Lead photo via U.S. Department of Agriculture
After a week of uncontrollable fire, smoke and uncertainty, the largest set of mass wildfires in Northern California’s recorded history finally appear to be, at least somewhat, under control. And as the communities of Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties move from a state of shocked sadness to one of strength, resilience and rebuilding, the area’s vast cannabis community is leading the way to bring whatever kind of solace they can to their affected neighbors. But since the fires did not move north of Mendocino, Nor Cal’s marijuana experts are predicting minimal damage to the area’s total cannabis harvest, bringing at least one bit of good news to a part of the country that’s had little to smile about recently.
According to a report from the Los Angeles Weekly, at least 21 cannabis farms were destroyed by the fires, wreaking havoc for a number of Sonoma and Mendocino based cultivators who were literally days away from the start of trimming when fire came knocking. But while life has been unfathomably altered for those individual farmers and their companies, California’s massive annual harvest has largely survived unscathed.
"Wildfire is generally a pretty modest influence," Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association told the publication. "The impacts for individual farmers will be severe. But there's a lot of cannabis out there."
In fact, earlier this year Allen estimated that California’s huge network of licensed and illicit growers produce about eight times as much cannabis every year as California stoners consume. Even with truckloads of turkey bags destined for East Coast, Midwest, and international customers, the Golden State’s surplus supply should be plenty enough to make up for any commercial crops lost to fire.
Even with entire forests of bud flowering in the Northern California mountains, the crop’s ultimate safety can largely be credited to dumb luck. While thousands of small farms were in the path of the blazes at their peak strength, a large majority of the area’s cannabis cultivation is concentrated in Humboldt and Trinity counties. The two municipalities are directly north of where the fires blazed.
That cannabis-friendly fire line has lead pricing experts to expect little change for the coming year of legal weed sales. In their latest Cannabis Benchmarks report, wholesale marijuana tracking company New Leaf Data Services LLC predicts business as usual for Golden State smokers in LA, San Francisco, and everywhere in between.
"Though Sonoma County is home to several thousand individual growers — estimates put as many as 5,000 small farmers in the area — and a portion of Mendocino County is also currently affected by fires, tens of thousands of additional cultivators in Humboldt, Trinity, and other areas in the northern part of the state have been able to bring in harvests without incident, not to mention the production of newer commercial operations in the central and southern regions of California, established over the course of the past year, that will be available to their respective local markets," the report explains.
This year’s harvest is particularly important for producers looking to jump through the expensive hoops of California’s impending recreational use regulations, with a number of cultivators expected to use the profits from their already budding plants to fund their move to the newly established market.
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But while firefighters from across the world have flocked to California to help contain the network of blazes, there are still areas of fire across the state that are not contained, with unpredictable winds keeping residents, farmers, and first responders alike firmly on the edge of their seat.
For now though, things are looking up.
"Obviously people have built entire businesses and they've been burned to the ground," an anonymous industry insider told LA Weekly. "But we've seen fires before, and we've seen fall prices decline as usual. We're expecting a repeat."
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