BY RUBY MCCONNELL

For decades, Canada has been known as an innovator in the cannabis industry, consistently producing some of the highest-regarded strains and highest-quality buds out of their loosely regulated black market. With legalization and the rise of highly regulated mega farms, though, questions regarding the legal industry’s ability to maintain that heritage of quality have taken center stage. Part of the concern stems from what industry insiders are calling an “infestation problem.” In other words, pests are becoming a problem.

For several years, corporate cannabis cultivation, known for highly sophisticated, automated, and laboratory-like indoor facilities has dominated the Canadian landscape. The goal? To produce volume from known sources. To that end, the governing regulatory body, Health Canada, put in place limitations on the introduction of “new” genetics, effectively creating a cannabis mono-culture. That policy, paired with best practices recommendations endorsing the use of some approved chemical pesticides, has led to some unintended consequences. Cannabis crop failures due to damage from mite, russet, white fly, and aphid infestations are on the rise–not good news for a country that has already seen shortages of supply in the first two weeks of national legalization.

Hope, however, is on the horizon. Canada has opened its licensing process to small farms. Health-Canada gave the relatively new “micro-tier” designation the green-light last spring. The designation and regulatory amnesty for non-violent offenders and a newly-minted policy allowing farmers to bring their own genetics into the market have both paved the way for thousands of previously under-the-radar farms to access the legal market, bringing a greater diversity of genetics and a broader range of cultivation practices with them. In terms of addressing the pest problem, the rise of Canadian regenerative cannabis cultivation.

In a broad sense, regenerative cultivation is the practice of growing cannabis in sun and soil, alongside a diverse community of plants, animals, and insects, but without the use of synthetic pesticides. One of the primary goals of regenerative cannabis is building resilience into the plants. Dragonfly Earth Medicine, is one of the farms at the leading edge of this movement. We talked to them at their family farm in British Columbia about what it means to be regenerative and why it’s an important practice, especially in terms of pest control.

Nestled on ten acres in the mountains of BC, this family farm has been practicing regenerative cultivation for more than twenty years. Their passions resulted the creation of vital soil environments and closed-loop farming, and it shows. They utilize terraced farming paired with hand-hewn, Walipini-pit greenhouses made from wood salvaged primarily from fallen trees on their property. The carbon footprint of the farm is low; their water system is gravity fed and their micro-hydro systems are powered by silicon-salt batteries. Because they rely on onsite biomass for soil, supplements, and their own sustenance, they grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs alongside their cannabis and raise small animals as sources of fertilizer and healthy protein. The cannabis they grow is hardy, heady, and, as proven under the medical system, good for your health.

The the strength and diversity of their bird, bat, and insect community is essential to the success of their farm and the quality of their bud. Their philosophy is that all insects are beneficial with the right community, which they nurture and enhance with pollinator gardens, bird and bat houses, and a general attitude of “either leave them alone, or help them along.” 

At regenerative farms, balance, not eradication, is the key to maintaining healthy insect populations and discouraging blooms of pathogenic pests. It’s an attitude that’s catching on. This kind of polyculture and maintenance of essential pollinators is possible even in indoor facilities and is a growing trend in regions that tightly regulate the application of pesticides.

That is not to say that their farm–or any other farm or facility, regardless of size–is immune to crop damaging insects. They have faced their share of troublesome pests. In those cases, Dragonfly Earth Medicine takes a simple, low cost, and effective approach to unwanted pests, which can be adapted surprisingly well for indoor and large scale grows. Their solution? Predators and heat, which they have been able to use to successfully treat all of the harmful-to-cannabis strains and species they have encountered on their farm.

It’s no surprise that every insect has its own natural predators, and regenerative cannabis cultivation has capitalized on this, refining the practice of predator introduction to target individual species. In your own grow space, farm, or facility, take the time to investigate the specific pests most likely to become a problem and identify what species act as their natural predators. The timing and size of predator population you will need to introduce will also depend on your particular pest and how prolific it has become.

Heat treatment is the process of raising the temperature of your greenhouse or indoor grow for two to three hours at a time, with the goal of causing the insect equivalent of heat stroke (some growers are also finding similar success using cooling). According to Dragonfly Earth Medicine, heat treatment should be used after the introduction of predators has weakened the population and within the tolerance of your specific strains. The short duration is an important part of the equation, as increased temperatures can lead to mold and fungal blooms. For that reason, it’s also important to carefully balance your humidity if you are using heat treatment in an indoor facility. However, once you dial in that balance, you’ll find that you have a low-labor, chemical-free solution that can address several pests at a time.

If you’re interested in learning more about regenerative pest control or joining the worldwide movement, Dragonfly Earth Medicine organizes a coalition of cannabis farmers and processors through a no-fee, peer-reviewed certification process known as DEM Pure. An overarching goal of this group is to provide on-going education, shared resources, and community to farmers and processors practicing closed-loop, regenerative practices. The customer, though, is the primary focus of the certification. Cultivation and testing standards vary wildly depending on location and regulatory model–just look to neighboring Oregon and California for a great example of this. The DEM Pure certification attempts to set an international standard of practice with transparency to the customer and quality of cannabis at its core. Find out more by visiting dempurfarms.com 

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