Authorities in Washington County have begun their annual search for pot plants–in order, I hasten on the advice of counsel to add, to uproot and destroy the plants, not from some sudden desire to get high. I was reminded of this late summer ritual a week or so ago when a police helicopter flew low over the farm, presumably scanning the corn fields for illegal crops. There’s a vibrant local tradition of planting pot in corn fields–usually in someone else’s corn fields. I wonder sometimes how much of this pot ends up getting run through the forage harvester and added to the silage, and whether this special silage blend helps to explain the demeanor of diary cows, who tend to just hang out all day eating voraciously with a notably vacant expression on their faces, occasionally rousing themselves to offer a quasi-philosophical moo. Given what the life of the average dairy cow is like these days–three milkings a day, hardly any time out on pasture, and a steady diet of hormones and antibiotics–I would not blame them for turning to drugs to deal with it.
As always when the pot-seeking helicopter swooped in just over the tree tops, I tried to convince the crew either to run and hide in the ditch or grab random plants and take off in all directions to see if we could cause the troopers to turn up. I think it is important to test our public servants, make sure they are really doing their jobs. As always, however, the crew ignored my suggestion and the helicopter went on its way and we were left in peace.
In case you are wondering, if we had acted to rouse suspicion and caused the police to turn up they would have been wasting their time. For all sorts of reason, we do not grow pot. It is not something I even contemplate growing most of the time–and I am willing to try growing almost anything that can withstand this climate. In fact, the only time I think about growing pot is when the drug task force goes out on its annual search and destroy missions.
That may sound like an odd time to consider taking up marijuana cultivation. But it is not some bizarre self-destructive impulse. More like a serious financial consideration. You see, almost every year when the cops find pot plants the local paper runs a piece celebrating their success, and the cops–no doubt to prove how worthwhile their expensive work is–boast about the street value of their haul. To be honest, I am seriously skeptical about their valuation. They must weight the entire plant, including a fair amount of dirt clinging to the roots, and then assume that the whole thing–roots, stems, leaves, dirt and all–would sell for the street price of the finest hydroponic product available on the market, when in fact most of what they have would not even give a cow a mild buzz.
But let’s say their estimate is more or less accurate. In which case, I could gross as much growing ten or twenty or fifty pot plants (the street value estimates vary from year to year) as I do growing 10 acres of vegetables. In which case, what am I doing down on my knees weeding carrots?
No doubt, growing pot would not prove as easy as I imagine. Because nothing ever turns out to be as easy as one imagines. Even pessimists underestimate the time and effort a task will require. Maybe pot germinates poorly and we would have to replant. Or it needs extra protection from early season cold and we would have to use hoops and row cover. Or it requires frequent applications of fungicide. Or it needs a side dressing of nitrogen at some particular point in its growth. Or mulch. Or a trellis. Or all of that.
Well, I think the crew and I could handle that. We already grow lots of crops with special needs, and on a somewhat larger scale. 50 plants, even 50 of the neediest plants imaginable, would not pose a paritcularly great challenge. We could cut back the length of the work day rather seriously and still have plenty of time to tend lovingly to each of our plants, really get to to know them as individuals in a way that is not possible when you have 10 acres of crops.
Of course, distribution is somewhat more complicated for pot than for carrots, and there’s little chance of a phalanx of heavily armed troopers swarming across my field pulling up all my carrots and carting them and me off. It is bad enough trying to keep the deer at bay, and at least they lack the legal authority to take possession of the farm when they find the carrots. I face enough risks in farming as it is. I am happy to avoid the potential extra problems growing pot might cause.
Still, I don’t know that publicizing the potential profit in pot farming is a great policy around here. There are a lot of folks in our area with huge amounts of land, serious farming skills and massive debt. Dairy farming has not been consistently profitable for decades. The people who produce milk do not control its price and for significant periods over the past few years they have been paid far less than their production costs. And now they are facing rising feed costs in a year with a bad hay crop and pretty iffy corn. Many of my neighbors will at the very least have to cull their herds or try to make do without feeding their herds grain, and some of them may be forced out of farming.
And I do mean forced. Odd as it may seem, they don’t want to stop despite the hours, the physical toll, the unpredictability of a business dependent on the weather, and the financial strain. A few years ago when the price of milk went down to $11 per hundred weight and dairy farms were losing $5 dollars per cow per day most of them simply went deeper into debt in order to carry on. But now they are paying off that debt and dealing with rapidly rising costs. These are some of the most stalwart people I have ever known, but they have their limit. Perhaps the prospect of losing the farm will make the risks of pot growing seem less daunting. Or maybe they will just grow it for themselves and learn to deal with stress they way their cows do: just stand there and chew your cud, dude.