How One Company Found Success In Cannabis By Trading Pesticides For Bugs

This article was originally published on WeedWeek, and appears here with permission.

Three years ago, Hans Brand had his “eyes opened” to an issue that would change his family and his company.

Brand is a co-owner of Autumn Brands, a cannabis grower in Santa Barbara County Calif. As Autumn Brands transitioned from a nonprofit MED collective into the state’s newly legal REC market, Hans said he was issued a challenge to stop using pesticides – even those billed as “organic” – on his crop.

The person pointed out that some pesticides had been deemed safe for use on edible crops, like vegetables, but that not much information was available on the effects of burning and inhaling those same chemicals.

“We started thinking, ‘We don’t want to make people sick; we want to make people better,’” Hans said. “We create a product for people and they’ve got to be able to rely on us that it’s safe to use.”

With that in mind, the company, which is owned by Hans, his son Johnny Brand, his daughter Hanna Brand and Autumn Shelton, a longtime colleague and friend of the family, instituted some new practices that are now its lifeblood.

Autumn Brands is among a minority of operators its size that uses no heavy machinery in its four acres of greenhouses and also uses no pesticides, whether classified as organic or not. Having all the trimming and other cultivation tasks performed by hand improves quality control, said the owners, who turn to so-called “beneficial” bugs to handle pests.

Those farming practices can negatively affect the company’s bottom line, as its crops are more susceptible to damage from pests and its insect treatments are more expensive than chemical pesticides. Still, the owners say they’re fine with taking some losses if it means they can also protect the health of their customers and the environment.

“If we have a problem, either it’s going to be fixed by nature or the plant is not going to make it to market because we have to throw it away,” Hans said. “That happens sometimes. That’s part of the commitment to being pesticide-free. It does not always work. It’s not the highest yielding crop in the world, but that’s OK because you do have the best quality product in the world, in my mind.”

Photo by Willis Jacobson
Hanna Brand, left, and Autumn Shelton stand in one of the Autumn Brands greenhouses in Carpinteria, Calif.

Looking ahead

Autumn Brands, which started as a nonprofit MED collective five years ago, has experienced tremendous growth over the past year. The company has seen its market share rise significantly and its products – jarred flower, pre-roll packs and vape cartridges – are now available in more than …

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