Longtime friends pitching in for the long haul buoy cannabis growers like Derek Wright through the hectic harvest season.
“The cannabis industry has been great to me,” says Wright, adding that he’s made some “really good, personal friends out of the deal.”
Harvest commenced the first day of October at Wright’s Primo Farms, a remote tract near Southern Oregon’s Rogue River. After a month of 10- to 14-hour days in the field and warehouse, the final goal was in sight, although still weeks from being realized. With about a quarter of Primo’s plants “in the bag,” the remaining three-quarters had been hung to dry.
“We had a big section of plants that were done,” says Wright, explaining that weather and cannabis strain, along with a few other, minor factors determine harvest’s onset.
“Everybody rushes in and goes for it,” he says. “As you get closer to the end, the mood kind of lightens again.”
The anticipated release of several new strains helps to alleviate some of harvest season’s strain. Sockeye was named by Wright’s farm manager, an avid fisherman. Avalanche is expected to trigger a wave of demand. But Wright’s personal favorite, a “really, really stinky strain,” has a play on words as its moniker, along with a pungent odor.
“We’re pretty excited to have a strain called Captain Kush that we bred years ago,” says Wright. “You can smell the plant over the top of other plants.”
About 25 percent of Wright’s acreage was planted in Captain Kush while other strains were in much smaller parcels. The majority will be sold as flower or made by Primo into pre-rolls, which Wright has done since Oregon’s recreational market opened two years ago.
Wright, 37, cultivated his passion for cannabis over 15 years of growing for the medical market. He recalls how a neighbor’s battle with cancer, eased by cannabis, inspired him. Skin and bones, seemingly clinging to life, the man started using medical marijuana that Wright had grown for him that season. The regimen led to weight again, improved appearance and increased strength, enough that the man could continue his formal treatment program. His life was extended another six years and, more importantly, his quality of life seemed to significantly improve after using cannabis, says Wright.
Upholding his crew’s quality of life throughout the harvest also is a responsibility that Wright takes seriously. Some harvest-season workers leave other jobs for a couple of months, traveling from outside the region, to join the effort. Music, a companionable mood to lighten the mental load and “keeping your workers onsite with good food” are key motivators, says Wright.
“Every day, after a long, hard day, everybody gets together and eats really good meals,” he says. “We do a lot of lasagnas, a lot of pizzas — high-carb food.
“That’s a big part of it is feeding people.”
Feeding the demand for cannabis amid falling prices isn’t only a matter of grams per square foot, says Wright. This season’s quantity, quality and timing all play into the equation, he says. Those aspects align with Primo’s industry reputation.
Engineered by nature, his plants get the best care, sunlight, climate, water, soil and rich nutrients, so users get the best quality, says Wright. A Southern Oregon native, Wright knows the subtleties of the region’s climate and geology. Outdoor product is a selling point with customers who value the inimitable energy from direct, natural sunlight, as well as fresh air and clean rainwater, none of which can be replicated indoors, says Wright, adding that many people can tell the difference.
That difference is evidenced by brand loyalty, which Wright says he believes customers are developing. As investors move in to buy up cannabis interests, Primo plans to stand strong as a local, top-shelf farm, taking pride in every harvest, says Wright. With no outside investors, Wright owns his property and is Primo’s sole proprietor. Consequently, he can run his operation a lot more efficiently than competitors.
“There’s a lot more to it than people think,” he says. “We’ll adapt to the market wherever it is.
“You got to adapt and overcome.”
It isn’t the first time Wright has weathered a drop after industry speculation soared. A previous career in real estate, its bubble burst about a decade ago, prepared him for the remarkably similar cannabis bubble, says Wright. His brother, an architectural engineer who owns a wellness retreat in the Caribbean for corporate clients, initially guided Wright through the twists and turns of running a business.
“For the last year and a half, I’ve had the training wheels off.”
Often on the road, between meetings and negotiating new deals around the state, Wright says he still loves getting his hands dirty, particularly during critical points in the season. Taking a week to nine days, cannabis harvest entails cutting down the whole plant, hanging it upside down and weighing it. With documentation required at every step in the process, cannabis plants are cut apart and waste is separated from flower; each portion is weighed. After drying, cannabis flower is weighed again before trimming, then weighed yet again.
“There’s a lot more going on that meets the eye with documentation,” says Wright. “Verbiage is tricky to understand.”
Understanding constantly changing regulations in a competitive market is just one point upon which Wright prides himself. He says he takes follow-through seriously and prioritizes fair business practices, although the federal government doesn’t give cannabis the same privileges as other enterprises that foster a sense of security in investments.
Operating a cash business in an online-payment world, Wright says he does his best to stay creative and open-minded. Bringing in a healthy harvest provides validation and “some closure,” says Wright, to another year of staying one step ahead of the cannabis curve.
“It’s not over until it’s over.”