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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Will Your Marijuana Grow?

As the marijuana market continues to mature in the U.S. this year, interesting industry trends afoot for the last decade have only continued to sharpen a fascinating divide in the marijuana production industry – the marked rise of hydroponic farming operations and their increasing popularity and use over “natural” or outdoor methods of cultivation.

In the U.S. this is a matter of both politics and certain realities that face the entire American agricultural market whether or not such issues are a matter of public debate if not awareness. According to international organizations such as the World Bank, America’s food supply is in serious trouble from the effects of droughts alone. Food prices in the U.S. this year again skyrocketed to record levels for reasons including drought and such trends obviously also affect what is already America’s third most valuable cash crop (after corn and soybeans).

Growers in fact, in Humboldt County in California, historically one of the centres of outdoor grown marijuana production in the U.S., reported trucking in water to grow operations for the first time this year.

And while Washington State (in particular) also has a very large outdoor grow market (marijuana is now the state’s second highest cash crop after timber) issues here begin to move quickly into both the politics of politics if not access to water. This year in fact the federal government specifically issued warnings to the nascent and legalizing cannabis industry in state that federally controlled water supplies were off limits to marijuana growers even legally sanctioned in the new state market.

Colorado’s marijuana market has had a huge (and probably the greatest) impact on the development of hydro and has for years, starting with not only politics but the environment and geography of the state. While large, outdoor, illegal grows still checker the craggy and Rocky Mountain terrain, the focus in state, particularly for more legally minded cultivators, is to focus on indoor grows. This also gives farmers the option of a 24/7, year round market that is completely subject to man-made rather than Mother Nature’s control.

Beyond issues of water access however, the market is clearly already speeding up in terms of experimentation with breeding, strains and potency. Here, the indoor grow market far exceeds traditional outdoor crops because experimentation is easier to monitor and tweak if not replicate.

The dramatic and increased potency of these breeds has also started to impact policy. While there is of course no accurate measure of the same yet given lack of reliable established quality benchmarks, it is clear that marijuana today is far more potent than in the past for reasons that come with both added experimentation and profit. This issue came to the fore in an interesting way in the overall reform debate this year when it came to light that the sole federally funded and managed marijuana grow facility in the U.S. (located in Mississippi) could not find a vendor to bid for the expanded grow now planned for this facility (to supply newly called for and in the offing federal research).

This is also why campaigns for more federal research have been tempered more than occasionally with questions about the source of what is being tested by government researchers.

On the conservation front, the indoor marijuana grow movement has started to challenge traditional growing patterns if not culture far beyond just cannabis cultivation. And as a result, the storied if not sometimes sacred American farmer may transition from the ideal portrayed in the classic Rockwell painting “American Gothic” to something a little more tinged with green set against grow operations that have absolutely nothing to do with pot.

By Marguerite Arnold


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