As cannabis production slowly emerges from the shadows of the black market, the industry faces a unique challenge: How to safely and effectively protect their crops from pests and diseases. It’s an old problem with a new twist. While growers in the ornamental and agricultural sectors have been eliminating tricky pests since the beginning, cannabis growers must now find solutions that fit within various state regulations without the overarching guidance of the federal government and its agencies.
Integrated Pest Management, Green Solutions Hold The Answers
Thankfully, for every snake oil salesman who pushes an untested product he crafted in his kitchen, there’s an industry expert who wants to help bring legitimacy to the craft. One of those people is Matthew Mills, President and Chief Operating Officer of Med-X, the company behind Nature-Cide All Purpose Insecticide. He sees a clear path forward for cultivators and crop protection companies.
“Integrated pest management [IPM] is the way of the future for all of pest control, not just for medical and recreational cannabis,” Mills says, noting that many California state agencies and environmental entities are pushing everyone to look for green solutions. Nature-Cide, for example, works by penetrating the insect’s exoskeleton and uses clove and cottonseed essential oils to cause a neurological disorder and immediately kill on contact. The product is approved by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for cannabis cultivation in the state, but it has also been tested on bed bugs and other pests in the hospitality and agriculture industries.
“I wanted to make sure that before we put our product on the market, we had the education to say it does what we say it does,” Mill says, explaining that the company focuses on research and development before introducing products to the market. “Compliance is key right now. Compliant products are going to be the winners.”
State Or Federal: Who Makes The Call?
The State Departments of Agriculture hope Mills is right. In places where recreational cannabis is legal (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska), these agencies work to stay up-to-date with the latest information and products. Erik W. Johansen, policy assistant for the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Registration and Licensing Services Program, says he works closely with contacts in the other three states to ensure similar guidelines and help eliminate confusion, but he envisions working with them even more in the future.
In Washington, for example, the process is relatively simple. The state has a list of criteria that informs whether a pesticide can be used for the production of cannabis. This list includes statements like “EPA and WSDA registration is required prior to distribution of the pesticide.” The agency also has a list of actual products that growers can use. While the list of criteria is updated as needed, the list of products is updated several times per year, unless something needs to be removed immediately. Still, the process is far from seamless.
“There’s obviously a big disconnect between federal government and the states, and EPA will tell you they haven’t assessed pesticides for cannabis,” Johansen says. “This puts the states in the position of figuring out what’s legal, and that will continue to evolve.”
Suzanne Wainwright-Evans, the horticultural and entomological expert behind Buglady Consulting, also sees this disconnect between the states and the federal government as a huge issue that perpetuates a host of pesticide-related myths.
“The cannabis industry is really suffering,” she says, explaining that some people use EPA-exempt minimum-risk pesticides to concoct their own untested products. Because these pesticides don’t need to be registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, many are untested and could potentially cause toxicity problems or impact the crop’s growth and yield.
When starting any sort of pest management program, Wainwright-Evans says growers need to know what’s been previously sprayed on the plant because it might influence what the grower can use in the future. Growers then need to properly identify the pest before selecting a parasite, predator, or product to eliminate the problem.
Wainwright-Evans also says the best way for growers to succeed would be for the U.S. to follow Canada’s lead and register pesticides for use on cannabis. Once the federal government gets onboard, the universities will legally be able to begin testing products to find the safest, most effective options