Southern Oregon has become a hotbed of cannabis farms, and the new growers are butting heads with those who grow food.
That’s why a network of food producers have paired up with Southern Oregon University to research the cannabis industry’s effects on the Rogue Valley food system.
SOU professor and environmental scientist Vincent Smith is leading the research. He says the main point of the study is to gather objective information, not to smear the cannabis industry.
"We're not looking at negative impacts of the cannabis industry," he said. "In fact, the cannabis industry is undoubtedly having positive impacts on the economy."
He says the Rogue Valley Food System Network does not plan to pursue any policy initiatives, largely because it is made up of a diverse group of people with different policy goals.
Smith has finished gathering qualitative information for the study after speaking to key players in the community, including cannabis growers, food producers, water managers, and land-use managers. He summarized his findings at a recent lecture at SOU.
So far, Smith has hit a roadblock in gathering quantitative data on cannabis farms since not all farms are legally licensed. There are 314 licensed recreational growers in Jackson and Josephine Counties, which Smith suspects is an “extremely low” representation of the actual number of cannabis farms in the two counties. Meanwhile, food production makes up about $90 million in direct economic output in those counties combined each year.
Still, after spending the last year researching these industries, Smith says he is certain that food producers are being displaced.
“Yes that's absolutely the case,” Smith said. “There has been displacement of food crops. One of the things that is interesting about that is one of the food crops being displaced is an indirect food crop, which is hay and products for animal agriculture.”
But he adds that farmers aren’t strangers to competing for land.
“This isn't new at all,” he said. “What’s new about this is the complexity of the legal landscape. But in terms of how farmers are responding to a change in the agricultural landscape, this is just another play in a very long playbook.”
Next up, Smith will map food and cannabis farms in the valley using satellite data. He hopes to complete his research in the next month or two.