Male hemp crops are cross-pollinating outdoor marijuana grows in Pueblo, and farmers are freaking out

Male hemp crops are cross-pollinating outdoor marijuana grows in Pueblo, and farmers are freaking out

It’s a cock in a hen-house situation

VicesNovember 19, 2019 By Will Brendza

In Pueblo, Colorado cannabis and hemp farmers are struggling to keep their plants from impregnating each other’s fields. It’s a sticky sexual situation that could cost some of them tens of thousands of dollars in product, even though there’s a clear solution.

For context, though, let’s talk about cannabis plants and cross-pollination for a second. Because without a little background, this biological pot plant issue can be a confusing one.

To start off: the only cannabis plants you can actually get high off of are females. Flower comes from female plants, which is why it’s so important for cannabis farmers to make sure that their plants don’t mutate into a male or get cross-pollinated by one. Once their plants are impregnated with the pollen-sperm of a male plant, they get really seedy and start producing smaller crappier flower buds. Essentially, it ruins the crop and costs the farmer a lot of time and money.

Hemp on the other hand, doesn’t need to produce flower buds, because people don’t use it to get high — it’s used for making CBD, fabrics, paper, building materials and body care products. So, hemp farmers don’t technically need to worry about whether they’re using male plants or female plants.

Scientifically speaking, the difference between hemp and marijuana really comes down to THC content: hemp has less than .3-percent THC and marijuana has more than .3-percent. Aside from that though, there isn’t much to genetically differentiate them: they are two species of the same genus.

Which is why they can cross-pollinate one another. And you don’t need a whole field of male plants to cross-pollinate another field full of female marijuana plants — all it takes a is one frisky male, even miles away and it can ruin a cannabis farmer’s crop. It’s like having a cock in a hen house.

And that’s exactly the problem in Pueblo (and in Washington, Oregon and parts of California), right now.

Pueblo has more outdoor grows than any other part of the state, and produces a large portion of Colorado’s cannabis. There’s a lot of space down there and land isn’t crazy-expensive — which has drawn hemp farmers as well as marijuana farmers. Now, with so many farms and grow operations working in such close proximity to one another, a serious cross-pollination event could be devastating, for both farmers and the state’s weed supply.

That hasn’t happened yet, but without some serious planning and regulations it’s a matter of when, not if.

That’s why, Pueblo’s hemp farmers have been asked to put their “best effort forward to not grow male plants” and to only use cloned plants to ensure that they are female.  On top of that, hemp and cannabis farmers are both being advised to buy seeds only from legit, reliable sources. If someone buys cheap seeds and plants them only to discover they aren’t all feminized, they’ve just jeopardized every marijuana crop in the area.  

And that is serious. It’s doesn’t just put the livelihood of other farmers on the line, it doesn’t just put Colorado’s flower supply at risk, but it also compromises the economy of the region. Marijuana farms have been a huge economic boon for rural areas in southern Colorado. When they start hurting, so does the economy they support.

It’s a delicate situation. One that could be mitigated with some forward-thinking policy. Washington state used to require a 4-mile buffer zone between outdoor hemp and marijuana farms, to prevent cross-pollination. Sadly, their governor recently signed a bill that killed that buffer zone, and now marijuana farmers throughout Washington are suffering the consequences.

“We took a big hit,” Robert Morf, the owner and operator of Cheshire Creek outdoor marijuana cultivation in Waterville, Washington, told Marijuana Business Daily. His 600-plant grow was cross pollinated by hemp farmers, and he’s looking at a $40,000 loss because of it.

If there had still been a buffer zone law to protect him, it’s very unlikely that would’ve happened.

Another solution could be to require all hemp farmers to use cloned plants. That way, only female genes would be replicated, and the chances of cross-pollination would be significantly reduced.

There are solutions for this problem. But without some kind of legal precedent to enforce them, many of Pueblo’s outdoor marijuana farmers are relying on faith and good-will that their neighbors don’t screw the pooch and cross-pollinate their pot.

And that is not enough to protect their livlihood.