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How to Make Quality Cannabis, and the Role of Organic Farming

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The Story of Cannabis: What Investors Need to KnowAnatomy of a Cannabis PlantA Quality Cannabis ProductThe Rise of OrganicA Sustainable Cannabis ProductThe Science Behind the Medical Cannabis IndustryComing soonComing soon

How to Make Quality Cannabis, and the Role of Organic Farming

How to Make Quality Cannabis, and the Role of Organic Farming

The cannabis industry is picking up speed across the continent.

Canada has now become the first G7 country to legalize recreational cannabis nationwide – and across the border, more U.S. states are also entering what could become a $95 billion market by 2026.

As the industry matures, product quality will become a strong differentiator between those competing for market share. But what makes for a top-notch cannabis product, and does organic farming play a role in this?

How Quality Cannabis is Made

Today’s infographic from The Green Organic Dutchman explains what goes into making a high quality cannabis product, and why the industry could be gearing towards embracing organic farming.

The first major factor that affects quality is where it is grown.

For most of its 6,000-year history, cannabis was predominantly grown outdoors. In a more modern setting, however, indoor cultivation has increased in popularity.

Here are the pros and cons of both environments:

 
Indoor
Outdoor
Benefits
  • A precisely controlled environment, with year-round cultivation
  • Full spectrum of sunlight in a natural environment

  • Less labor needed, with lower operating costs
Drawbacks
  • Climate control systems are expensive to operate

  • More labor intensive, producing less yield
  • Cultivation is climate-dependent
Impact on Quality
  • Cannabis strains are aesthetically more pleasing, with higher average THC percentages
  • Higher yields of cannabis are produced, with superior flavor and potency

Interestingly, many modern cannabis producers do not rely on soil as a growing medium anymore. Instead, they use the latest technology to improve upon traditional methods:

  1. Aeroponics: Plant roots are sprayed directly with a nutrient-rich mist
  2. Hydroponics: Plant roots are submerged in a nutrient solution
  3. Micro-propagation: Plant samples are multiplied in agar gel

While growing cannabis using innovative methods can result in healthy and high-yield products, this also increases operational and labor costs. At the same time, it’s clear that the way cannabis is grown significantly affects the final product and its environmental footprint.

The Issue with Modern Cannabis

Even with all of these other innovations that help in achieving a superior product, many cannabis growers use “super chemicals” or pesticides to achieve rapid growth for their plants. The catch? Cannabis plants are effective at leaching toxins from soil, which means they can easily wind up in the final product.

What’s more, commonly used pesticides such as pyrethins can be safe for consumption in trace amounts. But when cannabis is smoked, the heat can make these chemicals much more toxic for humans.

There’s also mother nature to consider. In modern farming, leftover byproducts often run off into the groundwater, polluting nearby bodies of water.

Growing cannabis organically in living soil avoids all the above problems.

  • No pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers are present in the environment
  • Cannabis plant and soil microbiology have a symbiotic relationship
  • Maintains an ecological balance among the plant and its surroundings

The result of this all-natural process? A safe and premium consumer cannabis product.

As the cannabis green rush progresses, we will dive further into the push towards organic products in the agri-food industry, and what this means for the rapidly-maturing cannabis space.

The Story of Cannabis: What Investors Need to KnowAnatomy of a Cannabis PlantA Quality Cannabis ProductThe Rise of OrganicA Sustainable Cannabis ProductThe Science Behind the Medical Cannabis IndustryComing soonComing soon

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Agriculture

The Uses of Corn: Industries Affected by High Corn Prices

Corn has many uses that make modern life possible. This infographic breaks down U.S. corn usage in 2020.

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uses of corn

Corn Beyond the Cob

Corn or maize is the second most-produced crop in the world, and it’s more than just a staple in our diets.

From the sweetener in our coffees to the ethanol that powers our vehicles, corn has hundreds of uses. Consequently, high corn prices have a domino effect that can affect many supply chains and possibly even increase the cost of our weekly groceries, especially if they include tortilla chips.

This infographic uses data from the National Corn Growers Association to break down U.S. corn use by segment in 2020, and the products that a bushel of corn can produce.

The Uses of Corn in the U.S.

While corn on the cob is quite popular, not all corn is sweet. There are five major types of corn grown around the world, and each one differs in taste and uses. Of these, yellow dent corn or field corn accounts for the majority of commercial U.S. production.

Here’s a breakdown of U.S. corn usage in 2020:

SegmentBushels Used (millions)% of Usage (2020)
Feed5,65038.7%
Ethanol (Fuel)3,87526.6%
Exports2,55017.5%
Ethanol (Animal Feed)1,0757.4%
Sweeteners7805.3%
Starch2301.6%
Cereal/Other2151.5%
Beverages/Alcohol1701.2%
Seeds300.2%
Total14,575100%

Corn accounts for more than 96% of U.S. feed grain use and production. As a result, animal feed makes up nearly 40% of the country’s corn usage. This is because corn is a rich source of carbohydrates, and in combination with protein from soybeans, it can make for an effective diet for livestock.

In the United States, federal mandates require vehicles to use a blend of gasoline and biofuels like ethanol—94% of which is produced from the starch in corn grain. Therefore, a large portion of U.S. corn goes into ethanol production.

Interestingly, the ethanol distillation process produces a co-product known as dried distillers grain, which serves as low-cost, protein-rich animal feed for livestock. On average, the U.S. ethanol industry produces around 90,000 tons of distillers grains each week.

Animal feed and ethanol production collectively make up around 73% of U.S. corn usage. Other uses of corn include the production of sweeteners, starch, cereal, and alcoholic beverages like whiskey.

Breaking Down U.S. Corn Exports

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn and accounted for roughly 36% of exports in 2020.

Up until 2019, the majority of U.S. corn exports went to Mexico, Japan, and Colombia. China wasn’t among the top 10 destinations, but this changed in 2020.

u.s. corn exports

Between January 2020 and 2021, U.S. corn exports to China increased exponentially, reaching an all-time high in December. China’s massive import appetite is because of a shortage of domestic supplies amid rising demand for feed from its recovering hog-herd, which was hit by the African swine fever in 2018.

Consequently, China became the third-largest importer of U.S. corn in 2020 after Mexico and Brazil. What’s more, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that China’s corn imports in 2021 will be much higher than 2020 levels, and the majority of those will be sourced from the United States.

The Corn Price Boom

In addition to a drought-induced yield cut in Brazil, rising demand from China has driven corn prices to their highest level in the last eight years.

price of corn

Since the beginning of 2020, corn prices have increased 68% and stand at around $6.50 per bushel as of May 19th.

The rise in corn prices is likely to affect several industries and could translate into higher prices for our groceries, including cereals, taco shells, and corn syrups. Additionally, it could also push up the price of gas due to its key role in ethanol production.

Corn, in a Bushel

In a world where commodities like corn are often taken for granted, it’s important to think about how valuable it can be.

A single bushel of corn can provide 33 lbs of sweetener, 31.5 lbs of starch, or 22.4 lbs of polymers. It’s also enough to produce around 3 gallons of ethanol fuel and 16 lbs of distillers dried grains for animal feed.

The uses of corn go far beyond the cob, and just like other raw materials, it supports many industries that make modern life possible.

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Agriculture

Cocoa: A Bittersweet Supply Chain

The cocoa supply chain is a bittersweet one. While chocolate is a beloved sweet treat globally, many cocoa farmers are living a bitter reality.

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Cocoa: A Bittersweet Supply Chain

From bean to bar, the cocoa supply chain is a bittersweet one. While the end product is something most of us enjoy, this also comes with a human cost.

Based on how much cocoa comes from West Africa, it’s likely that most of the chocolates we eat have a little bit of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in them. The $130B chocolate industry relies on cocoa farming for supply of chocolate’s key ingredient. Yet, many cocoa farmers make less than $1/day.

The above graphic maps the major trade flows of cocoa and allows us to dive deeper into its global supply chain.

From Bean to Bar: Stages in the Cocoa Supply Chain

Cocoa beans go through a number of stages before being used in chocolate products.

  1. Harvesting, Fermenting, and Drying
    First, farmers harvest cocoa beans from pods on cacao plants. Next, they are fermented in heaps and covered with banana leaves. Farmers then dry and package the cocoa beans for domestic transportation.
  2. Domestic Transportation, Cleaning, and Exporting
    Domestic transporters carry packaged cocoa beans to either cleaning warehouses or processing factories. Cocoa beans are cleaned and prepared for exports to the chocolate production hubs of the world.
  3. Processing and Chocolate Production
    Processing companies winnow, roast, and grind cocoa beans and then convert them into cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, or cocoa cakes—which are mixed with other ingredients like sugar and milk to produce chocolate products.

Cocoa farming and trade are at the roots of the chocolate industry, and the consistent supply of cocoa plays a critical role in providing us with reasonably-priced chocolate.

So where exactly does all this cocoa come from?

The Key Nations in Cocoa’s Global Supply Chain

Growing cocoa has specific temperature, water, and humidity requirements. As a result, the equatorial regions of Africa, Central and South America, and Asia are optimal for cocoa farming.

These regions host the biggest cocoa exporters by value.

Rank (2019)Exporting CountryValue (US$, millions)
1Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮$3,575
2Ghana 🇬🇭
$1,851
3Cameroon 🇨🇲$680
4Ecuador 🇪🇨$657
5Belgium 🇧🇪$526

Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are responsible for 70% of global cocoa production, and cocoa exports play a huge role in their economies. Although the majority of exporters come from equatorial regions, Belgium stands out in fifth place.

On the other hand, most of the top importers are in Europe—the Netherlands and Germany being the top two.

Rank (2019)Importing CountryValue (US$, millions)
1Netherlands 🇳🇱$2,283
2Germany 🇩🇪$1,182
3U.S. 🇺🇸$931
4Malaysia 🇲🇾$826
5Belgium 🇧🇪$719

In third place, the U.S. primarily sources its cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Ecuador. Mars, Hershey, Cargill, and Blommer—some of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturers and processors—are headquartered in the U.S.

Finally, it comes as no surprise that the biggest importers of cocoa beans are among the biggest chocolate exporters.

Rank (2019)CountryValue of Chocolate Exports
(US$, millions)
1Germany 🇩🇪$4,924
2Belgium 🇧🇪$3,143
3Italy 🇮🇹$2,100
4Netherlands 🇳🇱$1,992
5Poland 🇵🇱$1,834

Not only is the Netherlands the biggest importer of beans, but it’s also the biggest processor—grinding 600,000 tons annually—and the fourth largest exporter of chocolate products.

Belgium is another key nation in the supply chain, importing cocoa beans from producing countries and exporting them across Europe. It’s also home to the world’s largest chocolate factory, supporting its annual chocolate exports worth $3.1 billion.

Breaking Down the Cocoa Supply Chain: Who Gets What

Without farmers, both the cocoa and chocolate industries are likely to suffer from shortages, with domino effects on higher overall costs. Yet, they have little ability to influence prices at present.

cocoa supply chain breakdown

Farmers are among the lowest earners from a tonne of sold cocoa—accounting for just 6.6% of the value of the final sale.

Low incomes also translate into numerous other issues associated with cocoa farming.

The Bitter Side of Cocoa Farming

The World Bank has established the threshold for extreme poverty at $1.90/day. Cocoa farmers in Ghana make $1/day, while those in Côte d’Ivoire make around $0.78/day—both significantly below the extreme poverty line.

Farmers are often unable to bear the costs of cocoa farming as a result of low incomes. In turn, they employ children, who miss out on education, are exposed to hazardous working conditions, and get paid little or no wages.

CountryCocoa Farmers Making $1/day or lessChildren in Cocoa Agriculture
Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮600,000
891,500
Ghana 🇬🇭800,000708,400

To make matters worse, cocoa farming is primarily responsible for deforestation and illegal farming in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana—adding environmental issues to the mix.

These interconnected problems call for action, so what is being done to fight them?

Combating Cocoa’s Concerns

Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey—some of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturers—have made several pledges to eradicate child labor in cocoa farming over the last two decades, but haven’t reached their targets.

In addition, organizations such as UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade are working to increase traceability in the supply chain by selling ‘certified cocoa’, sourced from farms that prohibit child labor.

More recently, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana announced a fixed premium of US$400/tonne on cocoa futures, aiming to improve farmer livelihoods by creating a union for cocoa, also known colloquially as the “COPEC” for the industry.

While these initiatives have had some positive impacts, more still needs to be done to successfully eradicate large-scale child labor and poverty of those involved in cocoa’s bittersweet supply chain.

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