A Q&A with Cody White and Justin Moore of Willamette Valley Growers
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? Sowing, planting, or harvesting by hand?
In 2017 Cody White chopped a late hemp crop in Aurora, Oregon. That is what first sparked his interest in the crop. Then in 2018 Justin and Cody, knowing each other for many years, decided to grow a crop together. They wanted to grow 5 acres but settled on 26. Everyone in the industry told them to hang dry their crop in a barn, so that's what they did. They hang dried and hand stripped their first round of plants. It was miserable, and they vowed never to do it again, and since then they have been working on ways to make all parts of the process faster and more efficient.
Justin had no cannabis production background, but as an electrical contractor he did all the wiring for Seth and Eric's facilities as they grew over the last five years. But, he did grow a vegetable garden once a few years ago! LOL!
Cody had never cultivated cannabis but had experience in vegetable seed production and grew up on a family farm raising corn, grass, and beef cattle. His family also had a trucking and custom harvesting company.
Willamette Valley Growers have a few partner farms around the state, correct? How much have you guys expanded? How many acres are you guys doing this year? Strains?
Yes, we have assembled a great team of quality farmers. We work with farmers from Hermiston and Madras to the Willamette Valley totaling around 1500 acres. We are running only Oregon CBD genetics: Lifter, Hawaiian Haze, RNA Auto Flower, and three strains of CBG.
We plan to harvest around 5000 acres this year using our 4 forage harvesters and 3 high density balers.
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?
Using a combine to strip material was the best thing we did last year. Second was a forage harvester. It allowed us to harvest lots of acres fast, so we wouldn't lose it to the weather.
What areas do you see where there is still room for technological improvement?
This industry is so young I see room everywhere for technological advancement. Right now, all we can do is convert old farming practices over to make our job easier.
Fighting nature, fixing tractors, or finding staff: Do you struggle more with environmental, mechanical, or personnel related issues at your farms?
Fighting weeds is the hardest part of what we do now. The rest can be reasonably planned for.
I know you guys are a family farm; what part do your families play in day to day operations?
Cody's dad is still running his family's trucking company and harvest company, and without that, scaling this fast would be very difficult. Justin's wife Kim is doing a ton of things daily, from keeping plants alive to running crews. Justin's kids and Cody's wife help anywhere they can. It really is a family operation.
Any good stories of struggles you’ve overcome in your years in the industry?
We didn't pre-irrigate our first crop long enough and almost lost 20% of our crop. Spent a week of days and nights saving them!
Hand harvest, hanging, drying, and bucking! UGH!!!!!!!!
Lots of different personalities to deal with.
I know you guys are taking the extra steps to check your plants for herms, what is your process this year?
Rogue early, rogue often, and keep roguing.
What are your favorite strains to grow? Do you have a part in the process after the flower leaves the farm?
Anything Oregon CBD puts out!
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?
We just wonder what rules the Feds are going to pass down and states trying to anticipate and make rules based on what they feel the Feds will do. Mainly on total THC vs delta 9.
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?
Think like a farmer. Treat it like a crop. Be careful of tolling agreements because a lot of people over promise and under deliver. Develop relationships and vet people you might do business with. Nothing leaves your possession without wire transfer or cashier’s check. Be careful who you take advice from, because 95% of it is bad.
Use quality feminized seed with proven genetics. $1 a seed seems like a lot, but we would gladly pay $5 a seed, and still be profitable.
Make sure you are getting your males/herms out. Spend time in your field. Open pollination not only produces poor seeds but hurts all your neighbors. Then they peddle this terrible seed to farmers that may not know better, perpetuating the problem. Oregon has a chance to be the best cannabis production region on the planet, if we can make it so.
And finally, if there are any people that you’d like to recognize from WVG or the industry in general that have helped get the company to where it is now……..
First and foremost, our third partner Kim Tastic! Justin's wife who is in the field all day, but also in the office evenings making sure we get it all done! Claude White for helping us expand at this rate. Margaret White for dealing with Cody. Justin and Kim's kids who spend their entire summer working on our farm. Keith Moore, Justin's brother, for taking over the electrical side, allowing Justin to focus on the farm.
Entire crew at Oregon CBD, Seth and Eric, couldn't do it without them.