The evolution of farming with Daniel Brooker, Brooker Farms
Tell me a little bit about your first year growing hemp: year, location, acres, processes, etc. Had you worked with cannabis or as a farmer prior?
Our first year was in 2017, and it was a total failure. We decided to grow a 40' X 40' test plot on our 28-acre farm to see if hemp farming was something we could do. I had no experience with cannabis, none. I had no experience farming and became a farmer only because my wife liked the house and we bought the farm. I had no stomach for risk and farming cannabis, although industrial hemp scared me to death. What could go wrong? The only thing that kept me going was seeing firsthand how CBD helped my son, and going through all the motions that first year was instrumental.
How many acres do you oversee now? How much has Brooker Farms grown since the beginning?
We just successfully planted 18.5 acres here at our farm. Last year we very successfully grew 10 acres. If this year goes as well we have more expansion plans.
What are some of your favorite technological advancements in farming you’ve seen since you first started in the industry? Have you guys development any processes you consider pioneering and don’t mind sharing?
Can't say that we are breaking any new ground technologically with farming. But we have been able to borrow from existing farming tech. The biggest advantage I see is our ability to field dry and combine our biomass. Due to our location and dry climate, we don't have mold issues and are able to use this technique. It allows us to scale our operation. That first year we helped other farms barn dry their hemp and the labor involved with that was excessive.
What areas do you see where there is still room for technological improvement?
The main area where I see room for improvement is male detection technology with drones, and gentler mechanized drying and harvesting. The labor involved with walking fields to detect males is very intensive and not something practical on a large commercial scale, in my opinion. Although combining is fantastic from a labor standpoint, it does remove a fair amount of trichomes that just blow away in the wind. It is also not as practical in locations where field drying is not an option.
Fighting nature, fixing tractors, or finding staff: Do you struggle more with environmental, mechanical, or personnel related issues at your farms?
All of the above. If I had to pick one, I'd say people. You are only as good as the people you have around you. Relationships matter and the right people make all the difference. We've been blessed with amazing people at our farm. Machines break, that's expected. Nature never gives you a break, also expected. But trying to find and vet good buyers and labs to work with is the biggest hurdle in this business by far. If you have that, consider yourself blessed.
Any good stories of struggles you’ve overcome in your years in the industry? Looks like you had a tough first year....
Yes, our first year in 2017 was a total failure. My brother-in-law had started a CBD oil business and told me we should grow hemp on my farm and that he could supply the seeds. He had been gathering seeds from the hemp flowers he had been buying for extraction. Which I now know was a bad idea. So, we fired up the tractor and made a bunch of rows with my ditching plow and decided to flood for irrigation. We planted paper towel sprouted seeds into the soil on August 2 in rows and marked them with plastic spoons so we would know if they grew or not. When the first sprouts emerged it was super exciting.
By September 9 we spotted the first males. We ended up pulling over half the plants up because they were males. They were about 1 to 2 ft tall and starting to flower because of the really late planting. I called the ODA sampler for our testing and said: "Our grow is really small and late, I hope you don't laugh." He said, "Don't worry, I've seen some really bad grows." When he arrived and saw it he said: "You were right, this is the worst grow I've ever seen." It felt like he took half the crop when we took his samples for testing. I didn't have high hopes for this test plot, but I thought we would at least harvest enough for my brother's oil business to use. That wasn't the case. I actually still have the crop harvest, if you can call it that. Let's just say my shoes take up more space. We learned from our failure. Especially that you have to have the right seeds. After that, we met Eric and Seth at Oregon CBD and everything started to come together. We helped other farms with their harvests that fall and assembled a very capable team of farmers for the next season and did really well the following year in 2018.
What are your favorite strains to grow?
Lifter is hands down our favorite. It has outperformed the other strains we have grown by a long shot. It had the best CBD:THC ratio (lower THC), and the highest yield per plant.
Do you grow for cut flower, full spectrum, distillate, or a mix?
We did a little of both. Most of our material is field dried and combined. We've had great feedback on the material from the processing labs. They are very happy with the consistency and high yields they get. We did as much cut flower as we could manage last year. We are likely to do about the same amount this year as well. Flower is the easiest to sell for sure. The labor and space required are the bottlenecks on scaling that part of the business.
Are there any cannabinoids you are excited about growing in the future?
We are very excited about growing CBG and other novel genetics we can get from Oregon CBD in the future. As Big Agriculture ramps up for CBD production, this is where we feel the future is for smaller boutique industrial hemp farms like ours. Having key relationships with leaders in the field like Oregon CBD is priceless. We are very grateful to be a part of that family.
On the regulation side, do you see the greatest threats coming from the Feds or the states themselves? Any particular threats you see on the horizon?
My biggest concern is the FDA's stance on CBD and other cannabinoids going forward. It really comes down to their jurisdiction at this point as more and more products come on the market as dietary supplements and food. The future volume needed to sustain this industry is really in their hands. Everything we can do collectively to direct politicians in the right direction will determine our future as farmers. This is a God-given plant for our healing. Not something that should be in the hands of big pharma only. FDA oversight and clear regulation is welcome and needed for hemp products and derivatives in food and supplements. I just hope they come down on the side of the people, and not the side of the special interests. We will see.
Do you have any advice for anyone entering the industry? What direction would you steer aspiring farmers? Where do you think the industry is headed?
Get the right seeds. Get them as soon as you can, don't wait. We've seen so many farms fail, including our own, because of bad seeds. Be careful who you trust. LOI's and contracts are only as good as the people who sign them. We've kept things simple and do business just like any other business would in any other industry. Also, as soon as a buyer says they need 1 million pounds, hang up. That's a joker.
And finally, if there are any people that you’d like to recognize from Brooker Farms or the industry in general that have helped get the company to where it is now...
Seth and Eric Crawford at Oregon CBD have been a key part of our success. Matt and Judita at City and Sea Trading, whose full spectrum CBD and turmeric oil helped our son, and who inspired us to farm hemp in the first place. We are also grateful to all the amazing people who have helped make our farm a success. The one and only Jardon. And we are forever thankful to God for the sun, the rain, and the grit to be hemp farmers.
Daniel J. Brooker
Brooker Farms, LLC