown deep into the hills of California’s backcountry, leaving growers more vulnerable to wildfires.

Executive director of the California Growers Association Hezekiah Allen also spoke with NPR last week, and estimated that many growers lost over a year’s worth of work to the wildfires.

“A lot of folks had plants maybe in their drying sheds, maybe they were in the process of trimming them, of sorting them,” Allen told NPR. “A lot of work going on on the farm this time of year.”

As of last week, Allen said that at least 30 cannabis grows, all of which were in good standing with their local governments and in the process of being permitted for the state’s looming recreational market, suffered significant losses from the wildfires — 24 more than had been reported the previous week. Additionally, these numbers are expected to rise, and Allen told the Outpost this week that if you factor in the extensive number of grows not in the process of being licensed that were destroyed, the losses are “unprecedented.”

Combine this with this fact that most cannabis growers don’t have access to adequate insurance policies or bank accounts, and it’s easy to see how the string of wildfires devastated the state’s most productive region of its $21 billion pot industry.

“We did have one report, heartbreakingly enough, that not only was the home and the crop lost, so was the all-cash savings that the grower had to keep on the farm,” he told NPR. “And this is one of those risks of not being able to put your savings in the bank.”

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The Weed Feed is a weekly column written by John Ross Ferrara.

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