Cannabis farmers want to be included in wildfire recovery program

Cannabis farmers want to be included in wildfire recovery program

Wildfire smoke could lower the quality of crops or damage it entirely, says farmer.

B.C. cannabis farmers are calling on the provincial government to ensure they receive the same recovery benefits and support as other agriculture sectors affected by wildfires. 

Last week, an organization representing cannabis producers in the province issued a news release saying craft cannabis farmers in wildfire zones should receive the same support as wineries and other agriculture producers.

"Despite the fact that B.C.'s cannabis sector contributes billions of dollars to the B.C. economy, our craft farmers are too often left out of government assistance programs available to other agriculture sectors," said Tara Kirkpatrick, president of the B.C. Craft Farmers Co-op, in a written statement. 

According to the province, B.C.'s cannabis sector contributes over $2 billion each year to local economies throughout the province.

In a statement, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says currently, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch of the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch do not have specific supports in place for cannabis producers or wineries who have been impacted by wildfires.

However, it added that the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation will support businesses that have been affected by wildfires.

Wildfire smoke could damage crops

The co-op says cannabis farmers are at risk of suffering millions of dollars in damages due to wildfires and evacuation orders.

Kayla Mann, a director for the co-op, says cannabis crops require more hands-on attention.

"Tomatoes, things like that, they can usually get on OK," said Mann. "[With cannabis], we need to be in the facility every day or on the field everyday checking to make sure things are are going well."

Mann, who is also the chief financial officer of Habitat Craft Cannabis, says caring for cannabis is a 24-hour job which involves monitoring light, humidity, temperature and nutrient profiles of the plants.

Habitat operates an aquaponics facility in Chase, B.C., growing cannabis and Coho Salmon. Located in the heart of Turtle Valley, it is still under an evacuation alert due to the Adams Lake wildfire in the Shuswap region.

The facility wasn't damaged by fires, but the crops can be damaged in other ways.

"It poses a significant risk of still losing those crops if for example, we don't have automatic lights turning on and off for 12-hour cycles," she explained.

Mann says for those who farm cannabis outdoors, wildfire smoke will lower the quality of the crop or destroy it altogether.

She estimates if some producers lose their entire crops, it could cost them up to a million dollars to rebuild.

Cannabis producers face stigma, says farmer

The co-op doesn't yet know if its members will be excluded from government aid.

However, Mann says cannabis farmers in the province have been excluded before from other benefits available to the agriculture sector, such as grant programs and debt funding.

She says ongoing stigma about the use of cannabis is contributing to this.

"Even banking and things like that have been very difficult just due to I would assume the stigma kind of around cannabis getting legalized," she said.

"At the end of the day ... we're crop farmers and crop tenders like everybody else."

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