The Road Ahead... Hemp in 2021 And Beyond

As I sit here the day after 4/20 my mind is racing, as it often is. For those of you that don't know me personally, I'm an anxious cat. Not really anxious in the nervous way, but more so on the restless and stressed out from overwork way. I'm sure many of you in the hemp space can resonate.

This post, for me, and probably for others, is a bittersweet one.

On one hand I share some market outlooks that show positive upticks in demand on the wholesale side of the market. On the other hand, it would seem that supply is still so incredibly abundant, that it isn't affecting price in any way. Combine that with farm exits and liquidation prices, sinking Delta 8 prices, and inventory liquidation for quick revenue for replanting, and you get downward pressure on price.

2021 and beyond will be interesting. Key themes being consolidation, stabilization, and regulation. There will be establishment and expansion of key players, an exodus of farmers, and a large reduction in acreage. Greenhouse and indoor growing seems to be increasing, although I am not sure why as I see indoor price demand at $700/lb or lower. Is that even economically sustainable? I know it's not environmentally sustainable.

Most importantly, I will cover what I feel is a comprehensive and very accurate portrayal of how I think the smokeable flower market and consumer facing goods supply chain is going to shake out.

As I write I hope you keep in mind that everything I share is extracted from real experiences and conversations with some of the biggest market players in the state, and largest buyers/distributors/brands in the country.

Amota has spent the last three years buying millions in hemp product (biomass, flower, oil), accumulating thousands of hours of flower processing and market data, building one of the largest wholesale flower distribution companies in the state, if not the country, and spending hundreds of hours educating, collaborating, and strategizing with farmers... My wife hates the hemp for stealing all my attention at this point.

It's hard to believe that on this date just 2 years ago I was probably being told to get lost by a farmer for offering $25/lb on 10% biomass... Yeesh, but hey, that is economics for you.

Going into this summer I think I have a clear picture of what is about to go down. Most of you will agree, and those who don't, I respect that. I've been pretty on target since 2017, with a couple stumbles here or there, same as anyone in this space. That is why my company has pivoted 6 times in 3 years with time number 7 on the horizon, and time 8, 9, 10 and beyond if necessary. New industries are about survival. Shout out to the labor service side of the industry because you have all of my and everyone else's money!

In all seriousness this is the economic flow of emerging industries. There is early to market beneficiaries, then follows the glut of entrants, after that you get a crash, followed by recovery, then ultimately stabilization. Mix in some bad actors that muddled the waters and swindled people along the way and you get Hemp/CBD industry! The companies that are thriving right now are the companies that had the foresight to build a vertical model with branding and retail serving their sales in addition to wholesale.

The Current Market Situation

As of April 2021 the road ahead in hemp looks a lot like it has in the past. Lots of supply, and enough demand to sustain wholesale businesses, but the big money is being made by the brands that have vertically integrated or "closed the loop". Consolidation will occur as the market recovers, and stability will ensue. Prices will stabilize and the right companies will begin forming long term relationships that will establish their position in the market and create growth, we see it happening all over. Let's look at some charts...

No alt text provided for this image

This chart shows flower sales trajectory in the first 4 months of last year 2020 (Gray) and this year 2021 (Blue). I honestly can't believe we have been in the flower game for only a year, it seems like its been a lifetime... Positive takeaway here is that 2021 has a better outlook than 2020. Amota didn't establish itself as a true wholesale distributor until March/April 2020, but here you have the first four months. Ideally, for any business, you'd want to see growth every single month. With 7 days left in April (5 business) it looks like March will probably be matched or slightly under. In my opinion not a great market sign when 4/20, perhaps the biggest day of the year for cannabis falls within this time period. No bueno.

So what is selling?

No alt text provided for this image

Here we have a chart of wholesale Delta 8 Vs. CBD Vs. Extracts/Oil

Since November, Delta 8 (gray) products have steadily risen. April has probably been the most controversial month for Delta 8 in its history. This may or may not have attributed to less activity. Needless to say demand is still steady and businesses are still interested in both CBD and Delta 8 products. Specifically flower, cartridges, gummies, and pre-rolls.

Here are the best sellers of the last 90 days.

 

No alt text provided for this image

Not really any big surprises here, Kush and Legendary have been our best sellers since we started. Delta 8 is front and center, and probably the most interesting thing on the list is the last two items. These are 2019 flower and yes, they are marketed as 2019 flower. If you have some quality 2019 flower feel free to reach out and we may be able to help, but be prepared to offer it at a very low price.

Where Is The Market Headed?

Here are my thoughts on the current market and its trajectory.

From a pure sales perspective, I expect product to continue to sell at a steady pace. I don't see a massive shift in CBD price nor massive shift in demand on the horizon, but this is something I hope I am wrong on. I believe that many of the distribution channels that currently exist are solidifying, and competition will continue to eat market share. Those with highest quality for lowest price will thrive.

Delta 8 product demand will continue to rise, new products will continue to get developed, and it will both help and hurt the CBD market. Help it in the sense that isolate, flower, and biomass will move, but hurt it in the sense that hemp/CBD will be under the microscope and in the hot seat from a regulation standpoint.

Should I shift to Delta 8?

No comment. Many have and many more will. I would say if you decide to enter the space it could be dangerous to stock up on inventory as the legality is constantly being publically challenged by opposition and hailed by supporters. I can tell you that the very large influential MSOs are very angry about Delta 8's emergence. This is why it will go away eventually, they're going to either absorb it, or get it banned.

It is a crazy time in the CBD space. If you do decide to enter do your due diligence and source your products from companies that will stand behind everything they sell you with full panel testing, transparency in manufacturing, and knowledge of the market (like us).

Oh, and Delta 10 is not a thing yet, prove me wrong.

2021 Demand & Strategy

 

No alt text provided for this image

Will 2021 repeat 2020's trajectory?

Everyone sure hopes so. With even better July and August please!

Remember the minute you hear whispers of light deps, start dumping inventory. Although last years light deps were underwhelming. Many genetics are not built for those stresses. They start to herm and seed.

Indoor, greenhouse, quality, strain diversity, race to reduce COGS, brands, and consolidation. Those are the themes of 2021.

There are a lot of exits happening, and just as many reductions in acreage. Some of you may translate that into less supply, so therefore more demand, which = price increase... There is plenty of hemp out there trust me, read on before you go plant 40 acres. I don't recommend that type of reaction.

In 2021 Amota will be looking to work with a half dozen or so farms (probably 25 - 50 acres worth of product) on processing under terms that benefit and sustain the group as a whole, rather than searching the great unknown for viable product. We've learned that as much as we want to help everyone, not everyone can be helped, because there is just too much hemp available. My advice is grow less and more diverse.

We've spent thousands of hours accumulating data and identifying what we believe to be the best strains, growers, partners, distribution channels, and inventory SOPs. For us 2021 and beyond is all about relationships and expansion for market share.

Long term I know that small craft farms that have vertically integrated and established a reputable brand will succeed. Masterfully reducing your COGS for growing and processing, building a brand, and finding an outlet for all bi-products is the winning equation. It makes me happy to see those businesses that have followed the formula, many of them family and young people run, are thriving and surviving. The opposite has certainly been true in this marketplace as well.

Farms, distributors, and processors will need to band together to open up the widest avenues for product distribution. The arrangements will need to look like many distribution deals look like in other markets. Net terms, product quality stipulations, quantity commitments, and pricing agreements from both sides on all "tiers" of product.

Farms that master cultivation, processing, distribution, branding, and retail themselves will be the biggest winners, but the vast majority of the entrants to this market never had that direction in mind. That route is a seven day a week 10+ hr a day road, and there are many that just want to grow it and sell it as is.

Those who entered just to cultivate overlooked a key element to the whole equation of business, the salesforce, and I do mean salesFORCE. Your sales people have to be relentless hungry ninjas that scour the world for leads, relationships, and channels. They need to be expert closers while your grower or sourcing specialist (which I am for Amota) crushes the COGS down on products however they can. Typically, this is done through processing adjustments, price negotiations, contracts, and anything else the gets you an edge on price.

Lack of sales is what many farmers would report is plaguing the industry, but sales ARE happening. So why do most farmers report that they aren't, well I've learned, after talking to many, that this is a multipart answer. I hope I don't ruffle feathers with these truths.

Part 1

You're a farm, think about the many instances you've fielded a phone call or email, casually starting a conversation with someone you've never met, "a buyer."

In any other industry, probably not that big of a deal. Business as usual so to speak. But this isn't any other industry, this is cannabis, and you know who thrives in the cannabis space? People who know, live, breathe, and sell cannabis.

Specifically those of us who have sold it for a long long time and have identified the biggest pain points in this complicated supply chain. Ironically, this education probably came from the illicit market for many.

Those of us who have experienced the discomfort of strangers, disorganization, tardiness, lies, violence, deceits, scams, tricks, and excuses know exactly what to expect and who to expect it from. This allows us to reduce wasted time and much more easily navigate the hemp supply chain. Many farmers, who were formerly ranchers or farmers of more "conventional" crops, simply aren't comfortable or don't have the patience for the buyers of cannabis. I'm not surprised by this, selling this stuff can be an absolute nightmare. In an unstandardized marketplace, it is a nightmare.

Many entrants to this space have stigmatized cannabis sellers/buyers as criminals, hustlers, liars, thieves, and overall "bad people" in their subconscious. Reefer Madness is alive and well, and a lot of farmers who come from alfalfa, hay, barley, corn, wheat, wine, or whatever other crop they decided to abandon for a quick buck for hemp got absolutely crushed, because the sales strategy and approach in this space is much different than what they're used to.

If you want to make money off cannabis then you need to know how to smell bullshit from a mile away, be comfortable talking to everyone you come across, speak the language, and know how to convince people to buy something they didn't even know they wanted.

This is something cannabis sellers are masterful at, in addition to identifying client's needs. I can tell within 10 seconds of talking to someone whether they're going to actually buy something. I can tell if what I am looking at is something I want to buy in less time.

Our salesforce is an intelligent group of people who have all the skillsets to expose, persuade, cough*tolerate*cough, acquiesce, befriend, and other characteristics that make them not a team, but a FORCE. I am thankful for my force and I hope they take the time to read this.

If you read part 1 and said "that's me" then you are either thriving or failing, it just depends on when you said that to yourself. If you read Part 1 and said "I don't have a sales team or a sales force!" Then God have mercy on your soul, but seriously build one or get out of the market because your struggles will be forever. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Part 2

You don't know how to process well enough or cheap enough. Or you may just not have the resources.

Don't worry, this is probably the single most difficult thing to master in the entire space. It happens to be my least favorite conversation with people, but one I have everyday, for what it's worth the data is fascinating.

To figure out the puzzle and economics of producing products and bi-products for a market that is constantly changing, is to emerge victorious in hemp. This will continue to be the hardest part of being a hemp space participant. Especially when the buyers seem to not understand, nor care, how much work goes into it, and that certainly won't change (bastards).

There are so many ways to approach processing, no 1 way is right, but many ways are better than others. For me as a cannabis entrepreneur, this has been the most stressful, challenging, and frustrating part of the business. Many, if not all entrants to this space think they grew the best product known to man. They also think that the yields should always be what they believe them to be. Lastly, they think it should sell for the highest price. This simply is not reality, the reality is the highest price is the market price and the market price is under constant pressure.

Whether you process yourself or use a service like Amota, you need to understand a few key things. Everyone's product comes out different. I've seen every color, consistency, moisture level, and seed content under the sun. In the end, if you had a good grow method/season, you are pulling about 1/3 lb to 1/2 lb of finished hand trim dried flower a plant. Or yielding about 20% - 30% from stalk weight to hand trim finished flower.

There is subjectivity behind hand trimming that produces an argument about whether to spend the extra money to give it a boutique manicure. We find that more often than not buyers are going to buy it at a certain price point regardless of the tightness of a prime. It just doesn't elevate the price enough to make it absolute perfection, at least in our experience. We successfully sell hand trim finished product that is a little bit hairier than what people would probably consider a boutique, for as much or more than what I see people trying to sell me boutique trim for. It's about identifying the right market for everything, which again is what your sales ninjas are for.

Part 3

The simplest, and probably the hardest factor for most to accept, is that you simply botched the grow or your product has a lot more wrong with it than everyone else's. For me this is an especially hard thing to reveal to people. Especially when I hear heartbreaking stories of broken up families, divorces, bad business partners, etc. Seriously so sad. Chasing a dream is never easy, but at this point I'd like to say be kind to your neighbors and fellow hemp entrepreneurs because it has indeed been a struggle for many.

If you have mold, seeds, mildew, bugs, or anything that would be harmful and dangerous for people to consume, you should do the right thing and recognize it. There is a point during grow periods where you need to realize you have a mold issue, depending on how bad it was, you should not even consider processing it.

The time and money spent on separating it from the rest of the lot is literally burning money. You are paying people to destroy a worthless product, think about that for a second. The point of diminishing returns is very real in this business. The extra time it takes to filter seeds or mold could ultimately spell your demise. Sometimes a fail is a fail, don't waste money.

If you fall into this category you simply can't sell your product, you've already lost.

Part 4

As with any commodity, there is only so much demand. When that demand is being filled by your competitor at a better price, and is better quality, you need to adapt, and fast. The market is shrinking, that is what happening in emerging markets. That doesn't mean more companies are forming and more consumers are engaging, it means that buyers and sellers have established themselves in the marketplace. They've built their relationships and the only way to boost sales is court the buyers of your competitors. This usually means best quality for lowest price. If you can't then you've fallen into a situation where your competitors are going to eat or already have eaten your market share, and if you can't figure out how to beat them. This event is actually what we've all been preparing and waiting for, and that is not to say that we can't all play nice together. There truly is enough to go around for practically everyone, but you do need to differentiate yourself somehow so buyers and consumers are attracted to you more than others.

Leanness is Godliness in the hemp space. Effectively pushing costs down while maintaining quality is going to put you in the best position to sell your product. If you aren't adapting, adjusting, and executing in this regard then you are going to find yourself holding the bag... The empty bag, which you will then want to wear over your head.

Long Term Hemp Prices & How To Compete

To me the picture is pretty clear as to where this is going to stabilize from a pricing standpoint. As someone who has accumulated a lot of data from farm visits, buy transactions, and sell transactions, I'd say we have hit commodity territory (we actually hit it in 2019).

Whether people want to hear it or not farms are going to need to get their growing, harvest, drying, and processing prices well below $100 per hand trimmed pound to stretch their margins. This is something Amota has concentrated on offering as a service as we've seen the price go low and stay low. You can reach out to learn more if you'd like, long story short our goal is to have you exit at less than $100 with your grow, harvest, and dry. Hopefully you stayed lean on your end. This will be crucial from a labor perspective. Seed prices have already fallen a bit, materials won't change in price. Where you will make or break your COGS is on the labor & yield.

No alt text provided for this image

 

The price for a hand trimmed pound of flower will settle in the $150 - $250 range long term, with exotics, greenhouse, indoor, and seedless commanding a premium. The largest farms that have staying power have pushed the price to that territory. Smaller boutique farms can push the price slightly higher, but not by much. Reason being that there is simply not enough appealing diversity of strains at this point. All the "best" Oregon CBD strains, kushes, and wine strains are all competing with each other. Buyers can just find the cheapest option.

No alt text provided for this image

 

Greenhouse will settle at $250 - $400 and indoor somewhere between $600 - $1000. Some people are paying above $1,000 for indoor right now but I don't see that lasting. Indoor flower conversations for me have been amongst the most annoying and frustrating. Everyone wants to source it at prices that make an indoor grower want to cringe. Near cost prices. If it is already approaching that now, and there isn't even close to a robust supply for it, what does that mean long term? It means trouble, big trouble. Especially because a lot of people are convinced it is the future. Not sure I agree. I also want to comment on the environmental factor with indoor hemp, I've always been on the side of sun grown is nature's gift when it comes to cannabis. The culture around it unfortunately demands otherwise, I just hope it's worth it for the people deciding to go that route.

So let's talk about some average prices in 2021. What is Amota's average sales price per pound of sun grown flower?

What is your best guess?

I can't reveal all of our data, but I will tell you it is between $200 - $250 per pound. This is for sun grown product. This doesn't include greenhouse or indoor. It is not a great average in a world where grower and distributor want to co-mingle, but this is where people have to play, so we need to figure it out. As I mentioned before, the way to make it work is to work together to drive those COGS down. I'd love to talk to farms out there that want to get together on that subject.

Realistically, it looks like farmers will do what they do best, which is grow. Distributors and processors will assert themselves as middle men, and distributors/retailers will buy from the distributors/processors and farms. With distributors doing higher volume faster.

"Well I can just cut out the middle man and go direct."

Of course you can, and some will, but vast majority don't have the resources the distributors have built (remember the salesFORCE ninjas) and the relationships they've made that allow them to sell thousands of pounds a month. This is very much a relationship business like we mentioned prior.

No alt text provided for this image

 

Many farmers never wanted to deal with that side of the space to begin with, but the problem is they thought buyers would be so well capitalized, they were going to just come and buy millions of dollars of product right off the farm. That should never have been the mindset, all industries have distributors, and those distributors operate in creative terms.

Why was this going to be different? Why should it be any different?

The stigma around cannabis has created an atmosphere where farmers don't trust anyone. I know many of us distributors have tried many times over to try and bring some structure to the supply chain, but cooperation from the farmer side initially was very hesitant. I think many are coming around now because they are realizing a lot of what I've laid out in this article rings true. We all need to build on this model together, which we are doing with many of our farmer friends.

The nurturing of buyers and their temperaments is an enormous part of what distributors do for a supplier. This rings true in all industries. Any farmer reading this can understand what I am talking about if they are nurturing consistent buyers. They are very demand heavy, they want problems solved immediately, and they want shipping times to be equivalent to Amazon.

There is an enormous amount of time, attention, and resources that go into nurturing a buyer and tending to their needs. It is an art form as much as anything else, an exhausting one at that. Think about the amount of times a person has said they want to come look at product, they're interested in 1000 lbs, they need to meet at a certain time (and don't show up), they're "checking it out for their buyer", and so on and so forth. Multiply that by a thousand and you have the distributor's current position in the industry. The key is to retain that client and nurture. Customer drop off rates are absolute killers to an industry that is this competitive.

The amount of stories I've listened to about farmers being disgusted with the behaviors and business acumen of sleeze bag, joker broker, tire kickers that show up at their door would be enough to write a book. We are navigating an industry where nobody ever wants to sign a contract because they can find a better price down the road, or if they do sign a contract they don't have much of a care in the world if they breach it.

Time is the most important/expensive thing a man/woman can spend. Don't forget that, and don't forget how this industry has taken so much of it. I think about it everyday, and we at Amota have dedicated ourselves to cracking the code of timely and frequent sales. This space is competitive, challenging, but rewarding when you work with the right people. Relationships are everything.

Grow as big as you can as fast as you can (while staying lean) in the next two to three years to come out on top of this dog pile, because thats when I believe federal legalization will occur and change everything.

Retail pricing will follow the downward pressure eventually. Right now it doesn't need to because new products are being released frequently and new territories are opening up as well. This keeps excitement high from consumers and new rare products will always be able to command a premium.

D8, D10, D16 & Beyond

I made D16 up, but I bet I got you excited! I don't honestly know if it is or isn't a thing. It might be.

The amount of opinions and articles I've read on Delta 8 over the last 6 months has been absolutely exhausting. People's opinions are just that, don't forget. I've spoken about needing to make the decisions on these cannabinoids yourself and be at peace with it. Everyone else is just upset, angry, jealous, scared, nervous, anxious, or looking for attention (lots of this in our world these days right?).

Do your thing and listen to the legal team that has helped get you this far.

I will say a few things on Delta 8.

Number 1

If you are in it, you didn't get into it because its a medicine that helps people. You got into it because it is currently generating a lot of revenue (and profits) for people in the hemp space who have seen prices fall along with demand on the CBD side. You also entered because your competitors did and it is a loophole to a psychoactive state that people seem to enjoy. This lets you play in a field of larger demand. Now that we got that out of the way I will say that I love the way Delta 8 helps me sleep and IT IS a way more mellow high than Delta 9, which is great!

Number 2

Although a bit ridiculous the argument about overdoses, children getting their hands on it, dirty oil, etc. does hold some merit, nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, but there is so much nasty dirty product finding its way in the recreational/medical Delta 9 market too. You simply cannot deny that, and if you do, you're flat out wrong. The reality is we are way far off to where this is really going to land from a sanitation, regulation, and consumption standpoint.

We also happen to live in a country where meth, heroin, cocaine, and substances in many prescriptions available to adults (and prescribed to children) end up in homes that are easily accessible to said children.

And you want to cry about Delta 8?

There are bigger issues you can focus on people. Yes its unregulated, yes its disrupting the cannabis space, yes its legality is in a gray space, yes its on the DEA controlled substances list. We get it.

Let it be. It's a bad look running around screaming about how harmful it is or can be when there is literally hundreds of worse things wrong with this industry, like all the people in jail for instance. At least it helps people sleep, during times where its been pretty hard to sleep quite honestly! Anyway, I'm sure this will draw some ire from some, to them I say you should take Delta 8 and chill out. There are a lot of businesses run by families that are being saved by this product, they are just trying to survive after being crush by the pandemic. That being said anyone dabbling in Delta 8 should always take extreme care and exercise due diligence with rigorous testing.

Delta 8 is going to be regulated by all states within 3 years. There is no doubt in my mind. It will fall under the control of the agencies that regulate Delta 9 cannabis and a license in that sector will be required to sell it. To me that is end of story all she wrote. For now it's available widely across the country whether you like it or not and if it feels good, people are going to take it.

Delta 10 isn't a thing so I am not even going to go there, it may be soon but anyone who says they have it in high quantities is flat out lying and selling you some fake shit you should be weary of.

The beyond is the exciting part! So many cannabinoids on the horizon and their benefits are many. I will get into this deeper on another post, but I think it is time to wrap this one up.

Stay safe out there and keep building your businesses for the better! Next post I will dive into the direct to consumer and retail economics side of the space, as it will be where the biggest brands will be born as cannabinoids make their way into all homes around the world.