With a population of a staggering 40 million, an economy that ranks sixth in standalone economies on the planet earth, and an enormous amount of fecund land American farmers have been reaping bountiful harvests from for decades, it is no surprise that California would become a target for cannabis producers and those looking to invest in the cultivation sector of the burgeoning industry.
Even before California launched recreational sales in January 2018, the Golden State was the top cannabis producer in the nation, generating over 13.5 million pounds of cannabis in 2016. The growth industry’s potential to explode has become even more likely now that recreational cannabis is live in the densely populated state.
The Fine Print of Cannabis Cultivation
When planning an agricultural business meant to last, entrepreneurs and investors must consider a range of variables before choosing a county in which to base their business.
The first factor to consider is the law. Though cannabis is legal state-wide for personal and medical use, the state allows its counties to ban one or all three industry areas (cultivation, manufacturing, and/or retail) from operating within their lines. In late 2017, the majority of California counties had banned at least one part of the industry, usually retail. However, most of the counties that opted into the 2016 state-wide legalization law approved cultivation if anything at all.
One of the more farming-specific considerations to make is the suitability of the actual environment. This is particularly true if a grower intends to cultivate outdoors. Not all soils are equal, and not all counties have the same climate conditions. The US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service ranks soils from Class I to Class VIII. Class I soils are most suitable for a range of crops while Class VIII soils are not considered suitable for agriculture at all.
When it comes to soil, California’s Central Valley can’t be beat. The valley stretches for about 450 miles and ranges from 40 to 60 miles wide. The Northern California counties contained in the Valley include Butte, Colusa, Glenn, El Dorado, Fresno, Kings, Madera, Merced, Placer, San Joaquin, Sacramento, Shasta, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Yuba, and Yolo. It also includes the Southern California county of Kern.
Climate is another one of California’s strong suites. Cannabis thrives in temperatures ranging from 68 to 77 degrees F. Additionally, the plant requires humidity levels between 40 and 70%. Like all plants, cannabis needs water. However, too much water can be problematic as it can cause the growths of mold and mildew.
When considering both soil and climate, there is a very specific region of Northern California lauded for the high-quality cannabis it produces: the Emerald Triangle.
The Emerald Triangle: The Napa Valley of Cannabis
Located in the intersection of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties, the Emerald Triangle is indisputably the agricultural headquarters of cannabis in California. The conditions created by the area’s Mediterranean climate and fertile soils are rumored to produce cannabis plants reaching over 15 feet tall.
In an interview with Kindland, Simon Evers of Mendocino County’s Elysian Fields described the Emerald Triangle’s cannabis growing magic:
“In the summertime, you have these hot, dry days that are very conducive for fast, vigorous growth. And as the plants transition into flower toward the end of summer, and the days grow shorter, cool nights allow for the flowers to ripen. At this time, the trichomes are being produced, and the cannabinoids are being concentrated, and it’s all kind of magical, but also a result of the micro and macro-climates of the region. It really is the perfect storm for amazing cannabis to be produced.”
The lore surrounding Emerald County’s cannabis has given producers in the region room to sell their product for significantly higher prices than cultivators in competing areas. Because of its success, cannabis production has also become an integral part of the counties that comprise it. For example, Mendocino county brings in about $1 billion a year from cultivation and Humboldt county’s land and real estate values have increased because of the plant’s popularity in the area.
However, it is this legendary status that has also cost the Emerald Triangle significant environmental tolls. The region has attracted black market growers for decades, and many of these illegal producers have little incentive to comply with the regulations crafted to protect the environment. Black market growers have often rerouted streams straight into their grow sites to compensate for the area’s freshwater deficiency. But this is an extremely unsustainable practice that puts the biodiversity that makes the area so unique at immediate risk.
A 2016 letter published in Environmental Research Letters determined that “abundant grow sites clustered in steep locations far from developed roads, potential for significant water consumption, and close proximity to habitat for threatened species, all point toward high risk of negative ecological consequences associated with cannabis agriculture as it is currently practiced in northern California.”
One of the hopes of state-wide legalization is that the black market will fade as customers seek legal product. And in an age increasingly concerned with sustainability, legal farms have the ability to market their growing practices in a way that both promotes their businesses and educates the market on the importance of environmentally protective growing practices. Farmers who seek state licensure have already demonstrated a commitment to legitimizing the industry and protecting the community by abiding by its laws.
John Casali of Huckleberry Hill Farms is one of these cultivators. He explained his heart behind the environmentally friendly practices his family farm employs to Kindland. “We want to give back to the community, we want to be a part of the community, and we want to be accepted into the community,” Casali said.
The best way to give back to the community is to take care of the land on which it stands. Given the abundant cannabis growing potential created by the Emerald Triangle’s geographical attributes, one can only hope that the farmers who cultivate its fields will protect the thing that drew them to that land to begin with. Because truly, there is no other place like it.