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What Is Regenerative Farming And Could It Reduce Cannabis’ Environmental Impact?

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Cannabis cultivation and consumption is, unfortunately, often associated with detrimental environmental effects including high energy consumption, light pollution, and destruction of local ecosystems. Many cannabis brands are going above and beyond sustainable agricultural practices even without strict environmental regulations.

Sustainable farming was once the be-all and end-all of agricultural practice, but a growing movement of small-batch farmers are popularizing a tried-and-true method of farming that regenerates the soil, not just sustains it.

Environmental Effect of Cannabis Cultivation

New York’s Ithaca College published a troubling report on the devastating effects cannabis cultivation had on local wildlife and soil conditions in Northern California. Moving grow operations indoors doesn’t solve the issue. Even small indoor grows can use excessive amounts of electricity to power all the lights, HVAC equipment, and more. Regenerative farming employs organic farming practices to improve soil fertility and biodiversity of the ecosystem.

Regenerative Farming Improves Soil and Ecosystem

Regenerative farming takes a holistic approach to agriculture by focusing on healthy soil, air, and animals. Regenerative farming is not a new practice, but fell out of favor for pesticide use and higher yields. Regenerative farmer’s processes aim to improve the soil’s ability to produce thriving crops, improve watersheds, increase biodiversity, and improve the ecosystem.

Regenerative farming practices include the use of cover crops instead of uncovered soil to reduce carbon emissions and feed the soil. No tilling enables the farmer to let the soil absorb rich organic matter and water instead of preparing the soil for planting. Planned grazing enables other species to thrive, too, and creates a balance to the biodiversity in the area.

One of the most important aspects of regenerative farming is the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Traditional agricultural practices like tilling the soil release carbon dioxide from the soil. By using multiple regenerative practices, carbon becomes trapped in the soil, so to speak, to improve the surrounding soil and vegetation.

Seed-to-Seed Farming

Regenerative farming aims to create a natural ecosystem that imparts the native soil conditions to its crops. That means developing farmers must develop their own seeds from harvested plants, instead of using clones grown elsewhere. The purpose is to maintain as close to a closed-loop system as possible. Farmers believe this “seed-to-seed” method produces more resilient plants that express the terroir, or natural environment, of the farm.

Regenerative Farming Finds It Hard to Compete

Some cannabis cultivators aren’t allowed to grow their cannabis outdoors forcing them indoors. Indoor operations can improve their carbon footprint, but face exorbitant energy costs. Outdoor growing uses sunlight instead of hundreds of LED lights offsetting electricity costs, but may use pesticides that affect local wildlife.

Indoor growing is favored by many for its ability to control environmental factors and produce cannabis flower with high bag appeal. Coupled with a lack of tax incentives and burdensome licensing processes, small-scale regenerative farmers find it hard to compete in the marketplace. It’s hard for sustainable companies to succeed.

Craft Cannabis Is Growing

California’s Emerald Cup created their Regenerative Cannabis Farm Award in 2017 in an effort to support this growing movement. Cannabis consumers, especially medicinal users, are opting to buy third-party certified organic cannabis from local farmers. Most users haven’t tried regenerative farming, so it’s hard for them to compare the difference between growing methods. Regardless, everyone has their unique cannabis flower preferences.

As agricultural practices improve, consumers will have more sustainable options to choose from with their foods and cannabis. Regenerative agriculture has faced some staunch critics, but there’s great interest in this small-batch and craft-centered cannabis cultivation method. While most consumers still may buy based on price, the future holds sustainable cannabis for all.

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