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The Future of Cannabis Farming Looks to Natural Farming Traditions of the Past

Written by Karla Avila

What if in the future, your cannabis operation was reliably, highly fertile at a significantly lower cost? What if you could increase your self-reliance and quality control, and decrease or eliminate your reliance on outsourced fertility? What if in your future lay the ability not only to acquire the necessary fertility, but gain fertility year after year from only onsite and hyper-local resources? And what if your inputs could also generate side revenue channels or reduce your input costs to practically zero?

In natural farming traditions of the past, we unlock the key to our future success. The future of cannabis farming is a return to nature. Regenerative and natural farming practices are not just trendy, and they aren’t just good for the planet. They make good, practical business sense. It turns out that natural and traditional farming practices of ecological benefit to the planet are also of benefit to a farm’s financial viability and sustainability ­— ­bottom lines as well as profit margins. These methods also produce a higher standard of purity and product quality that can be passed along to consumers. Regenerative agriculture is the more elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

These practices, if implemented across agriculture, would have the power to help slow or reverse climate change. It’s Nature-Tech, and it can and should be utilized to build ecological farm organisms composed of biodiverse, closed-loop systems of fertility that thrive within and remain interconnected with the larger natural ecosystem which surrounds it.

The goals of a closed-loop farming system are lowering the carbon footprint, environmental impacts, and costs, while increasing self-reliance, sustainability, fertility, quality, and yields over time. The ultimate goal of a closed-loop farming system is to generate and regenerate one’s own fertility from onsite resources and natural inputs that come from or are fed by the land. The objective is to accomplish this in a manner that’s in balance with the natural ecosystem of the land, its natural resources, and its natural surroundings.

A complete, biodiverse farm ecosystem may involve aspects of farming that you had not initially anticipated having to take on as part of your operation as a cannabis farmer, such as on-site soil building, animal systems, and a biodiverse set of companion plants. Nevertheless, closed-loop farming systems have myriad advantages and can be accomplished in a logical series of steps.

The cornerstone of soil building is having the ability to build humus by composting on site using on-site resources. Selecting fertility and compost building sources that come from the land or can be cultivated and are suitable to your site is essential. For example, utilizing the organic waste matter of the site’s natural ecological features such as trees, brush clearing, grass clippings, garden waste, green manures, and kitchen waste can all contribute significant quantities of resources to composting systems, mulching, or hügelkultur systems to build soil and increase fertility while sequestering carbon from the environment.

Designing and integrating animal systems onto your site, however, is the single most important way that you can build prolific quantities of soil and reach optimal fertility within your soil year after year using only on-site resources. This can also be accomplished with the aid or supplementation of hyper-local offsite resources from within your very close geographic region.

When the composted manures of healthy, robust animal systems are combined with appropriate cover crop rotations to fix nitrogen and replace potassium, phosphorus, and other minerals, 100% of the necessary fertility for sustainable, commercial production can be found on the farm. The icing on the cake happens when the farm exhibits a significant reduction in costs while experiencing a noticeable increase over time in fertility and soil health, and often a dramatic impact on product quality.

Cultivating in the ground, in the open air of the temporal environment, in native soil, and building soil fertility using the flora and fauna of the natural environment, are essential elements of a distinctly unique terroir-driven product. Products with “terroir” display in their characteristics a unique homage to the place from which they come; they are products “of the land.” In this reflection of place is rooted one of the most important concepts in Appellation of Origin products across the world, and cannabis is no exception. This concept brings about a celebration of the very origin of a product and its quality, unique unto itself, as well as the opportunities to capture niche markets of global consumers and connoisseurs.

Every input and element throughout the season will affect the final outcome, from the microclimate, to the weather that season, to the unique mineralization of one’s soil, to the water source, to the fertility inputs chosen for the garden, to the companion plants cultivated or encouraged to grow naturally in the near vicinity. It’s very possible to provoke changes in the qualities of the cannabis by manipulating the environment or biodiversity selected for the surrounding environment.

For example, permaculture design techniques can be used to enhance the natural effects, such as weather or relative humidity, in a particular microclimate to be more optimal to the production of higher potency resin; or specifically selected companion plants known to enhance oil production or that contain high levels of specific terpenes can be used to bring about a very particular or more diverse or more prominent terpene profile within the cannabis planted in close vicinity. Inputs produced using global natural farming techniques, such as natural plant ferments, as well as biodynamic practices, have been proven over decades by showing higher brix levels, nutrient density, potency, and enhanced color and flavor of crops when compared to conventional monocropping farming methods.

Biodiversity on the farm or in the garden ecosystem will also serve as your integrated pest management (IPM). This is not the IPM of the agro-industrial institution. IPM in organic systems involves an entirely wholesome model. Rather than relying on eradication or a battle with pests, we rely on the philosophy that if you build it, they will come. And by they, we mean, all of them. The moment a few aphids appear, so do the ladybugs, and they take care of the aphids before you can. Thousands of other species of microorganisms, insects, wasps, spiders, amphibians, and reptiles also can thrive in the cannabis farm ecosystem, helping you as you help them. By providing a healthy balance of biodiverse companion plants in your farm ecosystem, you can achieve the habitat for species balance, literal harmony in the garden, and when built on living soil systems, companion plants provide the solution to virtually all pest pressure issues.

So, is there a down side? Depending on the level of ethical standards in your operation previously, you may see an increase in labor, particularly if you take on producing all of your inputs onsite, or incorporating large-scale, ecological, closed-loop animal and composting systems onsite. This endeavor, however, can also lead to multiple additional revenue streams that often prove their worth in effort by bringing economic diversity to the farm.

While this approach may involve some initial labor or design investment, these systems pay off quickly over time, and improvement in fertility and quality is progressively noticeable after year 1 and are reliably sustainable by year 5-7. Our farm has remained profitable through the quickly changing landscape of cannabis legalization in California. Our natural farming practices have allowed us to keep our product quality high while remaining sustainable and adaptive in a challenging market environment with complex regulatory standards.

After farming this way, I would never choose to farm any other way. We have a product we can be proud of, that is completely sustainably grown, that exhibits a uniqueness unto itself, and that celebrates this incredible place where we live and grow, the Emerald Triangle, a rugged mountainous region in Northern California with an optimal climate and environment for the cultivation of cannabis. It’s no wonder that this plant and its caretakers were called to this place.

Today, many new places are embarking upon their journey to becoming cannabis cultivation regions. Consumers worldwide will be able to “taste the place” and experience cannabis terroir in the products cultivated with natural farming practices from the many celebrated traditional and new cannabis Appellation of Origin regions to come.


Flowerdaze Farm
Award-Winning Regenerative Cannabis, Food, & Permaculture Family Farm

About the author

Karla Avila

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