It’s the time of year when months of careful planning and execution come to a head for untold numbers of outdoor cannabis growers, both personal and commercial.
With the winds informing cultivators that it’s time to harvest their crops, the month has earned the moniker “Croptober.”
Green Market Report checked in with a few outdoor growers in a quartet of states that are home to sizable outdoor marijuana farming communities that contribute to their state’s cannabis supply chains, to see how the 2023 harvest has been proceeding thus far.
The consensus: pretty darn well, compared to other years in which wildfires or floods or other climate-change-driven weather has led to major losses.
“Overall, it’s going well,” said Genine Coleman, executive director at the Origins Council, which represents hundreds of small farmers in California, particularly in the Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties. “All the farmers are MIA, nose down in the plants, working right now.”
That doesn’t mean the harvest season is all roses, however. Plenty of farmers reported serious business hurdles, cultivator market contraction, and wholesale pricing pressures as the legal U.S. marijuana market continues to grow year by year.
Coleman noted that, in California this year, the harvest has been much smoother than in some of the more turbulent years in recent memory, when farmers have had to stave off wildfires and other serious weather threats.
“There is a bit of a mold battle happening out there. I haven’t heard of anything being catastrophic, just more of a high maintenance harvest,” Coleman said.
Farmers that are still at it may see a slight wholesale price rebound, Coleman said, but she emphasized that prices have fluctuated so madly that it’s tough to make blanket predictions.
Wholesale cannabis prices for outdoor-grown flower “had bumped up all the way to maybe $800 for summer light dep crop, and I think they’re back down to $400-$500 right now, ” Coleman said, when asked what prices California farmers may be seeing. “We’ll see.”
Coleman estimated the cost of production to be about $300 a pound, which has made survival tough for many smaller growers that don’t have the efficiencies of scale that some of the larger greenhouse producers do, such as Santa Barbara-based Glass House Brands.
“There’s definitely been steady contraction happening, but thankfully, it’s not to the point where our regional identities are collapsing, similar to Salinas,” Coleman said, referring to reported cultivators folding on the central coast.
The oldest legal recreational marijuana market in the country has been going through major market contraction over the past year or so, said one southern Colorado cannabis farmer who requested anonymity in order to candidly talk about market dynamics.
The farm had been forced to lay off most of its staff so as to stay afloat as Colorado prices and sales have tanked through much of 2023, they said. But now the market is beginning to stabilize and rebound, and that’s being reflected in slightly-resurgent wholesale prices.
They estimated that the Colorado marijuana cultivation landscape has seen upwards of 25%-30% attrition in the past year due to the collapsing prices, and said the company only survived by taking drastic steps, including laying off most of its employees.
“On the wholesale level, it’s catastrophic,” the farmer said. “It’s becoming a true agricultural product. Which we all expected, just didn’t think it would come on this quick and this severe.”
Wholesale prices for outdoor cannabis these days reportedly range from $250 per pound up to perhaps $400 per pound, depending on quality.
And the 2023 outdoor harvest is proceeding smoothly “for those who did plant,” the farmer said.
“There’s been expectation in the air. We’ll see whether people can move product; that’s a whole other question,” they said. “There’s a lot of people who have been sitting on inventory since 2021,” hoping that wholesale prices will rebound and that they’ll still be able to turn a solid profit.
“The entire community is struggling. The only people who are really OK right now is those who don’t have to be profitable to keep the lights on,” he said. “It’s going to become Wal-Mart. In fact, it already is.”
The fall harvest for one of the nation’s newest adult-use markets is shrouded in uncertainty for the nearly 300 conditional cultivators who were allowed to grow outdoors this year.
That’s because so far only 27 legal retail outlets are available through which those growers can offload their crops, whether it’s in the form of branded smokable flower or extracted distillate used to make edibles or other goods.
The lack of retailers – created in part by a court order that froze most of the retail licensing back in August – contributed to an immense backlog of cannabis that those same farmers already harvested in 2022 but have not been able to legally sell.
The one thing that gives New York growers hope is the certainty that more retailers are coming. It’s just a question of when.
“Those of us who are still bullish on the market are still doubling down on that initial investment,” said Dan Dolgin, owner of Eaton Botanicals in upstate New York.
Dolgin added that word is, the outdoor harvest is pulling in a lot of quality cannabis.
“We’ve had a lot of rain this year, but all things considered, I’ve heard that people have had some really great results, some good yields,” he said.
Dolgin said he plans to convert his entire crop into distillate, for which the wholesale prices are about $300 per pound these days in New York. For quality outdoor flower, prices are still up at $2,000 to $2,250 per pound, based on average retail prices of eighths, said Brittany Carbone, another outdoor farmer.
One of the most tumultuous wholesale cannabis markets in the nation, Oregon, made headlines in 2018 for having $50 pounds for sale. But since then, the market has stabilized considerably, said East Fork Cultivars CEO Mason Walker.
After “mass consolidation,” wholesale prices have become “predictably low” for the past three years, Walker said, ranging from $400 on the low end to a top-end wholesale price of $1,200 for indoor-grown flower.
“Around $500 is a safe generalization of where the bulk of the market is per pound right now,” he estimated, noting that Oregon is somewhat unique in that a majority of the flower sold is grown outdoors, whereas most U.S. state markets are predominantly supplied by indoor-grown cannabis.
That said, Walker added that an important caveat for Oregon is how saturated it remains with cannabis growers, due to its lack of license caps and free-market approach. That means Oregon marijuana farmers compete every year, in an unofficial national capacity, for which state has the lowest wholesale prices.
“Last year, we were battling it out with Michigan. I think this year, we’re probably battling it out with Oklahoma,” Walker said with a wry chuckle.
That said, the 2023 Oregon harvest has gone about as well as could be hoped, Walker said, with very few weather events affecting crops – aside from one late September rainstorm and a wildfire in Northern California over the summer. The rainstorm in particular is likely to cost East Fork 5%-10% of its outdoor crop, Walker estimated.
But both of those weather events, he said, were relatively minor, compared to some weather-related catastrophes in years past.
“A really solid summer,” Walker concluded. “It was an excellent, excellent cultivation season in Southern Oregon.”