With over 10,000 years of history, cannabis cultivation remained quite traditional up until prohibition in the 1930s. As law enforcement became increasingly drastic, cannabis cultivation went indoor, switching from agricultural to horticultural practices. This led to efficiencies but also to a certain evolution of varietals being grown, driven by the new constrains imposed by prohibition. With legalization, we probably won’t go back in time but evolve toward new, less constrained or… otherwise constrained techniques.
There will be different routes taken, but what’s important for growers is to be empowered and free to take their preferred path, rather than being forced to fit within a certain model.
THE BIG AG MODEL
Big Ag companies, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and Dow, have been looking at cannabis for some years now. They are already investing the cannabis space indirectly, through their venture capital arms or by appointing key leaders on cannabis companies’ boards. Phylos Bioscience is one example, which according to their CEO, Mowgli Holmes, has 2 Mergers & Acquisitions leaders from Syngenta and Dow on their Advisory Board…
Upon Federal-level legalization, Big Ag corporations will most likely enter the cannabis vertical through acquisitions. At such time, they’ll work to deploy their traditional model on cannabis crops: acquire large portions of the competitive landscape with proprietary varietals, while also supplying the inputs necessary to grow these varietals.
In such a model, cultivators are competing to produce a commodity that yields thin margins. The production landscape eventually consolidates into large monoculture mega-farms focusing on volumes and efficiencies, not quality or traditions. Cultivators, as we know them today, have little to do with this model. It will be interesting to see how tissue culturing plays a role in this model. Tissue culture is not necessarily a negative thing for small breeders and growers, but when brought up to Big Ag scale, can become an unfair competitive advantage when it comes to propagation operations.
The risk is tangible. Once Big Ag starts getting a prominent role in the cannabis industry, they’ll probably lobby governments to legally impose their proprietary varietals. They did so for countless other crops. It shouldn’t be too difficult to convince cannabis-skeptics in Congress that only the “safe” bio-engineered cultivars should be authorized on the market. Such regulations would force cultivators to grow proprietary cultivars and pay the royalties going with them, on a yearly basis… This is the model that has put farmers under tremendous pressure over the past decades. As a quick reminder, farmers’ primary cause of death is suicide, followed by… cancer.
From a strict citizen’s perspective, this is scary enough. We will see giant corporations at the crossroad of Big Ag, Big Pharma and the Tobacco Industry emerging in the next 5 years. This is actually already happening in Canada.
THE CRAFT MOVEMENT
Meanwhile, there’s a completely distinct approach to cultivating cannabis that’s likely here to stay, despite being challenged: craft cannabis. The term has recently been abused, where companies using mass production techniques called themselves “craft” as a marketing trick. Craft cultivation implies organic, sun-grown, hand trimmed… We probably need to work out craft appellations in order to prevent such unscrupulous marketing tactics…
That said, real craft cannabis does exist. The cannabis cultivation community is full of plant lovers who would rather stop growing altogether if they can’t grow “craft”. Korean farming (the art of managing microorganisms to obtain a fertile soil without the use of chemicals), regenerative farming (waste-recycling focused and water-efficient approach), permaculture (a holistic approach to farming that focuses on plants’ complementarities) are all common practices part of craft cultivation. When growing in harmony with elements, using the right varietals that fit your environment is crucial. This is why biodiversity and convenient access to genetics matter so much. This is what Strainly intends to support.
Today, this model is challenged more than ever. Regulations that came with legalization are imposing unbearable constrains on craft growers, who put their lives on the line to build this industry. These same regulations tend to favor the Big Ag model, where a few dozens of bio-engineered cultivars dominate the market. This is the potential future of cannabis if we don’t take actions now.
Fortunately, consumers are strain-aware and novelty-hungry. This implies growing always new strains to create anticipation on the market. At the end of the day, the good old principles of capitalism may support the cannabis biodiversity agenda. Educating consumers is critical so that they are not fed the same strains under a different name, but rather offered true novelty on a regular basis, thus developing a healthier and more conscious relationship with the plant.
There is an opportunity to have a vibrant and balanced cannabis cultivation scene, in North America and globally, one where growers keep using their senses to breed and grow, consumers develop a relationship with the plant that doesn’t start in the jar but connects back to the terroir. There is an opportunity for cannabis cultivators to emerge as examples to the rest of horticulture and agriculture, demonstrating that “craft” and responsible farming, in general, is economically viable and overall more benefiting.
Like Heineken, Molson-Coors and Diageo exist alongside microbreweries, microdistilleries and vineyards, Canopy Growth, Acreage, and other mass-producers will coexist with craft cultivators offering high-end weed. It is very important to create the conditions empowering those craft producers today. This is why we, at Strainly, drafted an open source breeding license and keep advocating for easy and affordable access to genetics.
Keep an eye out for Strainly’s lineup of informative educational content for cannabis cultivators.
Strainly is the leading resource for cannabis cultivators. It improves access to cultivars, equipment, supplies and services needed by growers. Strainly allows members to trade seeds, clones, tissue cultures or pollen and have easier access to a variety of cannabis strains to grow and breed, in addition of all the inputs required for a successful grow-op. Users can browse, filter and find their cultivars while benefiting from a rating/reviews mechanism, fostering trust among the community. Strainly is one of the only platform allowing growers to search cultivars based on cannabinoids concentration and terpenes combinations.
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