Article by Jim Lauria, Water Online
For years, I’ve been standing on my deck in San Francisco, looking south to Silicon Valley for innovation in water efficiency. But I’m starting to realize that I might have been gazing in the wrong direction. Maybe I need to turn around and look north, over the spires of the Golden Gate Bridge, toward the Emerald Triangle in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, the hotbed of California’s newly legalized commercial cannabis production.
Of course, though California voters legalized recreational marijuana — and its production — last year, many growers in the Emerald Triangle and other parts of the state are not rank beginners. Eager to build their reputations for quality and just as anxious to maximize yields of a crop that’s sold by the gram, cannabis cultivators have been among the most driven and exacting farmers in agriculture.
So now we have highly motivated growers, under regulatory scrutiny, in a state that’s been gripped in an epic drought for the past six years. If you ask me, those are the people who will be leading agriculture toward sustainable water management.
Now that it’s emerging from the shadows, California cannabis is likely to be recognized as the state’s top-valued crop, which is no surprise, especially as experts believe 60 to 70 percent of the pot sold in America comes from the Golden State. The Christian Science Monitor cites a value of $11 to $17 billion per year for the California cannabis crop. Compare that to the state’s next-ranked commodity, milk and cheese, at $6.7 billion.
Indoor cannabis grows yield an average value of $112 per square foot, according to a report on indoor farming by Agrilyst, well ahead of greens ($64 per square foot) and strawberries ($22). In fact, Agrilyst calculated indoor cannabis production to be 9,000 times more productive on a dollar basis than commercial corn production. And even outdoors, pot is a smokin’ deal. The Denver University Law Review calculated a return of 22 cents to $6.67 per gallon of water from cannabis grown in Colorado, compared to 2 to 3 cents per gallon ROI from potatoes, another of the state’s major crops.