California Market Forecast: News From the Emerald Triangle

The summer of 2015 has proved to be a dramatic growing season thus far in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, where record heat and the worst drought in 500 years sparked massive wildfires in areas concentrated with outdoor marijuana gardens. Since the beginning of the year, fire has claimed more than 300,000 acres in California, with September proving unusually devastating due to the Valley Fire in Lake, Napa, and Sonoma counties, the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras counties, and the Rough Fire in the Sierra National Forest in Fresno county. Many pot fields have been claimed—as numerous posts of charred cannabis plants on Instagram can attest to.

Fire raged through Northern California this past September, affecting this year’s harvest.

Some veterans recall the Canoe Creek fire back in 2003 and the devastating effect it had on the marijuana market. Joey Burger, who runs Trim Scene Solutions, remembers that, “it was easy to tell the pounds that came from Salmon Creek and the fire district just by sticking your nose in the bag. So I think some neighborhoods will be heavily affected. You’re going to smell some smoky kush this year. Even if your crop didn’t burn up, it can be ruined. It’s hard to get ashes out of a nice, resin-y bud.”

The 2015 grow season in the Emerald Triangle—comprised of California’s Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties—was dealt a setback last June by a large law enforcement raid in the Island Mountain region where the three counties meet. Over 85,000 plants were said to have been eradicated, and evidence of many environmentally-damaging grow sites were revealed.

“There’s a huge issue out here that there’s not enough supply to support the medical needs of California,” says Max of Healing Harvest Farms, “so the farmers take it upon themselves to go outside the acceptable area that law enforcement has put us in. There are a lot of people who are pushing the boundaries. So far I haven’t heard of [law enforcement] touching any gardens that are compliant. They’re mostly looking for people who are stealing water out of streams because of the drought. Those people are giving those of us who are doing things correctly a bad name.”

Light-deprivation grows in greenhouses have become an increasingly popular form of summer cultivation. Those who have seen aerial photographs of the hills in Humboldt county can attest to the widespread prevalence of commercial greenhouses. “Years ago everybody started pulling tarp because CAMP [Campaign Against Marijuana Planting] came in the fall. So we started pulling tarp all summer,” says Kevin Jodrey, founder of the Golden Tarp Awards and the Wonderland Nursery. “And it got to the point where the dep gave you the cash reserves you’re going to need to trim your true outdoor.”

Clones for sale at Wonderland Nursery

Russet mites and botrytis are increased hazards this year. In fact, it was said that 50 percent of the entries at the Golden Tarp Awards this past September were disqualified when lab testing revealed mold. Luckily, samples were tested before they were entered.

“Some of the products that got disqualified had to have been some of the best looking light-dep buds of all time,” Jodrey insists. “When I looked at it initially, they were all from fire regions, so we think that the fire kicked up so much sediment and crap, that it’s been distributed. We’re seeing it in Eastern Humboldt and Lake County. And then there were varieties in those regions that didn’t get it, so we’re thinking they are more resistant naturally to fungal issues.”

He continues, “Now, it’s a matter of, ‘How do we interpret these results?’ We’ve never had the ability to do such testing, especially on such a wide-scale picture. This was a good year to see this problem because you should never have this much fungal in mid-July. It gives us a neat data window. All of us are looking at it—we have some wine folks looking at it, labs are interested. We’re going to create the scatter plot of California and find out what happened. That’s the whole idea, to figure it out.”

Another advantage light deprivation has is that plants are harvested early, before the market is glutted with outdoor bud. Jodrey estimates that, as of mid-September, dep bud was fetching upwards of $2200-$2600 a pound—a figure that can drop by over 50 percent a month later.

Joe P., who grows for the Bush Pimp Collective, attests to the drop in price for outdoor bud around harvest time.

“Everybody’s going to start chopping, and people are going to come at you with $800 a pound,” he says. “You’re lucky if you can get $1200-1300 a pound. After January, February, they start bringing up the prices. Maybe $1500-1600 and it will top out there—unless you have something that people really like, and they’ve been buying it at a set price. Like the PK I have? I’ve been growing that for 15 years, and I have customers that used to pay $3800 a pound and buy 10-15 at a time every month. Now, they just pay me $2500 a pound and they buy it every two months. Other than that, you’re like everybody else.”

One thing is for sure, higher prices are available for anyone willing to take their product out of state.

“The black market is still alive and well here,” insists Joey Burger. “All this summer there was a shortage of weed. The buyers that come here used to come for hundred packs, now they come for thousand packs. Markets are opening up all around the country. You look at recreational states, Colorado and Washington? Weed is $50 an eighth, so the black market is thriving. Until it gets regulated in more states and they can bring prices down, this community will be shipping it to the moon until they legalize it there.”

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