How to keep a 5th generation family farm going? Just add cannabis

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It is difficult to make money growing apples. Global competition has brought prices down to just twenty-five cents a pound and unexpected plagues, bad weather or labor shortages can have serious consequences. That’s why Eddie Brennan from Beak and Skiff Orchards near Syracuse, New York, jumped in to get a state-owned one-acre cannabis-growing license when they became available. Cannabis will yield an estimated $500 per pound, which is two thousand times the yield of a pound of apples.

To diversify the family business over the years and generate income beyond the fall harvest, the orchard has a tasting room, apple picking facility, hard cider distillery and series of summer concerts† Cannabis may finally be the piece of the puzzle, Brennan said, giving the family farm the 6. fetchese generation.

Brennan’s company will join a fast-growing marketplace. According to 2022 MJBiz Factbookcannabis retail sales in the US are expected to exceed $33 billion by the end of this year.

Founded in 1911, Beak and Skiff is now run by the founders’ great-great-grandchildren, who tend and harvest an orchard of 300,000 trees. The company is using its cider making experience to build a 15,000 square foot beverage facility dedicated to THC beverages.

Getting into the business quickly will give the company “a first-mover advantage,” Brennan said.

The burgeoning THC beverage industry

The company will face “headwinds and tailwinds” in the cannabis drink business, said Mitch Baruchowitz, co-founder and managing partner of industrial investor Merida Capital Holdings† “There is a model for success” that propels the category he said because “people are already using beverages as a social lubricant.” In addition, beverages have an advantage over the popular format of smokable flowers, Baruchowitz said. “Drinks can be accurately dosed,” so consumers know exactly how much THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, they’re getting, he said.

Still, there are challenges, Baruchowitz added. There are no rules for consumption lounges, so there is no public place to drink socially, and pharmacies may not have coolers, so retail infrastructure has to be created to sell cold drinks.

A separate piece

in 2021, New York state legalizes cannabis and in May of this year, Brennan’s company was one of 100 growers to receive a permit to grow one hectare of cannabis. The family chose to incorporate as Gen 5 Labs and Gen 5 Grow, separating their cannabis business from the apple business. The crop is also grown on a separate site. “We don’t want to run into federal issues mixing the two companies,” Brennan said, because cannabis is illegal at the federal level.

Cannabis grows quickly and matures into a harvestable flower in eight weeks. Brennan said the company put its first crop in the ground in the first week of June, so there is a chance to get two crops off the plot this year. He hopes to get fifteen hundred pounds or more of cannabis from the acre per grow cycle.

Brennan grows “extraction grade” cannabis. That means it has been bred to contain the highest possible level of THC, which in turn can be used in making edibles and beverages. Producing cannabis flower in the format that is dried so that people can smoke “is more challenging” in the high humidity of the northeastern summer, Brennan said.

Market still under construction

New York state aims to open its first stores by the end of 2022, but “not all the pieces of the puzzle are in place,” Brennan said, and rules need to be put in place. For example, he said no packaging regulations have been set and ideally “we have to source materials in the coming weeks, but we can’t”, until the final rules are known.

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