Last month, New York governor Kathy Hochul signed into law a unique licensing program that will allow the state’s hemp growers to cultivate high-THC cannabis. The goal is to slowly phase into the state’s recreational cannabis market and avoid the constraints that plague new cannabis programs when they first launch. The conditional adult-use cultivator license…
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Last month, New York governor Kathy Hochul signed into law a unique licensing program that will allow the state’s hemp growers to cultivate high-THC cannabis.
The goal is to slowly phase into the state’s recreational cannabis market and avoid the constraints that plague new cannabis programs when they first launch.
The conditional adult-use cultivator license will allow farmers that grew and harvested hemp for at least two of the past four years to cultivate high-THC cannabis outdoors this summer.
But growers looking to take advantage of these conditional licenses must move swiftly; most outdoor crops are planned months in advance, sometimes up to one year before planting.
In the case of New York, growers have about 60 days.
That’s not much time to prepare, but it’s certainly possible if specific steps are taken.
If you’re lucky enough to be a hemp farmer in New York—or you know someone that is—consider these best practices to help ensure this summer’s crop is a success.
1. Know when it’s safe to plant outside.
There are many similarities between growing hemp and high-THC cannabis, and sensitivity to frost is one.
If a crop is planted outdoors too soon, there is a real risk that low temperatures will kill young plants. In the event of a hard frost, few growers are in a position to bounce back and re-plant their fields.
Fortunately, high-THC cannabis growers can follow the same planting dates for hemp. According to the Farmer’s Almanac—a trusted resource for farmers across the US—the earliest frost-free planting date for New York is around May 7th.
If you want to play it safe, add a week or two, but ensure your crop is in the ground by June 1st.
2. Don’t wait to acquire genetics.
For the most consistent flower production, it’s best to start from plant material that is asexually propagated, meaning not from seed.
Cannabis seed genetics are notoriously unstable; planting ten seeds of any variety can result in ten different plants in terms of growth characteristics, yield, and cannabinoid content.
However, buying rooted cuttings in bulk typically takes months to arrange. The supplier needs time to grow enough stock plants to generate the desired number of cuttings of a particular variety.
For growers that didn’t research clone suppliers in anticipation of the governor signing this law, it’s probably too late. Most cultivators will need to grow from seed.
Select quick-growing varieties that finish flowering outdoors in 10 weeks or less. The goal is to harvest plants well before the threat of the first fall frost.
3. Be prepared to pull the crop early.
Given cannabis’ extreme susceptibility to mold, growers should be prepared (tactically and emotionally) to harvest their crop early.
This risk increases the longer the crop stays in the ground. As the cannabis flower nears maturity, it becomes increasingly dense, creating the perfect environment for mold spores to hide, germinate, mature, and sporulate.
Moldy cannabis flowers won’t sell.
If you’re nearing the end of the crop, and the weather forecast calls for a week of wet, cool weather, pull the crop early. Harvesting a slightly immature crop that yields less than expected is preferable to losing an entire crop to mold.
It can be an excruciating decision to make, but if you’re mentally prepared for this scenario, it will help ease the stress come harvest day.
4. Ensure post-harvest logistics before planting.
It’s common for outdoor growers not to worry about harvesting, drying, or post-harvest activities until the crop is already growing. After all, once plants are in the ground, there’s plenty of time to work this out, right? Wrong.
High-THC cannabis is treated differently post-harvest than hemp. Instead of grinding down the flower to store in bulk biomass containers, high-THC flower is sold intact and must be treated with care.
Hang drying entire plants requires a lot of space, and there is a myriad of trimming options to help preserve the flower’s precious cannabinoids and terpenes. This equipment can handle either wet or dry flower, but it needs to be purchased, delivered, and trialed well before harvest day.
Growers selling their crop to extract fresh-frozen resin must ensure they have the logistics in place to keep harvested plant material at the right temperature. This means sufficient dry ice to package and freeze the flowers or enough refrigerated trucks to keep the harvest frozen until it reaches the processor.
Regardless of which route the grower takes, lead times and logistics may take longer than the growing season allows, so it’s best to start planning now to avoid staring at a crop this fall that you aren’t prepared to harvest.
5. Identify long-term packaging solutions.
Since the goal of New York’s conditional licensing program is to ease supply constraints when adult-use cannabis sales begin next year, growers must be smart about storing this year’s harvest.
Typically, high-THC crops are dried and cured within four weeks of harvest and then sold. In the case of New York, growers should be prepared to hold their product for much longer.
Excellent cannabis flower shouldn’t be held longer than six months. Although there isn’t a universally agreed-upon “best by” date, most aficionados would agree that half a year is the longest product should be stored.
Even under ideal conditions, cannabis flowers will start to change color and may experience degradation of the active ingredients.
The best way to preserve cannabis flower for long-term storage is through vacuum sealing. This process removes most of the air in the packaging, meaning less oxygen and slower degradation.
Another option is to use nitrogen gas. Instead of removing air through vacuum sealing, oxygen inside a container is replaced by nitrogen, which helps slow the degradation process.
Dry your cannabis flower down to 9-11% moisture content, and then store in a cool, dark area at 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit and 60-65% relative humidity.
Although there are many nuances to growing and harvesting high-THC cannabis compared to hemp, much of the process is the same. Since only experienced hemp farmers will be issued conditional cultivation permits, they’re already ahead of the game. With some swift action and rapid planning, New York cannabis farmers should anticipate a bumper crop in 2022.
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