Integrated Pest Management


Integrated Pest Management

In this Growers Spotlight we interview Jordan Mello, the Master Grower for In Good Health, a state-licensed, non-profit medical marijuana dispensary located in Brockton, MA.

Jordan gives us an insider view on Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and explains why MA IPM policies will most likely have an impact on current and future state regulations with regard to cannabis testing, quality control, and pesticides.

If you have any questions related to IPM, growing in MA, commercial cultivation, or direct questions for Jordan, you can post in the comments section below.


What is the definition of IPM?

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment. IPM emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.


(Size) 8,500 sq. ft. of canopy.

  • Propagation: 500 sq. ft.
  • Veg Rom: 1000 sq. ft.
  • Flower Room: 6,500 sq. ft.

(Lighting equipment)

(Media)

(Nutrients)

(Feeding Style) Currently hand watering drain to waste. Looking into automated Argus and Dosatron systems.


Propagation

(Size) 10’ x 20’ with multiple levels, we are making more room per square footage that the floor plan shows.

(Lighting equipment) T5 lights, I use 4′ – 4 bulb units because I have found that 6 bulb units are too intense.

(Media) We use the Grodan Rockwool A-OK sheets. There are like 98 plugs per sheet. We used peat plugs to start out with, and then our cloning needs got to the point where it was way too much maintenance. They dry out way too fast. We could not get as many of those in one dome as we could with the sheets. So we switched over to the Grodan Rockwool.


Vegetation

(Size) 1000 sq. ft – Once they transplant from propagation, they are moved into a 20’ x 20’ room, in which we also use rack system. There are 2 aisles, and each of those have 3 levels. In that room, we are working with about 400 – 500 plants at any given time, which is about 2 cycles for us.

(Lighting equipment) LumiGrow Pro 650 High Voltage (HV 480v).

(Media) Once we move from Grodan Rockwool, we transplant into 1 Gallon Premium Nursery Pots via Pro-Mix HP. Although, we are switching it up after this harvest, and we are going to go straight coco. We are looking at those Canna Coco Bricks because they tested clean through MA state for pesticides, heavy metals, and plant growth regulators (PGRs). All of our media needs to be lab tested. The coco bricks are a huge space saver when you are working with commercial grow styles. For me to stock as much Pro-Mix I need for the year, it is a whole warehouse. The compact nature of the coco bricks is going to be great. We use Pro-Mix after that as well, when we transfer them into 7 Gallon Premium Nursery Pots as a final pot.

(Feeding Style) We do hand watering right now, but that is going to be changing soon. The original director of cultivation had set it up because originally MA required us to use 100% organics, even nutrient-wise. And the reason they changed it was because of the heavy metals. So the original director was not comfortable setting up an irrigation system for organic stuff like that. His ultimate goal was to kind of use a super soil type of system. Where it was just hand watering plain water. To do it on this scale would be something else! Unless we were buying the soil, the cost would be astronomical. You would be introducing all types of pests with that organic mass-produced soil. It was just an option we tried to get around.


Automation

We are in the process of redesigning the room to be automated. And the other two rooms, once they are built out, will be automated as well on that system. We are going to go with the Argus system because it can do every room where we have every individual irrigation loop. It is a pretty straight forward system to use. I have only seen it used in one other place. It can get pretty sophisticated, down to putting specific PPM of each element into your mix. The customization on it is top notch!

In the smaller veg. rooms where less nutrients are needed, we are utilizing Dosatrons. In the bigger flowering rooms, where there is more work to be done, we will be using the Argus system. The feedings are a couple times a day, instead of once a day.


Flowering

(Size) Approximately 6,500 sq. ft. of flowering space, divided into 4 rooms. The 2 biggest rooms are 80’ x 24,’ then a 63’ x 24,’ and a 59’ x 20.’

(Lighting equipment) Those are all lit with LumiGrow Pro 650w LED Grow Light with Tri spectrum fixtures.

(Media) Pro-Mix HP in 7-Gallon Premium Nursery Pot.

(Feeding Style) Automated feeding regimens with the argus system.


Massachusetts’s IPM

We apply pesticides about 3 days a week, with a rotation of Biosafe Systems ZeroTol, a neem oil product, and Procidic.Jordan Mello
Massachusetts IPM laws mandate the use of non-synthetic, organic pesticides> only. In order to meet these requirements, we adhere to USDA standards for organic produce. Because organic pesticides don’t last as long as synthetic varieties (such as Eagle20), we have to apply pesticides more frequently. We apply pesticides about 3 days a week, with a rotation of Biosafe Systems ZeroTol, a neem oil product, and Procidic.

Other organic methods of pest control are “bio-pesticides” and “bio-fungicides.” These are bacteria or fungi that act like pesticides, keeping the dangerous and unhealthy organisms out of the product.

Massachusetts law also requires microbiological screenings of the product. Unfortunately, microbiological screenings don’t distinguish between helpful bacteria/fungi and harmful ones. If you use bio-pesticides, you are risking failure of the microbiological screenings. Some people say that Photosynthesis Plus works well as a foliar spray, but it could make us fail our tests for bacterial counts. This severely constrains the kinds of pesticides we can use. The problem can be avoided by using the bio-pesticides early in the plant’s life cycle, although it severely limits the bio-pesticides use.

Additionally, Massachusetts law has stringent limits on the amount of heavy metals present in our product. We are required to be 5 to 10 times lower than any other state that regulates heavy metals. The metals we look for are cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and lead. We test every pesticide and nutrient we receive for the presence of heavy metals. The biggest problem with testing for heavy metals is that the results can be wildly inconsistent. We can test the same batch 5 times, and get 5 different results.

The state gave us regulations and told us how to set them up. We brought in urban-gro, an IPM-specialist company. Consultants are not required, but definitely a beneficial thing to have, because a lot of the companies that design HVAC systems really failed the first couple dispensaries in the New England area.
IPM has been a requirement in Washington state since they passed i502. They were the first to push for limiting the amount of pesticides allowed. From a consumer point of view, it is strange that the recreational side of Washington implemented pesticide monitoring, but the medical side didn’t do it.

If I were to predict anything, the programs that MA, CO and WA have are going to be the base models for the rest of the country to follow. As California votes in November, bigger companies will emerge and it will become easier to regulate the industry.

We are subject to 2 site visits per month. One site visit is random, and the other one is announced. The inspectors go through the entire building. They inspect the grow and ask us to disclose the new products and pesticides we are using. Along the way, they ask for our MSDS sheets and SOP’s (standard operating procedures). Their unannounced visits are impressively unpredictable. It keeps you on your toes. You never know what they are going to be asking for this time.

When it comes to the IPM testing:

  1. Every product gets tested. If I’m sending them a batch of flower for sale, they test cannabinoids, heavy metals, pesticides, plant growth regulators (PGRs), full microbiological screening and then mycotoxins.
  2. When the flower is going to be converted into oil, it will only be tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and CFCs.
  3. Every single finished product, no matter what it is, gets a microbiological screening before it goes out.

Jordan Mello’s IPM Regimen

Regulations change constantly. You need to cover your bases and be cautious on things you bring in.Jordan Mello
We have kind of seen it all, including thrips, spider mites, and powdery mildew. Now the goal is maintaining a standard and staying ahead of the game. With IPM, it is all about preventing pests from getting in.

Editor’s Note: Here is a quick link to Massachusetts’s state laboratory testing protocols.

Thrips: We use spinosad, which is a bio-pesticide. Initially it was a banned pesticide, despite the fact that it is organic. Now I only use it early during growth because of the microbiological testing. The Spinosad knocks thrips out by about 80% in the first application. For the other 10-20%, I use a product called Azagard (Biosafe Systems). The great thing about Azagard is you can tank mix it with ZeroTol.

Spider Mites: These are even easier to wipe out than Thrips. We used Azamax when we first identified spider mites, well before we had plants in flowering rooms. Every other day for 10 days, we used Azamax on every plant in the building. We have not seen spider mites for a year and a half since then, knock on wood.

Powdery mildew: We use a combination of the Procidic from urban-gro and ZeroTol. It is just an alternation between the two. Powdery mildew replicates, and it is really difficult to get rid of it with just ZeroTol. Now we are at the point where it is under control, and we are doing maintenance. The combination of the two is pretty much unstoppable. If I’m doing a maintenance spray with the ZeroTol, I might as well do a maintenance spray with Azaguard and kill two birds with one stone. It makes it really easy, in terms of cutting down labor.

At this time of the year in New England, our IPM requires that every employee who comes into the grow area must change out of their street clothes into scrubs. We have in-house shoes with booties on top as well. From there, they must regularly change their gloves, booties and hair nets. It is a matter of keeping themselves clean and avoiding cross-contaminating different rooms. If I have thrips in one room, I want to keep them in that room. I want to isolate the problem, and then attack them. Right now, all of our employees are required to:

  1. Come in and switch out of their street clothes
  2. Equip their in-house shoes with booties on top
  3. Put on their in-house scrub type work clothing
  4. Wear black nitrile gloves and hair nets

Each room will have have a lab coat for that room. It instills good habits and isolates rooms from each other without taking too much time out of their schedules.

We have never used beneficial insects at this grow, although I have used them for my previous, smaller grows. I have never used them on this grow because of the risk of what other biologicals the insects might bring in. One issue with the evolving cannabis industry is that regulations change constantly. You need to cover your bases and be cautious on things you bring in.
If you are going to have strict standards of what you can and cannot use, you need to start with design first. Jumping in headlong and expecting good results will not work. Do not be afraid to reach out to people you know that are in the community and ask. That is why it is so beneficial to reach out to groups like urban-gro that consult for multiple people. They have experts in pest management, lighting, and more.

My other big suggestion is that you should be aware of people who call themselves “experts”. We have had 3-4 consultants that have come in claiming to be experts, and urban-gro showed that they were wrong. It is an interesting industry and finding people to trust is tough.

Editor’s Note: If you want to learn more about MA IPM, you can visit their state website.


Growers Network Questions

The interesting thing about my job is that none of my days are ever the same.Jordan Mello
  1. Biosafe Systems ZeroTol — anything biosafe is great! We use their SaniDate to clean our hard surfaces, but their ZeroTol is probably my number one.
  2. Myron L’s PH pen, aka “Dexter’s Lab pens”. Those things are awesome! They make it so easy to test my run offs, I literally just have a little pen in my pocket that can literally tell me down to the 1/100th of a pH.
  3. When we are dealing with lights, we prefer the Method Seven Green Lens LED glasses. You cannot see anything under purple lights, so it allows you to see details in the plants and pay attention to exactly what is going on.
I think that I’ve always had the mentality where I try to pull from a lot of different people. There was never just one person that I really followed. What the Jungle Boyz are doing out in LA is top notch. Every time I go on Instagram and look at the Jungle Boyz, I have to stop, because they make me envious! They have it down to a science. It is going to be really interesting to see what happens in California if they adopt these regulations that these other commercial states have.
The interesting thing about my job is that none of my days are ever the same. I’m in charge of the grow, but I also do managerial and administrative work throughout the entire operation. I get in early before everyone else, to set up my guys’ tasks for the day. Then when I go to the lab, where I’m managing again. I’m not the only one doing any of those things, but they are my secondary role. I also handle project management on the construction side.

We check runoff three times a week for PH and EC and making sure all of our flushes are going well, while making sure our nutrients are not too high or low. I’m in charge of all cloning duties, except transplanting them.

My harvest schedule is already set for the next 2 years. Every room is planned ahead of time, which is obviously subject to change as the situation merits. A lot of my week just goes to maintaining inventory and putting the protocols in place to make sure our inventory is in line. And then I call Growers House to make sure we have all of our nutrients and stuff like that. And then I work with the state inspectors when they come in and answer their questions.

This is all just an example of what could happen in 1 week for me.

  1. First thing I would do is automate watering. Let’s call that $200k, being conservative.
  2. After that, I would invest in solar panels, which cuts down a huge chunk of cost to produce. If I can get production cost down, it means more money for us.
  3. I would probably invest the rest on double-ended, high-pressure sodium lights and mix them in with our LEDs. Our yield could be better in terms of what we could be producing off of the hyper sodium lights.
  4. These tools would cut our production costs in thirds. At that point, it would be a couple dollars per gram. This is our first year of operation, so I had to break down to the penny, what it costs to produce an ounce, including. electricity, water, labor, nutrients, soil. It roughly comes out to $35/oz to produce. My goal is minimizing that number!

Do you have any questions or comments?

Feel free to post below!


Resources:

  • How to manage Spider Mites — University of California IPM
  • Pesticide use in Cannabis Production — Beyond Pesticides
  • Pesticide Database — Pesticide Action Network
  • National Organic Program — USDA
  • IPM 6-Step Approach — MA Energy and Environmental Affairs
  • IPM Kit for Building Managers — MA Department of Food and Agriculture Pesticide Bureau

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    Do you have any questions or comments?

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    About the Author

    Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.