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Wildfires fail to singe bulk of California’s cannabis harvest in 2020

California tax collections

Cannabis cultivators generated $41 million for the third quarter in 2020. Tax collections were $22.8 million in 2019 and $12.9 million in 2018.

The state took in a total $306.7 million in sales, cultivation and excise fees from growers, dispensaries, distributors and support businesses for the third quarter of 2020.

Source: California Department of Tax and Fee Administration

Despite all that Mother Nature could throw at cannabis farmers this year, growers overcame the elements enough to place a substantial amount of tax revenue in state government coffers.

Sam Rodriquez, an advisory member who represents seven Northern California counties in the International Cannabis Farmers Association, summarized the 2020 harvest as an “early save.” He estimated about 80% of the crops were saved, but that statistic “varies by county.” Rodriquez monitors growers in Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, Nevada, Trinity and Santa Barbara counties.

“Many farmers accelerated their harvest,” he said, adding most crops were brought in earlier around the first part of October because of the fires.

As it turns out, the decision helped boost California cultivation tax collections to $41 million this fall in a period ending Nov. 2. That’s triple the amount from two years ago in the same period, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration reported recently.

(There was) significant concern about the crops being tainted with ashes and smoke. Sam Rodriquez, Northern California counties representative for the International Cannabis Farmers Association

At the peak of the blazes, smoke blanketed the region, making the air in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area take on a Mars-like orange hue. Ash dusted and smoke surrounded the cannabis crops, with some growers increasing the amount of water use to clean them off.

“This was a significant concern about the crops being tainted with ashes and smoke,” he said, adding the anxiety was elevated by the mere frequency of these fires. “There was a lot of fear, but people reacted much faster.”

Like mad chemists, Northern California growers reacted with precise science and upgraded protocols to protect their crops through the use of better nutrients, irrigation, breeding, seeding and all-around care. These are the trends of the future in delivering premium cannabis products, noted Rodriquez, who also serves on the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce and the Good Farmers, Great Neighbors trade association.

Christian Sweeney of Sonoma Lab Works said he sought out traces of heavy metals like lead in crops, but fortunately few materialized.

“There was not enough to be a smoking gun (to the harvest),” Sweeney said on a panel at the Business Journal’s virtual North Coast Cannabis Industry Conference on Thursday.

Still, the chemist recommends growers conduct soil tests and try to quickly take out the soot before next year’s season begins, because prolonging the removal is harder as it becomes gooey.

“Even if you have to blow a fan over the crops,” he said, addressing cultivators among the conference attendees. “It’s not an easy thing to do, unfortunately.”

The discussion prompted Humboldt County Growers Alliance Policy Director Ross Gordon to question: “Is this the new normal?”

Gordon expressed gratitude the North State county dodged a bullet in the state’s wildfire year.

“The farmers were very fortunate in Humboldt County. There were a lot of issues with smoke, but it was more challenging for Mendocino (County),” he said of the county due south. “In general, although the fires were frightening, Humboldt is very resilient.”

Many in the North Bay have said the same thing about Napa and Sonoma county residents, despite enduring wildfires knocking on their doors much of the summer.

And for one Sonoma County “craft cannabis” grower who harvested for the first time in 2020, the variety of strains gained by this year’s crop proved therapeutic in surviving the lineup of issues.

“Despite all that this year has thrown at each of us, this harvest has granted our team the opportunity to channel our energy and focus on growing cannabis at the highest level,” Sonoma Hills Farm CEO Mike Harden said in a statement. “It’s been a long road to get here, but worth it.”

California tax collections

Cannabis cultivators generated $41 million for the third quarter in 2020. Tax collections were $22.8 million in 2019 and $12.9 million in 2018.

The state took in a total $306.7 million in sales, cultivation and excise fees from growers, dispensaries, distributors and support businesses for the third quarter of 2020.

Source: California Department of Tax and Fee Administration

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