The wildfires blazing across northern California are devastating towns, homes, and crops — vineyards and cannabis farms, alike. Now, according to Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, the fires have deemed this the “worst year on record” for cannabis harvests.
Growers, their families, and their staff (trimmers, gardeners, and so on) are now facing mandatory evacuations due to the fires spreading across Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa. Already, 17 people have been found dead and 180 are still missing.
And not only are cannabis growers and other northern California residents losing their homes, but also hundreds of millions of dollars in crops. At least two dozen (and like more) members of the California Growers Association have lost their entire farms nearby Santa Rosa, Redwood Valley, and other areas. And there are at least somewhere between 3,000 and 9,000 farms in Sonoma County, alone. “This is going to leave a deep scar,” said Allen. “I had one conversation today where the family was in tears, saying ‘We don’t know how we’re going to make it to January, let alone next planting season.'”
While vineyards are are able to obtain crop or fire insurance, cannabis farms generally don’t have such a luxury, according to Tawnie Logan, chair of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance. There’s no way for growers to get back the millions of dollars in lost revenue from burnt down crop. It’s all ashes now.
Meanwhile, those who haven’t been evacuated are still facing poor air quality — which affects both people and crops, relying on very specific environmental conditions to flourish and be healthy. Covered in ash, or fighting against smoke, now the surviving cannabis plants are more vulnerable to disease, fungus, mold, and mildew.
The timing of the wildfires could not be worse. Right now is harvest season. The crops are all or almost fully mature and in the process of being trimmed and prepared for sale.
“Especially when it’s ripe — I can tell you from personal experience, wildfire definitely will make your cannabis have a smoky flavor to it; just like wine,” said Kristin Nevedal, executive director of the International Cannabis Farmers Association.
Not only must northern California growers now grapple with the fire losses, but they’ve already had to deal with getting licensed, paying hundreds of thousands in attorney fees, so they could be legal under California’s soon-to-launch adult use market.
“Folks are out their entire life savings over the last few years to get to this point,” said Allen. “There’s no crop insurance, there’s no FEMA aid coming to our growers. It’s a pretty extreme situation out here.”