Elad Spiegel, Director of Cultivation for Golden Leaf Holdings


In this Growers Spotlight, we interview Elad Spiegel (pronounced “A-Lod”), the Director of Cultivation for Golden Leaf Holdings about his growing style, preferred facilities, and philosophy.

EladElad Spiegel

The following is an interview with industry experts. Growers Network does not endorse nor evaluate the claims of our interviewees, nor do they influence our editorial process. We thank our interviewees for their time and effort so we can continue our exclusive Growers Spotlight service.


Abbreviated Article


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The Operation



Indoor, Outdoor, or Greenhouse, and why?

It really depends on where you’re growing and what products you’re aiming to produce:

  1. Where cultivation needs to take place.
    1. If you’re in an area with limited land, indoor may be necessary.
  2. The kind of products you are producing.
    1. If you’re making oil, outdoors and cheap makes sense.
    2. If you’re growing for flower, then you’ll probably want indoors or a greenhouse.
  3. The environment you’re growing in.
    1. Ideal growing climates mean that greenhouses are your best option.
    2. Challenging environments make an indoor grow may be the better option.

If you had a lot to spend on a grow, what would you buy, and why?

I would say that investment in automation is key, because the biggest expense in cultivation is labor. People should be used for work that is very sensitive or requires high-level judgment and decision-making.



Do you have any favorite strains you like to grow?

I stick with what are called the “old-school” strains. These are strains that have special attributes which both consumers and growers find attractive. These strains are easy to sell.

As a grower, you should always have a good selection of two or three strains for cannabinoid levels, and terpenes. Avoid too many different strains, as you can spread yourself too thin.



Tell me about your environmental controls and automation.

Northern Oregon’s rainy season is long; heating and supplemental lighting are crucial. DryGair systems have been awesome because we don’t have to invest in 3 separate systems. Instead, we can invest in one system and make it a focal point in our production.


What is your preferred methodology for handling pests?

Russet mites and broad mites in Oregon have proven to be very challenging. They are difficult to spot when their numbers are small. You can treat the infestations with pesticides, but you sacrifice quality and money by doing so. I maintain a preventative protocol using:

  1. Various essential oils
  2. Neem oil

These natural, organic pesticides are quite helpful for prevention without sacrificing quality.



What’s your preferred approach to preventing fungal pathogenesis?

While fungicides work to a limited extent, you greatly sacrifice quality. As a result, fungicide use is unsustainable, because you will not be able to sell your product.

Therefore, the best strategy is prevention via environmental control. You need to keep the crop dry. Your structure should divert condensation away from the plants, and your environmental controls should avoid the dewpoint. I personally recommend DryGair’s products as very effective solutions for the price.



Philosophy



What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was in my first year of growing back in Israel. I was growing AK-47s and Purple Kushes and thought I was hot stuff. Two weeks later, 90% of the plants had to go to the garbage because botrytis had taken over. My humidity was not under control.

Most recently, Marion County of Oregon opted out of recreational cannabis in the last round of elections. That meant we couldn’t expand our operation how we originally planned.



What are some of your biggest triumphs?

My biggest triumphs relate to people. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. You could have the best technology in the world, but if you don’t have a good team to support that, then you don’t have much.



What differences have you seen between Israel and Oregon cannabis cultivation?

Regulations were virtually nonexistent in Israel while I was there. Israeli authorities allowed producers to produce as much medical cannabis as they could with basically no guidelines. They eventually regulated the price of the medicine for the patient. The result of this legislation meant that small, niche growing wasn’t possible. Growers needed to produce in bulk.

In contrast, Oregon’s recreational program was really thought through beforehand. There were some glitches and difficulties at first, but the smart people in the OLCC did a great job putting together a modular program that could be upgraded relatively quickly. On the other hand, the scale of production is extremely limited. Operations are limited to a small family farm. The market is limited to expansion.



What advice would you have for a new grower?

Talk less, listen more. It’s not about your ego, it’s about the plants. It’s not about your ideal garden, it’s about building good systems. Surround yourself with a good team of professionals that you can trust and learn from. Remember, the cannabis market didn’t invent agriculture. A good farmer can be easily trained to grow cannabis.

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The Operation


It really depends on where you’re growing and what products you’re aiming to produce. I don’t have a personal preference, although I’m most familiar with growing in a greenhouse from my experience in Israel. In our case, we’re growing in a greenhouse.

Here are a few factors that affect the decision:

  1. Where cultivation needs to take place.
    1. Cannabis is mostly a local market, since there is no export in the US. If you’re based in an area with limited amount of land (IE Los Angeles), indoor may be a necessary option for you.
  2. The kind of products you are producing.
    1. If you’re growing to make oil, it doesn’t make sense to grow indoors or in a greenhouse. Quality standards for oils aren’t strict. You can grow outdoors as long as there’s a suitable environment.
    2. If you’re growing for flower, then you’ll probably want indoors or a greenhouse because you get much more control.
  3. The environment you’re growing in.
    1. If you have an ideal growing climate, then greenhouses are usually your best option. You get the control of an indoor grow, with the reduced costs associated with an outdoor grow thanks to the sun.
    2. If you have a challenging environment, due to heat, cold, short seasons, etc. an indoor grow may be the better option.

Editor’s Note: Check out our article about purchasing the right greenhouse for cannabis!

It really depends on the location and climate. Generally speaking, however, I would prefer to design a greenhouse. I only grow indoors if I needed to, either due to regulations or climate.

Greenhouses are great!

It also depends on the quality of cannabis you’re looking to produce. If you want to make top-shelf flower for smoking, a greenhouse is preferable. If you’re planning on growing cannabis that is geared for extraction, then a predominantly outdoor grow would make sense. I would only limit my size based on the regulations of the county and state.

Well, first of all, a million dollars is actually not a whole lot of money to design a grow operation. That’s about half of the cost of a full grow. If I don’t take you literally, I would say that investment in automation is key, because the biggest expense in cultivation is labor. There’s a reason why other agricultural industries use as much large-scale machinery as possible. People should be used for work that is very sensitive or requires high-level judgment and decision-making.

Now that said, technology is supposed to solve problems in a cost-effective way, but sometimes it doesn’t take an advanced solution to solve a complex problem. Don’t waste money on expensive solutions to problems when you could invest a few hundred dollars in a simpler, low-tech solution.

It depends on your goals as a grower. For example, organically-grown cannabis is highly sought after by both growers and consumers. However, organically grown-cannabis requires an imprecise use of nutrients. You may end up with more waste products because of that lack of precision. What I try to do is combine the best of both worlds: start with a base mineral regimen that is supplemented with fulvic and humic acids during specific stages of crop growth. This helps me reach high-quality, organic-level flavor while reducing waste.
There are a lot of strains out there, but I prefer to stick with what many call the “old-school” strains. These are strains which have been on the market for a very long time because they have special attributes that both consumers and growers find attractive. These strains are easy to sell and are attractive to the consumer or patient due to being well-established.

As a grower though, you should always have a good selection of two or three strains per “strain category.” Strain categories include:

  1. Smell and taste
    1. Fruity
    2. Earthy
    3. “Skunky”
  2. Cannabinoid levels
    1. High THC
    2. High CBD
    3. Specific Ratios of THC:CBD
      1. 1:1
      2. 1:2
      3. 1:3
      4. 2:1
      5. 3:1

You shouldn’t have too many different strains, as you can spread yourself too thin and your grow will become too difficult to manage.

When I was cultivating in Israel, we didn’t use heating because we needed to keep our costs as low as possible. The price for a patient in Israel is around $3/gram, which is way lower than in the US. Low prices meant that cultivation had to be very cost effective. Since conditions in Israel are generally favorable for growing (warm and sunny), I was able to get high-yielding crops without heating or supplemental lighting for three seasons, and the fourth season would be low-yielding, with most of the content going towards extraction.

For some reason, one season is less productive.

While I was growing in Israel, I started to become familiar with DryGair systems. I found them attractive because they developed their systems with three components of climate control:

  1. Dehumidification
  2. High airflow capacity
  3. Heating solutions, depending on the model

Unlike Israel, northern Oregon’s rainy season is long; heating and supplemental lighting are crucial. DryGair has been awesome because we don’t have to invest in 3 separate systems. Instead, we can invest in one system and make it a focal point in our production. It’s extremely affordable and efficient.

DryGair has large units available that work on 3-phase electrical service that act upon approximately 10,000 square feet. They are modifiable for additional heating and cooling units. I also recommended to DryGair that they develop a small unit that could work on one-phase electrical service (120V), since the majority of their units require 3-phase electrical service. Many remote growers in the US do not have 3-phase service, and single-phase units will be a major boon to the industry.

The dehumidifiers also interface with our master controllers. Each system can work in one of two modes: the system can regulate itself based on preset thresholds or it can be controlled by a master controller. Each unit has its own standalone controller and sensors. In our case, we connected the dehumidification systems to our main climate control systems.

In Israel, you don’t have to deal with russet mites. You do have to deal with European mites frequently, but they’re not as much of an issue, and I was very familiar with control of European mites.

But when I moved to Oregon, russet mites and broad mites have proven to be very challenging. They are very difficult to spot when their numbers are small. If you’ve spotted their effects on the plant, it’s already a really bad infestation. You can treat the infestations with pesticides, but you sacrifice quality and money by doing so.

Don’t mind me, just lowering your crop value.

Thus I prefer to maintain a preventative protocol using a variety of products as a weekly spray. My go-to active ingredients include, but are not limited to:

  1. Various essential oils
  2. Neem oil

These natural, organic pesticides are quite helpful for prevention without sacrificing quality. However, it’s not just what you use, but how you use it. You need to properly apply your prevention protocols in order to achieve uniform coverage. Don’t waste your time or money on improper application and dosage.

The applicators you choose to use depend on the grow environment. Generally speaking, in an indoor environment you’ll probably use atomizers or backpack sprayers, as both of which are very efficient and small. In a greenhouse, you can apply efficiently prevention measures through the water lines or backpack sprayers. If you’re outdoors, you can use commercial farm equipment to spray properly. If you want to use an automatic robot to spray, you need to have your grow space designed in advance with tracks and other requirements.

The best way to prevent fungal pathogenesis is environmental control. While fungicides work to a limited extent, you greatly sacrifice quality, and the effects are limited over time, as the fungal population will eventually develop resistance to the fungicides. More effective fungicides will have a negative impact on your laboratory tests and will greatly lower the quality of the cannabis. As a result, fungicide use is unsustainable for a commercial cannabis grower, because you will not be able to sell your product.

The bottom line is that cannabis is a challenging crop for fungal management because it’s a flowering crop that needs to be kept in the flowering state for a long period of time. No other crop has that concern. Flowers are very sensitive plant tissue, and keeping the plant in a continually flowering state leaves it very vulnerable to pests and fungus.

Flowers are technically plant genitals, so it only makes sense that they’re sensitive.

Therefore, the best strategy is prevention via environmental control. This means you need to keep the crop dry. You don’t want free water anywhere on the crop. This means that both your structure will need to be designed to divert condensation away from the plants, and your environmental controls will need to prevent your plants from reaching the dewpoint and forming dew on the leaves.

Generally, the way to avoid the wet surfaces issue is through dehumidification. I personally recommend DryGair’s products as very effective solutions for the price. I discovered DryGair about 4-5 years ago when I was struggling with Botrytis in Israel, and they have helped me move away from fungicides towards environmental control.


Philosophy

You could have the best technology in the world, but if you don’t have a good team to support that, then you don’t have much.Elad Spiegel
One of the biggest challenges I faced was in my first year of growing back in Israel. It was my first commercial crop and we were in the fifth week of flowering. I was growing AK-47s and Purple Kushes and I thought I was hot stuff. The plants were growing like crazy, and I thought I was going to get a crazy yield. This was before I had implemented any major humidity solutions.

Two to three weeks later, 90% of the plants had to go straight to the garbage. Botrytis had taken over most of my crop, because my humidity was not under control. It was definitely a learning experience, I’ll say that. If you let things devastate you, you’re probably not in the right business.

My most recent challenge came during the last round of elections in the US. Most of my friends were disappointed by the presidential election results, but in my case I was worried by local election results. Marion County of Oregon opted out of recreational cannabis, which meant we couldn’t expand our operation in the way we were originally planning. We had to move out of the farm we were planning to use and sell it. The truth of this industry is that regulatory challenges underpin everything we do. Rules and regulations can determine how we operate and design our systems. We live and die by compliance.

You could have the best technology in the world, but if you don’t have a good team to support that, then you don’t have much.
My biggest triumphs relate to people. We can talk about greenhouse technology all day long, but the reality is that plants don’t just grow just because there’s technology. Plants grow because there are people there to manage them. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. You could have the best technology in the world, but if you don’t have a good team to support that, then you don’t have much.

And, in truth, one of my biggest triumphs is that every day and every year, we cultivate a team of people that are able to work together cohesively with the common goal of producing the best medicine for patients.

If you can step back from your operations and not worry, you’ve built a good team. In Israel, I was called into emergency military service and had to leave for 3-4 weeks. When I came back, everything was fine. If you can take a week off and everything is perfect when you come back, you have a good team.

While I was in Israel, regulations were virtually nonexistent. Israeli authorities granted 8 growers licenses to produce as much medical cannabis as they could with basically no guidelines. After a few years, they added security regulations that required fences, cameras, and 24-hour security guards. They eventually regulated the price of the medicine for the patient. Unlike in America, patients in Israel don’t pay per gram; they pay per “treatment”. Treatment is determined by the doctors. Thus, cannabis pricing was based on how many patients we had listed under our care. Each patient paid something around $80 per treatment, not including tax. The result of this legislation meant that small, niche growing wasn’t possible if you wanted to have a decent profit margin. Growers needed to produce in bulk to keep costs down.

Recently, the Israeli government has started to become more involved in cannabis regulations. They implemented strict quality standards and GAPs. That’s a major positive. Additionally, today you can find another 35-ish cultivation licenses that were issued back in March this year (2017). Production capacity is going to increase dramatically and most of it is intended for export. If you want to hop into the global cannabis market, Israel is the hottest place to be.

Sometimes literally the hottest place to be.

In contrast, Oregon’s recreational program was really thought through beforehand. There were some glitches and difficulties at first, but the smart people in the OLCC did a great job putting together a modular program that could be upgraded relatively quickly. There’s still room to improve, but the starting point was excellent.

On the other hand, if you look at the cannabis market in Oregon, the scale of production is extremely limited. Operations are limited to 10,000 sq ft for indoor cultivation, and 1 acre for outdoor cultivation, which would be considered by most farmers to be a family farm. The small scale of operations keeps cannabis prices high by inhibiting better profit margins. In turn, this makes the black market appealing to failing growers. Additionally, the market is localized solely to Oregon, limiting growth potential. Cannabis cultivators have a ceiling in their way that limits the size and scale of operations. All that said, Oregon voters wanted this. They didn’t want corporate cannabis. The market is limited to expansion, unlike in Israel.

Editor’s Note: Check out our related article on Oregon Consumer Protection!

Talk less, listen more.
Talk less, listen more. It’s not about your ego, it’s about the plants. It’s not about your ideal garden, it’s about building good systems.

I learned from the start that I wasn’t born a professional agronomist. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by professionals as I learned and I was smart enough to ask the right questions. When I received advice from them, I implemented their suggestions and solutions in a timely fashion. Surround yourself with a good team of professionals that you can trust and learn from.

Remember, the cannabis market didn’t invent agriculture. There’s a lot of very smart people with years of experience that would be happy to share their knowledge. A good farmer can be easily trained to grow cannabis.


About Golden Leaf and Elad


Golden Leaf Holdings is built around a portfolio of recognized brands, including Golden, Proper, Left Coast Connections, and Chalice Farms. Golden Leaf Holdings is one of the largest cannabis oil and solutions providers in North America, and the company leverages a strong management with cannabis and food industry experience. We produce nearly everything, including extracts, edibles, flower, oil, and more.
I grew up in Israel, and I received my B. Sc. in Agriculture from the Institute of Plant Science at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem. I worked as a researcher and educator at Eshel Hanassi School for a significant amount of time, but I recognized that my career opportunities at the school were relatively limited. I could have grown tomatoes or any other conventional crop, but there’s not a whole lot of pioneering going on in those fields. Because I want to work in pioneering fields, I realized there were two real paths open to me: graywater recovery and cannabis. At the time (2012) graywater recovery was a completely new field, and medical licensing was just opening up in Israel.
I did my due diligence into both fields of science — graywater recovery and medical cannabis — and I realized that there were more career opportunities in cannabis, and more opportunities to advance. I also love to be challenged, and I want to help make medicine.

Plus graywater is significantly less pleasant than cannabis.

I found a good opportunity as Head Agronomist for Cann Pharmaceuticals, also known as, “Better” and I took full advantage of the position. Israel’s medical program started off with virtually no restrictions. SOPs, GAPs, etc. had not been established yet. You could grow as large as you wanted. I helped take Cann from a struggling new company to the second largest production operation in Israel.

In 2015 I got recruited for Golden Leaf Holdings, based out of Oregon. I relocated from Israel to become the Director of Cultivation here.

First of all, I see legalization happening on the national level. Regardless of political orientation, almost everybody is for cannabis. We just need to get the politicians caught up on everybody’s opinion.

On a commercial level, American consumers have a connoisseur’s taste for flower. As long as consumers prefer connoisseur-level flower, that is what cannabis growers will need to supply. So far we have seen leaps and bounds in grow quality, and I expect that trend to continue. I also expect to see better-educated growers in the future. Most growers are still coming out of the black-market from small-scale grows, and it’s hard to translate black-market skills into large scale, commercial skills. The market will need to resolve the demand for skilled and educated labor.

Also, it almost goes without saying, but technology is always improving. I expect more automation solutions in the future. As growers get a handle on running large facilities, the next generation of facilities will be more cost-effective and competitive.



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Want to get in touch with Elad?

You can reach him via the following methods:

  1. Website: http://goldenleafholdings.com/
  2. Phone: 503-384-2141
  3. Email: [email protected]

Resources:

  1. Want to learn more about DryGair? Check out some of the articles they’ve contributed to Growers Network!
    1. Ask DryGair: An eMail-In Question and Answer Series
    2. Ask DryGair: Humidity 101
  2. Curious about the problems associated with powdery mildew? Check out this article.
  3. Want to know more about greenhouse growing? Find out how to choosing the right cannabis greenhouse here.

Do you have any questions or comments?

Feel free to post below!


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.