Montgomery County

Montgomery County farm licensed to grow recreational cannabis by state

Peter Bunker at Creek Acres Farms in Amsterdam sits on a tire of one of his tractors at his Route 30 farm on Monday.

Peter Bunker at Creek Acres Farms in Amsterdam sits on a tire of one of his tractors at his Route 30 farm on Monday.

TOWN OF FLORIDA — Bunker’s Hemp LLC has become the first farm in Montgomery County to receive a license from the state to grow recreational marijuana.

The state Cannabis Control Board on Thursday announced the approval of 36 Adult-use Cannabis Conditional Cultivator Licenses for farms across the state. The board previously approved 52 licenses last month.

Only existing hemp farms authorized through the state Department of Agriculture and Markets are eligible to apply for the two-year conditional licenses to begin growing recreational marijuana this season to support the forthcoming adult-use cannabis market.

“New York is building the most inclusive cannabis industry in the country and including small farmers with an expertise is an essential component in accomplishing that goal,” said Chris Alexander, executive director of the state Office of Cannabis Management, in a prepared statement.

The state has received over 200 applications from farms seeking cultivator licenses through its online portal that will remain open June 30. The state is reviewing submittals on a rolling basis.

Bunker’s Hemp on Route 30 in the town of Florida is the first and only farm to receive authorization to grow recreational marijuana in Montgomery County so far.

The hemp growing operation actually began three years ago to supplement the income of the family run dairy farm, Creek Acres Farms.

“It was a lot of hard work and a lot of investment and not too much profit,” Pete Bunker admitted Monday.

Bunker and his son, Matt, are the second and third generation owners running the farm with around 450 dairy cows.

Fluctuating dairy prices squeezing profit margins led the family to try diversifying their operation using the available resources by growing hemp on about 18 acres of the roughly 1,200 acre farm.

“Just in our area there are a lot of empty dairy farms,” Bunker said. “Some tried different things that didn’t work out.”

The hemp grown to produce CBD products did not yield the level of income originally projected. Bunker’s Hemp will actually stop growing hemp altogether after receiving a conditional license to grow recreational marijuana outdoors on up to one acre of land.

“There is a good profit forecast for what the crop should bring,” Bunker said. “We know we can grow it.”

The new grow operation will admittedly be a departure for the farm.

“I’m sensitive to the issue,” Bunker said. “I always felt like we produced something that was a wholesome product with dairy.”

“I think it’s a lot more culturally acceptable these days than it was a few years ago,” he added. “I have the support of family and friends. Nobody is really saying anything too negative about it at this point.”

The state’s legalization of recreational adult-use cannabis last year was met with some opposition over concerns about possible a rise in drug use among youth or increased traffic accidents related to people driving under the influence.

Municipalities were able to opt-out of allowing retail recreational marijuana dispensaries and on-premises consumption sites through the end of last year.

Six towns and villages across Montgomery County opted out of both, according to data from the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government. The town of Amsterdam opted out of consumption sites alone.

Florida Town Supervisor Eric Mead said officials agreed following discussion to fully allow retail marijuana establishments in the town.

“The Town Board’s view was marijuana fields were better than solar fields,” Mead said.

A former farmer himself, Mead understands the tough decisions families face to keep their operations intact. He supports Bunker’s latest side venture.

“I agree 100% with what he’s doing. It’s what he has to do to keep paying taxes and the farm in the family. That’s why you see a lot of farms turning to solar,” Mead said. “I’m not going to tell a fellow farmer what to do with their land.”

The farm is still working through the new regulations and requirements from the state it will have to follow to grow marijuana.

“It was a pretty steep learning curve with the hemp,” Bunker said. “It’s a lot of work, mental and physical. It should be a challenge, but I’m facing it with some enthusiasm.”

The state requirements include installing security measures to prevent unauthorized access to the cannabis plants. After experiencing issues with theft while growing hemp, Bunker was already planning upgrades.

“There is going to be a lot more security,” Bunker said. “I don’t want to go into detail on it.”

No local approvals to grow the new crop in the town’s agricultural district will be needed beyond the state license. Bunker expects to begin planting within about a week for a fall harvest. Where the crops will end up is still uncertain.

“The retail outlets are still being established,” Bunker said. “It’s kind of a really slow rollout.”

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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