Summer 2023 marked Canada’s worst ever wildfire season, which has already burned over 10 million hectares of land and displaced thousands of Canadians. As almost every province and territory in the country dealt with forest fires, concerns have risen in in the agriculture industry ranging from the health and safety of their employees to the potential destruction of their facilities and impacts on crops.
Amidst raging wildfires, outdoor cannabis cultivators also have to grapple with a series of challenges that cast a shadow over their operations. The pervasive smoke generated by these fires has far-reaching effects on cannabis plants, ranging from delayed harvest to potential crop damage. When smoke blocks out sunlight, it can setback growth of outdoor crops by weeks. If crops are set-back, cultivators may have to wait to harvest them, pushing further into October, which can risk running into colder weather. Additionally, wildfire season tends to arrive when outdoor cannabis is in its flowering cycle, which is the most vulnerable time for contamination. Resinous flowers exposed to smoke from wildfires may be coated with dangerous toxins and foreign materials from burning man-made structures. While indoor crops are seemingly shielded from wildfires, they are not entirely immune from its impacts. If a facility is located in an evacuation zone, growers may need to leave plants unattended for an extended period of time. Even if a facility has automated systems, a power outage caused by wildfire can be detrimental to lighting and climate control systems.
Outdoor cannabis operations tend to have higher yields than indoor operations due to having access to more land. In 2020, Aleafia Farms, located in Port Perry, Ontario, harvested 6,000 kg per acre at its 6 acre outdoor facility. Additionally in 2020, SpeakEasy, a 60-acre cannabis farm located in Rock Creek, BC, produced nearly 70,000 kgs of total cannabis product, one of the largest harvests in Canadian history. A typical yield for outdoor cannabis farmers is 600-700 grams per plant. However, some growers may be able to achieve higher yields, while others may experience lower yields due to factors such as weather patterns and the presence of pests, or disease. Due to the excessive smoke across Canada, outdoor cultivators may face not only slower growth rates but smaller yields. CCX estimates that 30 outdoor cannabis farms were affected by the impacts of wildfires and smoke, which could result in a decreased yield come harvest in October.