The future of cannabis cultivation isn't in massive grow facilities with high-tech lights and complex temperature control systems. It's out in the open air, according to proponents of the sun-grown movement.
The sun-grown movement is being led by companies like Flow Kana, who consider outdoor cultivation essential to the sustainability of the cannabis industry. Embracing the small, independent farm system infrastructure that exists in California, the company works with craft farmers to help scale their product and extend the range of distribution.
"We centralized everything post-harvest so that, collectively, our farms have the lowest cost of production going into the marketplace," CEO Michael Steinmetz told Civilized.
By committing to smaller farmers that are already operating sustainably, they say that they are able to focus on greener, more organic processes for their growth, including helping to produce sun-grown cannabis.
"There are initiatives in California to be fully sustainable, so already it is in favor of a sun-grown ecosystem."
If that is the case, then why has the cannabis industry been so dominated by indoor growth over the years?
"I think I have to go back to the history of prohibition and ask what kind of industry it had created," he said. "It kept the industry very small, very fragmented. The larger you were, the bigger you scaled, the more risk of exposure you faced."
According to Steinmetz, there are 53,000 cannabis farmers in Northern California producing 80 percent of the cannabis consumed nationwide. Due to prohibition, however, many of them are somewhat "off the grid," and are therefore not as attached to the streamlined processes of other agricultural growers. Consequently, they are using solar panels, rain catchment, and "fully diversified soil" to grow their cannabis.
"There is very little infrastructure that exists for cannabis, with the exceptions of these farmers which are already growing sustainably," he said. "It’s actually harder to go the same route as other industries and centralize to these large-scale facilities. We don’t have to go down this path to get this plant to the planet. We can actually keep it small and fragmented, finding ways, with technology, to give the farmers the scale they need."
As legalization continues to expand across the country, Steinmetz feels that the industry will maintain this connection to sun-grown cannabis on independently operated farms—and even seek to expand on it.
"The economics alone are going to draw it to sun-grown," he said. "I think indoor growing is just a phenomenon that sprang from prohibition."
Steinmetz claims that an outdoor-grown product costs a fraction of the indoor cost because you’re recreating the sun and the environmental conditions indoors. He expressed his opinion that the difference in cost and the demand for quality cannabis will eventually give outdoor growing the edge over indoor
"That’s not to bash indoor," he said. "They’ve given us the cannabis we’ve had for decades. Given the fact that we have amazing sun, amazing soil and amazing terroir, I’m hopeful that people will go, 'Hey, this is actually an agricultural product.' You can put it in the ground next to tomatoes and it’ll grow beautifully.”
Will Canada be left out in the cold?
While Seinmetz expects California to be a major leader in the sun-grown sector, he also thinks Chile, Europe, Australia and Morocco could big players as well. In terms of geography and climate, he sees a close connection between cannabis and wine vineyards.
"Wherever you see grapes and wine, you’ll see cannabis," he said. "You’ll need hot days, dry summers, and cold nights. The cannabis plant is perfectly developed for that kind of an environment."
While he does believe that there will be something of a growth industry in colder areas, he doesn’t expect Canada - which legalized recreational cannabis last month - to be a major part of the sun-grown movement.
"I don’t think that Canada is really an agricultural producing country," he said. "I think cannabis will grow naturally in the best places for it to grow."
Mark Spear disagrees. The founder and CEO of Burnstown Farms - an Ottawa-based outdoor grow operation - told Civilized that while each region has its advantages and disadvantages, Canada can "certainly produce high quality outdoor cannabis."
"If we look at gross value added per capita in the agricultural sector, Canada ranks 19th in the world and the US ranks 47th." said Spear. "The agriculture and agri-food system contributed $87.9 billion or 8 percent to the Canadian economy and employed 2.1 million Canadians in 2006."
"This is certainly a country with a strong agricultural sector, there is no debate about that."
Still, Steinmetz believes the California climate remains the optimal location for growing cannabis, saying that the growth process developed in the area leads to a "fuller" plant.
"In California, you plant it in March, and harvest it in October or November. That’s almost eight or nine months of full cannabinoid development, full terpene development," he said. "How do you compare a 9-month development process under the sun, to a six-week cycle under high intensity light? It is deeply, deeply — by orders of magnitude — better."
Banner Image: Elysian Fields Farm in Mendocino.