Cannabis industry needs regenerative organic farming, not modified seeds

Image of a Vermont cannabis field

regenerative cannabis | organic marijuana, Cannabis industry needs regenerative organic farming, not modified seeds(Editor’s note: This story is part of a recurring series of commentaries from professionals connected to the cannabis industry. David Bronner is founder of Brother David’s cannabis brand, based in California, and CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, a brand of soaps in North America and producer of a range of organic body-care and food products.)

As the legal marijuana industry continues to expand, it’s urgent that we understand the consequences of placing too much reliance on large industrial cannabis grown indoors under artificial lighting.

Now is the imperative time to acknowledge natural farming as one of the solutions for mitigating the impacts of climate change.

We should be looking for ways to be kinder to the Earth and to reject harmful chemical-intensive agricultural practices.

We should embrace organic farming methods that improve soil health and build resilient, regenerative supply chains that nurture both people and planet.

I’m disturbed by reports that seed breeders are using gene-editing technology to develop varieties that no longer contain THC but have the addition of herbicide-resistant genes so growers can spray weed killer on their plants.

Cannabis certification

Two years ago, I founded Brother David’s, the first cannabis brand to become Sun+Earth Certified – the regenerative organic certification that guarantees the cannabis is grown under the sun, organically in soil, and that farmers and farmworkers are fairly paid.

Brother David’s and our ally Sun+Earth, along with other advocates and experts in the industry, share a common mission to move the cannabis sector away from chemical-intensive farming practices.

Because official organic certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture remains off-limits to high-THC cannabis producers, Sun+Earth provides validation for cannabis consumers who want to know how their cannabis is produced.

Cannabis is a bio-accumulator that relies on the richness of the soil in which it’s grown and pulls toxins from the soil. But those toxins eventually get passed on to the consumer in the cannabis products they buy.

And the vast majority of cannabis currently sold in the United States has no labeling that explains how it’s grown and whether chemicals used in its production are harmful to people, the soil and the natural environment.

Organic demand

According to San Diego-based market research group TrendSource and its 2019 Cannabis Industry Report, more than 53% of consumers are willing to pay more for organic cannabis products.

In order to bridge the gap between consumer preference and the actual supply of cannabis in the market, Sun+Earth aims to shift the industry toward healthier, more sustainably and ethically grown plants.

Just as genetically modified seeds are not the answer to our agricultural industries, finding ways for cannabis to be more easily sprayed with toxic chemicals is also counterproductive to the marijuana and hemp industries.

Climate impact

Sun+Earth is also committed to reducing the impacts of climate change in an industry that uses excessive amounts of energy to grow plants indoors.

Industrial cannabis production in the U.S.:

  • Uses the same amount of energy it takes to power 1.7 million U.S. homes.
  • Generates greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 3 million cars, on an annual basis.

According to a 2012 report from the journal Energy Policy, indoor cannabis production uses 1% of all electricity consumed in the U.S. at a cost of $6 billion per year.

More recently, a 2021 report from Colorado State University found that indoor cultivation in the U.S. produces up to 5,184 kilograms (11,429 pounds) of greenhouse gas emissions for each kilogram of harvested flower.

Regenerative organic cultivation standards encourage the planting of cannabis alongside food crops with strategic use of cover crops, composting, mulching and reduced soil tillage – methods that have been shown to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and are championed as a part of the solution to global warming by groups such as the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute, a pioneer of organic agriculture research and consumer education.

The regenerative organic model for cannabis grown under the sun, in the soil, without chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides can drastically reduce the carbon footprint of cannabis and, indeed, build networks of food and flower production that are themselves more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Sun+Earth stands as an ideal model and a beacon of hope for the cannabis industry and the broader agricultural sector.

This innovative certification relies not on new genetic technology but on farming methods that work with the natural world instead of suppressing it.

Such tried and true methods have been used for millennia and represent more of an answer to producing cleaner cannabis and for building healthy, vital soil that can better address our current environmental and agricultural crises.

David Bronner can be reached at publicaffairs@drbronner.com.

The previous installment of this series is available here.

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