Okanogan County marijuana industry thrives

Omak farmer reports strong crop

Marijuana at Green Acres farm near Omak awaits harvest.

Submitted photo
Marijuana at Green Acres farm near Omak awaits harvest.

OMAK — Jeff Newton of Green Acres farm reported bringing in a good crop of marijuana during the 2018 growing season.

“We had a good year. The product turned out very good, and my grower who supervises all the processes and routines didn’t have any problems,” said Newton. “We light-depped and the product was all ready before the fall weather.”

Light deprivation, which brings the crop to fruition sooner, is commonly done by pulling black-out plastic over the top of greenhouses to initiate the flowering stage.

Newton said he started doing light deprivation his first year growing in Omak, 2016, when fall came early with the first freeze Oct. 7, followed by “non-stop rain.”

“A lot of people just put it out and hope for the best,” said Newton. “Light deprivation is a lot more labor. Crews go out at 3 a.m. to put the tarps on, then they come off in the morning.”

Newton said he wasn’t affected by last year’s flooding, but fires came close.

“Green Acres is pretty high and dry and we didn’t have any problem, but a fire started by a lightning strike near Greenacres Road, burning over thirty acres. It came up to the top of the ridge behind the farm, but thankfully the helicopters put it out,” said Newton.

Another challenge for local growers is russet mites. Aceria anthocoptes are some of the most damaging and difficult to control pests for marijuana and hemp growers.

“Two years ago, there was a big problem with russet mites for many farmers in the area. Nobody realized they were in the area until late in the season, but I think everyone got that under control,” said Newton. “They’re bad because you can’t see them with the naked eye. It looks like the plant has a nutritional deficiency. They sap the THC out of the flower. You might have some beautiful flowers, but you look close and there’s no THC on them.”

Newton said having healthy plants is the biggest protection against the mites.

“The first year, it was pretty much too late, but the second year we used neem oil. This last year wasn’t a problem. My grower, Chance, keeps the plants healthy with the organic nutrients that he uses and teas that he brews up to use on them,” said Newton. “Anybody that grows naturally or organically usually uses a tea that they brew. I was very happily surprised we didn’t have predator concerns this year.”

Growing on two farms, each one acre in size at Green Acres, Newton said he usually tries to grow 10 different strains.

“We might have a few more at any time, testing them out, but for production we try to stay at 10 strains. That way if stores find a strain that is selling well, they don’t run out. If you have just small amounts of any strains, it’s much more difficult to market,” said Newton.

Licensed as both a producer and a processor, Newton said most of his product is sold to stores, and he supplies over thirty stores “all up and down the west side.”

“Our biggest presence is on the west side, from Bellevue to Vancouver, with a big presence on Capitol Hill at Ruckus, a 502 recreational store,” said Newton. “I have a sales team on the west side. We produce our own and also buy other people’s product. We sell lots of strains, and we are very aggressive on our pricing. With a big client list and a big store base, we move a lot of product.”

Newton said sales to the Sage Shop in Omak make up less than five percent of their total production. He said he recently began selling to the House of Cannabis in Tonasket, and the Carlton House of Cannabis.

He and his partners sell under the Heritage Cannabis brand.

Newton said strains he specializes in include DJ Short Blueberry, a cross of three indicas.

“The blueberry is delicious, it smells like blue berries. Another popular one is the Sour Tsunami, a CBD strain. We are able to sell all of that, that we have, off to processors. They love it,” said Newton. “It varies year to year, but last year the THC levels (in the Sour Tsunami) were below .5 and the CBDs were up to between 11 and 14 percent.”

Indicas, a short, stout plant commonly higher in CBDs and lower in THC, are favored by

people seeking pain relief or a more sedating effect than that produced by the tall, lanky sativas, favored by people looking for a more energizing and cerebral high. Strains called “hybrids” are a combination of Indica and Sativa.

Newton said it has been a learning curve, discovering which plants do best in this environment.

“To do the production on a large scale, we have between 3,000 to 4,000 plants on the two farms at Green Acres,” said Newton. “It’s trial and error to see what plants are going to do well in this area, where it’s pretty arid with an early winter. Sativas like to grow early and tall, so if you try to cover them at night, that’s kinda the problem.”

Newton is in the process of buying another farm in Tonasket. He currently employs five people full-time, year-round and hires temporary workers for planting and harvest.

“One of the main problems in the area is getting enough good people at harvest time, because everybody needs them at the same time,” said Newton.

Newton said prices have dropped from the earlier days of marijuana selling wholesale for between $10-$15 per gram and retailing at between $45 to $50 per gram.

Newton is one of several producers providing product for the Sage Shop in Omak.

“We work with a lot of farms locally in the county,” said owner Montana Dutton. “It is a good industry for our community. It creates a lot of legitimate jobs and tax revenue.”

Dutton opened her store in May of 2015. She moved to a new location, 309 N. Main Street, last May, where she employs nine people.

Dutton said business had “definitely increased” over the years.

“At first I think people were a little skeptical, it being illegal for so long made them a little gun-shy,” said Dutton. “It took some time for people to be comfortable showing identification. Then people started seeing the benefits, and that there were no risks in purchasing legal marijuana. Now it’s more like buying alcohol, just showing your ID to show you are of a legal buying age.”

Dutton said another element to increased business is lower prices.

“Prices started coming down so low that the black market no longer made sense,” said Dutton. “You can buy an ounce for $50 at the store, and half of that is sales and excise tax.”


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