Early Frost Hits the Cannabis Harvest in Eastern WA

How Bad Was the Frost?

As any cannabis grower will tell you, 3 weeks can make a huge difference.

The Kush.com crew hit the road this month travelling all around Eastern Washington to see the 2019 outdoor harvest. South in Yakima, Spokane in the east, and to Tonasket in the north. There was one common theme along our trip; everybody growing outdoors seemed to be dealing with the aftermath of a pretty bad frost in early October.

How does this years frost compare historically? According to Washington State University’s ‘Frost Dates Report’, this years frost set some records. The 2019 frost was;

  • 3 weeks earlier than average
  • A full month earlier than in 2018
  • And the earliest frost dating back to 1989 when WSU started keeping data! (look at Prosser in the ‘Frost Dates Report’ for a good example)

Not only did we get an early frost this year, but a deep freeze in higher elevation areas. We talked to farmers that reported temperatures as low as 20 degrees for about 3 nights in a row. The timing couldn’t be worse either. A frost during the first week of October would put most full-term plants in weeks 5-7 of flowering when they’re really packing on weight and potency.

The farms we saw most effected by the frost were planning on growing packagable flower. Some finished with up to 60% loss due to discoloration and issues with mildew / mold. On the other side we visited farms that mitigated frost damage by hiring crews to tarp plants over night. The tarps alone could hold in enough heat from the daytime to avoid a frost, but if not, propane heaters would be paired with fans to blow warm air through the tarped area.

What Happens to Frost Bitten Cannabis?

Just because your flower was hit with a freeze, doesn’t mean it’s a total loss.

Frost bitten cannabis is going to loose its ‘bag friendly’ characteristics. The finished trimmed flower will turn brownish to grey and could even loosen up into a more fluffy flower. THC and terpenes store well in the cold, but don’t expect the plants to keep adding potency or terpenes after the frost has hit. Depending on the strain, frost bitten plants may only test 12-16% THC when most packagable flower needs to test over 18% to get the best wholesale prices.

The key to saving your frost bitten material will come down to mold. Avoid any bud rot or mold, and your flower could still be sold as preroll material or even low end flower.

Effects on the Marketplace

Expect alot of preroll material this winter/spring. Since terpenes and overall potency of the frost flower should be preserved, most farms will try to avoid selling their flower at extraction prices (at first).

Extraction prices could stay high in the short term, but should fall as farms give into the high demand. Flower prices on the other hand could potentially raise in 2020 when cheap packagable flower is harder to find than in years past. Farms that were able to avoid frost damage, and produce flower with good bag appeal should see the best prices in years..

There’s many reasons why prices have gone up in the last year, including a major increase in pesticide testing, canopy under-utilization, and even the legalization of hemp. For a more detailed analysis, check out our recent blog post breaking down the Shortage in Washington State.

Maximizing Profit in the Current Market

Here’s what most farms are doing to maximize their profits this harvest.

– Harvest Early & Dry Fast

It might be too late at this point, but it’s still worth mentioning. The #1 value killer for a frost crop is going to be mold. Once the frost hits, gather up your crew and get those plants drying as quick as possible. The difference between moldy flower and frost bitten flower could be .20 – .40/g if settling for extraction prices!

– Test Your Packagable Flower

Trimmed and tested flower holds the highest price, so it’s a good place to start. This year we’re seeing alot of time being spent on separating out ‘A Buds‘ from ‘B’s & C‘ buds. A ton of flower won’t make it into A’s because of discoloration or smaller bud size, which should drive up the prices for good quality flower.

If there’s less A’s than normal, it would make sense to maximize their value! As of late October untested outdoor flower was selling from .80-.90/g at a good pace, while tested outdoor flower has sold as high as $1.25/g on the marketplace. If a QA costs about $75 per 5lb lot, you’ll only spend about 3 cents per gram to earn an extra .30/g.

The only risk comes with low testing buds. If your A’s were harvested early and may only produce 15% THC you may not see a good return for testing each lot. Take this into consideration, but if you have the time, QA testing should pay for itself.

– Pesticide Test Your Harvest

While we’re on the topic, pesticide testing is still a huge value add.

In the winter of 2018 pesticide awareness reached an all time high while retailers in Washington started to randomly test products. Big brands were called out for having dirty concentrates, and since then, nearly all buyers in Washington have required a clean pesticide test or a product sample before making large purchases.

Again, the test should pay for itself. I recommend running a couple pesticide tests for your entire crop. You can get one test per strain, one test per quality range, or even just one test for the entire harvest! As long as you have a single clean pesticide test from your farm, buyers will feel much more comfortable making big offers.

For a more detailed analysis on the pesticide scares, check out this blog; ‘Pesticides: Is Self Regulation Coming?’

– Patience

2019 flower prices peaked somewhere between May and August for outdoor flower (graph above). Many farms are anticipating a similar tend this year, which means the best time to sell your 2019 harvest could be summer 2020..

For example; the prices for outdoor flower in August of 2018 held around .35/g while in August 2019 they had jumped to averaging around .80/g. More than 2x change in one year!

If anything close to this trend continues into 2020, we could see prices rise to near all time highs for outdoor flower. To take advantage, sell your B’s and extraction material, but consider holding onto some good flower. Take extra care to store the flower in an ideal environment, or nitro seal bags to avoid major aging in the next 6 months. Come next April – July prices for bag ready flower could raise once most of the 2019 outdoor flower is exhausted. Start selling as soon as you need the cash flow, but before the Light Dep harvests come down and level out demand.

Nothing is Trash!

In the past, low grade trim or material heavy in fan leaf has been used for everything from mulch, compost, or even just thrown in the garbage. But this year prices are up.

Ideally you would buck loose fan leaves from the plant by hand, and only be left with those close to flower. From there I’d recommend getting a single pesticide test on the harvest and keep all of your ‘waste’ for extraction material! Even low grade material from a wet trim has sold over .15/g, or about $60/lb.

Space may be the limiting factor with most farms. Drying 300lbs of trim takes up alot of space! But if you can make room, you could easily earn an extra $10K from last years compost material.

For more pricing information on the Kush Marketplace, check out our new Analytics Page. For all your wholesale cannabis needs, just go to Kush.com

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