Pure irony. The cannabis world has a vast array of “varieties” ranging from wild cultivars to prized genetic profiles carefully bred indoors for generations. One estimate holds that there are 11,000 genetic variations on the theme ranging from rope to dope. We’ve been growing this weed for countless thousands of years all over planet Earth. It’s obvious that humanity has spread the sacred herb from continent to continent, south to north, coast to coast since the last ice age. Our relationship with this ancient species includes right up to the “modern” era. French, Dutch and British explorers showed up sailing ships with hempen sails and ropes to find the First Nations peoples growing cannabis that had migrated with the tribes over the upper land bridge ages before.
Today one can find adapted landraces growing wild around the Great Lakes. These are perfectly happy in the Canadian climate: they sprout from the frost and finish nicely in the Fall. I had never seen cannabis seeds that would sprout in such low temperatures. These landraces seed themselves and establish stands as birds & humans carry the seeds to other locations. A few grow very, very tall – over 14’. Others produce huge monster colas the size of your arm. Some are probably left over from when Ontario was called “Home” – long before Confederation – when the Queen would give you land in exchange for growing hemp. Farmers were growing cannabis two hundred years ago in Canada… just like today. These were generally low-THC varieties grown for rope, uniforms and sails for the warships of England. In the eastern sections of Ontario, the folks call it “donkey weed”. There also are wild landraces growing south into Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma – “bunk weed”, they call it there. Worthless for smoking…. unless you’re interested in CBD.
The truly interesting part of the historical equation is that modern “industrial” cannabis strains tend to test higher for CBD (cannabidiol) than the vast majority of the popular “medical or social” high-level THC strains today. All due to the simple wonders of good old-fashioned plant breeding down on the farm. This became evident while reviewing lab testing on hundreds of strains over the past three years. Hemp strains tend to test around 1 – 2% CBD while popular cannabis strains would show .01% or even be “ND” (Not Detectable) in the lab samples. As I investigated this, it became obvious that finding CBD for medical uses is going to be difficult from the current ‘approved strains’ the Licensed Producers are growing in Canada. It is impossible to extract a cannabinoid that is not there. This leads to searching for CBD in fields of hemp. It also has led to cross-breeding between ‘social’ genetics and ‘hemp’ genetics to boost CBD content. The irony gets better.
Suddenly the flower tops and leaf material from a hemp farm are FAR more valuable than the seed harvest and the fibre AND core materials all put together. Instead of returning several hundred dollars per acre, the bio-mass becomes valued at thousands of dollars per acre. This is a revolution down on the farm. Suddenly the waste material is worth lots of money. Last year hemp farmers in Canada couldn’t touch the leaf, they had to plow it back into the field. This Fall, the rules change and the gold rush is on. Only problems are the farm logistics. Usually, industrial hemp is processed for seed grain using a typical combine grain thresher. The waste from the flower tops & leaves gets dumped on the ground. I mean, exactly HOW does one collect and dry that much tonnage at harvest time?
Growing a good-sized crop in a large indoor cannabis farm is one thing. The left-over leaf is just a small portion of the total bud output. Cutting, collecting, drying & processing a 1000 acre farm another thing altogether. Imagine for a moment that you must dry 400,000 pounds of chopped leaf & flower top material within 14 days. You know, about 28,500 lbs per day…. Immediately drying it down to 9% moisture to keep it from rotting within 24 – 48 hours. Pack the tonnage into containers and store it for processing. All of which will then require expensive extraction machinery with the capacity to process hundreds of pounds per day into CBD – before the next harvest rolls around a year from now.
Whew! Rinse and repeat. Mind you, the capital costs for this type of equipment will involve some very serious investment…. but the gold rush is on. Demand is outstripping supply by a wide margin. Prices in the medical CBD market continue to be sky high. This is partly based upon prohibition pricing, market scarcity and legalization efforts going in many places around the world. As production ramps up, prices will come down and the CBD sector will advance even more rapidly. All of this is a real bonus to farmers and medical patients alike. The cannabis industry is being transformed across the entire spectrum. Social, medical and industrial uses are now reaching critical mass. Legalization is spurring a new industry around the world. We will see major changes in the future as this unfolds: industrial “hemp” meets medical “marijuana”. Purely ironic.