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Dried marijuana from The Grow is packaged for sale to local dispensaries. - PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.

Brock Gutches knows about competition

After champion wrestler Brock Gutches graduated from Southern Oregon University, he saw the potential for immense profits in cannabis and decided to launch his own business, which he called The Grow.

It’s fun and he likes the people in the business — “the responsible ones,” he cautions — but it’s like any farming. You have to learn a lot, it takes a piece of change to do it, you’re dealing with a lot of government regulation, and a lot can go wrong.

Now 27, the four-time NAIA wrestling champion says he personally has no use for weed, but he is deeply inspired by the fact that Oregon consumes an estimated 400,000 pounds of it a year — and this region sits in the middle of the Jefferson Pot Paradise, with excellent weather and soil for the crop.

The learning curve of a pot farmer is steep, Gutches acknowledges, and you have to learn to fight the brush fires of the trade — weather, thieves (he has scads of surveillance cameras now), rapidly increasing competition, and long delays in licensing by a state choked with applicants.

“I had to fail a lot to learn a lot, and I still don’t know half of it,” he says. “But I’m having a good time. It’s fun. I like the community, though there’s still a lot of flakes in it. That’s my favorite part, the community. I like farming, working with cattle, working with my hands, out in the sun. It can be a nightmare, but it’s also relaxing.”

Gutches has three employees, farms 30 different strains, and works with clones. One of his big lessons is that it’s harder to prosper being a grow-only farmer. He aims at vertical integration, meaning he owns and runs all the many aspects of the cannabis chain, including extraction for oils and other variations.

Looking over his 14 mulched rows, each 474 feet long, covering 40,000 square feet, Gutches says, “I got in it 100 percent for the money. It’s a gold rush.”

Or, rather, it used to be.

“There are so many growers at the moment, so much excess product on the market. Sometimes, you can’t sell your product. Oregon consumes 400,000 pounds of it a year, but the whole system is choking on itself … I hear some people are sitting on 2,500 pounds of it and can’t get rid of it. It does have a shelf life, not more than eight months. After that, you have product that’s going to pot.”

The industry is changing, too. Dispensaries and consumers have learned a lot in recent years and have become connoisseurs. He recalls the days when “dirty hippies” could wander into shops and sell their weed, but “now we are seeing a lot of big businessmen in suits getting into it with lots of money. You have to look and play the part.”

With the normalization, success and growing respectability of the new industry, competition is bringing prices and profit margins down.

His margin is still far beyond that realized by his father (and grandfather, before that) at Gutches Lumber near White City.

Is the gold rush over?

“That’s a good question. I hope it’s not, for me. The competition is crazy, and you have to have a perfect product. That’s my standard.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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