Why I Turned Down a High-Paying Offer to Grow Cannabis (More Than Once)

Kelly Vance, Beneficial Insectary
Kelly Vance, Beneficial Insectary

While working as a grower for Fessler Nursery in Woodburn, OR, I became a firm believer in the efficacy of biocontrols when I was finally able to obtain control of thrips in our annuals production. I took every chance I could to expand my knowledge and my program. I worked hard to make this transition by participating in bio classes with the local Extension office, and hosting tours and workshops at our nursery for other growers to attend and learn.

After many years as a grower and manager of integrated pest control, I took my passion for biocontrol and left Fessler last year to take a consulting position for Beneficial Insectary in Redding, CA.
In my new role at Beneficial Insectary, I quickly found our service overlaps with agriculture, horticulture, and the emerging cannabis industry. I realized cannabis was somewhat of a gray area for me, despite my background in ornamental production and having a knowledge of traditional ag practices.

I began taking classes in the methods used in cannabis production and talked with growers at cannabis conferences and trade shows. What I discovered is the need amongst investors and owners for experienced growers. As cannabis expands and solidifies as a legitimate industry, investors likewise look at enlarging their operations by adding locations and employing dedicated crews for each.

Three weeks into working with my first cannabis grower, he asked me the question I’ve heard many times since: Have you ever considered getting back into growing? It’s interesting because I didn’t leave the nursery with the intention of ever growing another plant (commercially at least) for anyone. My love for biological control agents (BCAs) and a desire to turn other growers on to biocontrol was the motivation for my move. While I had no intention of straying from the job I worked so hard to obtain, I couldn’t help but ask the inevitable question. What’s the pay like?

I wasn’t prepared for the number thrown back to me. I knew there was money in cannabis, but I was slightly floored to find out what an experienced grower can fetch. Kindly explaining that I was flattered but very happy with my position, I left wondering what this could mean for young growers emerging in horticulture.

Younger growers show an interest in organic growing, biological pest and disease management, and sustainability. I was lucky enough to work for a company where my creativity was encouraged. Most ideas I brought to the owners to expand my biocontrol program were met with support (with a few pipe-dream exceptions). The support I received from my employer allowed me to expand my knowledge and find ways to make BCAs work in what previously seemed like unfavorable conditions.

Recently, two cannabis growers approached me at a conference where I made a presentation. After a few preliminary questions about bugs, the same question came up about my thoughts on becoming a grower again. I kindly said no thanks. I have had time since the last offer to roll it around in my head and form some thoughts on the subject.

Cultivate Young Growers’ Interests in Sustainable Growing

Biocontrol took my interest far more than any other aspect of being a grower. I was on a path to work in this field one way or the other. I love that our services cross the overlap of agriculture, horticulture, and cannabis. I get to work with growers from each of these fields, working in a broad spectrum of grow spaces and environments. I developed a love for biocontrol by having the encouragement of my employer to explore this field. Of course, it ultimately led to me leaving the company, but not everyone wants to do what I do. Many young growers have passion for all aspects of organic and sustainable growing.

Nutrition, pest management, soil amendments, and more are all interests that can be fed in a horticultural setting, as well as in the cannabis industry. It’s important for owners to recognize this new perspective on growing and nurture it through adopting sustainable practices in their production, or they may risk losing young talent to an industry forced to grow cleaner due to heavier chemical restrictions. Biocontrol is not a new trend that will fade away. For many, it’s a new way of looking at pest management. Cannabis growers are backed into a corner and almost forced to use BCAs. If young growers have passion for using biocontrol, it will take them where their interest is most advantageous.

My decision was not based on any moral, ethical, or legal concerns. Regardless of your stance on cannabis, the people have spoken in many states. If there is a demand, there will be a supply. Helping make sure those law-abiding citizens are getting the cleanest and safest product is my favorite part of my job — whether it’s cannabis or geraniums.

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