In a new segment, we are bringing you our Ask Me Anything from the community! Our AMA’s were previously only available on the Growers Network Community, but we want to give you a chance to see the high-level conversations happening in our forum. Enjoy!
- GNS - Growers Network Staff
- Host - Our amazing host!
- GN Member - A member of the Growers Network community
Editor’s Note: Sections of the conversation have been moved or clipped out for clarity. Because our AMAs are living, breathing conversations, you can get people talking over and around each other. We have done our best to clarify people’s conversations without putting words into their mouths.
Skip to any section in the AMA:
- About the Host
- What do you enjoy most about working in the cannabis industry?
- Why do growers use plastics instead of stainless steel?
- Does your company incorporate much steel in its design?
- How do you keep your facility clean?
- What are your biggest challenges working in commercial cultivation sites?
- What is your pest management strategy?
- What tracking software do you use?
- What medium are you growing in?
- Is your license vertically integrated?
- How challenging is the Canadian licensing process?
- What are your thoughts on lab testing for THC?
- What advice would give to somebody new to the industry, particularly young women?
- What are your thoughts on patents in cannabis?
- What was your biggest mistake as a grower? What did you learn from it?
- Does Iran consume a lot of cannabis?
- What are your thoughts on the entourage effect?
- What do you see for cannabis in the US by 2023?
About Our Host
Our host wished to remain anonymous, so we have anonymized her name and information. If you are a member of the Growers Network community, you can speak with her directly and learn more. You can even continue the conversation on her AMA here. If you are not a member, consider Joining Now!
Our host holds a Ph.D. and a M.Sc. degree in Analytical Chemistry, and a B.Eng. in Food Science & Technology. She has worked in Production/QC managerial positions and also as an independent ISO 9000 consultant in food industries for years. After her Ph.D. graduation from the University of British Columbia, she worked as a Research Scientist for three years in an analytical laboratory, with a focus on medical cannabis testing. She was responsible for method development for cannabis quality control testing and writing research proposals on analytical protocols for measuring/monitoring the health effects of medical cannabis.
Woman in Cannabis
GNS: I have been looking forward to this AMA very much, as I think the topic of women in cannabis deserves more precedence not only within our community, but in the entire cannabis community worldwide. I have gotten to know [Host] over the course of the last year and have nothing but the utmost respect for her passion, drive, and professional approach to cultivation of cannabis. I believe she represents the very essence of the seasoned cannabis professional. [Host] is a leader in our industry and I think she brings a lot of wisdom to our forum. It’s an honor for her to accept our invitation for an AMA today. Thanks so much!
Host: I appreciate every single word. Simply I can say, I try and I believe cannabis industry needs more female leaders. It inspires me to see successful strong women here who beautifully complement the spectrum.
I take this opportunity to say a big thank you to this network, when I joined the network, I planned to find my voice and character and it helped me a lot. Among many, GrowerNick has been always a great help and inspiration for me. Thank you all!
GNS: During AMA’s I often ask folks how they found their way into the cannabis industry. In your case it sounds like the cannabis industry found you. What about working with cannabis do you most enjoy?
Host: At first, it was overwhelming, I guess because of my academic background, I was complicating everything, but now, I found my approach to problem solving, and it is very fun. That being said, it’s a world of learning and opportunities and keeps me interested everyday.
GN Member: In my steel business we designed and fabricated a steel rolling table to grow in - I use them in my own growing system. We have also designed and fabricated steel towers to grow vertically. Since surgical procedures are performed on stainless steel, it seems important that “medicine” should be grown using the most sterile environments possible. Goodness, if hairnets and disposable jumpsuits are required - why are growers using plastic? Isn’t it clear that plastic leaches?
Host: It is mainly the price per square foot of the growing tables. No one can question stainless steel, but honestly the initial investment is the main bottleneck. That is my thought. I invite everyone comment on this to complete/ revise my answer.
GN Member: Are the plants in plastic pots?
Host: Yes. Currently that is our practice.
GNS: Interesting conversation. Plastic pots are used across the board in food production and I have never seen a stainless steel growing pot.
Can anyone provide any science references about what a plant might pick up from plastic pots?
I know growers who have had fire hazards because a bulb blew and landed on plastic, which in turn caught on fire and ruined the room. But I would like to see the science behind the plastic paranoia beyond it being a fire hazard.
Host: Thank you for your comment. I would love to know more about it as well, plastic pots do not concern me either.
GN Member: There we go… [LINK]
GN Member: I am aware of the water bottles, which is one of the reasons why I never drink out of plastic containers. But - cost of production is a huge part of success in this industry, and most of all hydroponic equipment used to grow your food (and cannabis) for decades has been made from plastic.
Plastic pots have been used in agriculture since the 1950’s (at least) and I would just like to see the science that can show me what molecules were transferred from a plastic pot to a plant.
I am a vegetarian who eats mostly organic food since 1994, but I am also hesitant to make claims about harmful practices in cultivation, such as using a plastic pots, if it is not based on actual science but rather NPR articles that are about something else (Though I love NPR).
I would point out, most watering lines are PVC or vinyl, the Dosatrons I use are plastic, as are the Octabubbler heads I use to distribute water. The nutrients are sold to us in plastic packages and I could go on and on. Where does one draw the line in the sand of plastic paranoia?
GN Member: I feel the same way, I, too, don’t drink from plastic water bottles. It’s probably the old hippie in me. I make the changes where I can, and fortunately, this is where I can make a change. I made it a New Year’s resolution a few years ago to be very conscious about how much plastic I consume - things like plastic bags/straws etc. I avoid it where I can.
GN Member: I am an old hippy at heart myself and I feel where you are coming from.
What really got me away from plastic water bottles were the microplastics: [LINK]
I grow as organic as I can, but I do however try to be not too scared of everything around me.
If anyone has any info about cannabis plants picking up chemicals from plastic, please send it over as I will include in in my upcoming cultivation book. I am much more concerned with growers using PGRs (Plant Growth Regulator) than I am with them using plastic pots.
GN Member: I still like clay pots in grows. You can wash and auto cleave clay with steam the old fashioned way. We would only grow gerberas in Clay. We reused the pots every year. After sanitation. Steam is a great thing we lost in more modern production.
But, you could pasteurize anything you needed. One old cut flowers grower in St. Louis who had a good lab in his growing operation used live steam in his laboratory to help clean.
Also steam to clean propagation and seeding room is a must. We used a steam shower generator in both and the lab/process areas. Home grade stainless steel Dishwasher with sanitation setting is a great tool for cleaning everything in small grows: knifes, scissors, anything you would put in an autoclave.
I think in the grow, plastic is not an issue for plants. The leached products either have the wrong polarity or are too big for absorption.
GNS: Cleanliness is vital to maintaining a healthy cultivation environments. Does your facility incorporate much steel in its design?
Host: We are using the common growing benches (aluminum with Staal & Blast trays) for all other parts of the production, such as trimming, packaging, etc. stainless steel tables are the must.
GN Member: Do you use a Dutch style bench?
Host: No. We have not. That is something that I can learn from you.
GNS: While we’re on the subject of facility cleanliness, can you share a little about cleaning procedures in your facility? What do you use to keep everything healthy and clean?
Host: The production areas must be cleaned and sanitized to pharmaceutical standards. SOPs must be written for routinely cleaning the corridors, growing rooms, and a vigorous cleaning protocol for between batches. Cross contamination is one of the biggest challenges that must be carefully controlled. I am using a product similar to ProKure (chlorine dioxide) which is very effective.
GN Member: These are the protocols that I will have to follow after I receive my licence from Health Canada. For now, I’m personal use.
GN Member: [We use] a pressure washer
GNS: [That is a] vital piece of equipment that makes quick work of cleaning your facility!
GNS: What have you found to be the biggest challenges working in commercial cannabis cultivation facilities?
Host: One of the biggest challenges is establishing a preventative pest management plan. In Canada, there is nothing on the registered list of pesticides that can be used as a corrective solution if there is an outbreak of any fungi or pests. So producers must establish a very carefully designed IPM that nicely match their production strategies.
In addition, there are still many details that need to taken care of after the production to retain the integrity of products, especially for export. I guess health and safety and sustainable practices are overlooked as well, just to name a few.
GN Member: This is a GREAT point. There is the obvious regulatory challenge associated with ensuring your crops pass testing, and the less obvious challenge of maximizing yields and quality to ensure profitability. One of the things that we find folks overlooking in their IPM strategy is mechanical design. I don’t think everyone realizes how critical correct mechanical design (HVAC) is to an IPM strategy. SOPs and employee behavior are very important, but the HVAC design is going to define the vast majority of potential exposure points to outside contaminants. In addition, proper environmental control has a big impact on the overall health of the plant and its natural resistance to pest and fungi–where plants are generally unhealthy, pests will have better opportunities to thrive.
Host: Yes! you beautifully explained that. When plants undergo environmental stress, they become very prone to pests and diseases. Usually we tend to overlook this fact.
GNS: It’s all about being proactive, not reactive in your grow. Do you have any favorite products you use for your IPM strategy? What products do you find indispensable in your cultivation facility?
Host: Vegol Crop Oil is the one that we use in vegetative phase and then we integrate biological crop protection in flowering stage.
GN Member: How detailed is the IPM plan in Canada? Do you use proactive measures, such as trap plants in the grow?
Host: We are using Biobest products and I am happy with that.
GN Member: For fungus control are you think along the lines of strawberries in hot houses in the Netherlands, with a UV blast from the lights type of approach?
I think they spike UV light five minutes every 60 minutes, during the non people times. They report good fungal and bacterial control. Could be adapted for cannabis?
Host: Why not? I [would like to] explore this personally.
As far as I understand in Canada, most producers are looking into biological controls in flower, meticulous sanitation and cleaning protocols to minimize cross-contamination. Obtaining healthy cloning material[s] are very important as well.
GN Member: And how do you handle VPD or dew point control?
Host: Controlling VPD is very vital and it can prevent many further consequences. We try to always maintain the sweet spot.
GN Member: Does the sweet spot get a line in the book keeping in the chart of accounts as a KPI for QA?
Host: Yes! We monitor it to be able to tune the environmental conditions and we record it as part of the batch production records. But I have not formally incorporated it in KPI. That is a good idea.
GN Member: The best thing I learned IT fortune 50 is you better have a KPI or KPM for everything you. If something I touched could have an impact positive or negative we tracked it to project and financial. I know every line of code produced cost x and aged at y and and cost more each year in service on a log scale.
Detail can be tracked. It can be created at a point and turned back into information which can be tacked back. It is the ideal of data point become automatic reference points for continuaed data collection. So the audited date set can grow in detail automatically as a nested set of the grow.
Host: I couldn’t agree more. I must start defining and implementing that. I will contact you for help.
GNS: What tracking software are you using in your facility?
Host: It is AirMed (Cannabis seed-to-sale- software)
GNS: In what medium are you cultivating? Do you have a personal favorite as a grower?
Host: We are using soil based medium and I must admit that unfortunately, I personally have not had vast practical experience with other growing media. We had a trial with Rockwool and we will have a trial soon with aeroponics. I hope that I have better useful practical information in the near future.
GN Member: I’m shocked as you add a whole different set of problems in production when you use true soils. I would have thought one of the composted pine bark-based peat products for nurseries and greenhouses would give you more consistent product. Cycle over cycle.
Lot of great research between soil and soilless in container production. First 25% difference in dry weight of most short day cut flowers. Soilless A C Bunt “modern potting composts” university of Oxford press 1976 is still a good book. Bunt, also published papers with a Dutch professor, on switching to soilless mixes to improve space performance in cut flowers. Real groundbreaking work for the day.
GNS: I have never grown with pine bark. I would be curious to know if other master growers or grow-op owners have any experience with this medium?
GN Member: Composted pine bark. The best thing since soilless composts were first invented. It contains peat moss and everything else in Pro-mix Bx, plus composted pine bark and some wood ash.
GN Member: We mix pine bark and perlite with our Sungro mix #6 peat moss. We use about 25 semi loads of peat per year. Since we are already experienced with that medium, it’s what we use in our cannabis as well. I’m not an expert on everything else, but I’m pretty sure it’s the least expensive medium to grow in. Heck, it has to be as we grow several million pansies & petunias in it every year and make a few cents on them.
GN Member: Try this for a mix or the courser nursery mix. MetroMix 510
We use to crop right in the bag for cut flowers and other things. Used Netafim for irrigation. 8 emitters per bag works very nicely. We cut drain hole in the bag with a home made tool that created 14 slashes in the bottom of the bag. We laid the bags flat and could crop for 8 months. When we changed a crop we changed the bag. So snaps got changed more often than Ranunculus.
It was made by W R Grace at the time we used it. We actually used a blend with some wood ash also called MetroMix 520 We purchased about semi load in August and another in February. It was the most cost effective way for us. I don’t remember the price but you know me we costed the stuff down to the gnat's ass.
We used 820 in pots over 10 inches tall or 2.5 gallons, because of the drainage characteristics we needed.
The pumas beds where steam cleaned each season to prep for the winter grow. I would us lab grade puffed glass today because you can calculate the total available surface area of the growing container, High surface area to air ratio in the container. Great for a hydro substrate. It is also very easy to clean.
GNS: Is your license vertically integrated? Does your facility process for extraction?
Host: I must explain on that. We are waiting to receive our production licence from Health Canada. The experience that we have gained are from cultivation under personal ACMPR licences. The products will be used for the personal health treatment of licence holders. After we receive our cultivation licence, we plan to apply for processing licence, which allows for extraction.
GNS: Have you had many hurdles overcoming the new licensing laws in Canada? What has been the biggest challenge?
Host: It is a new business, so many issues are being revealed after trials and errors. Health Canada is doing a great job in making policies and they are communicating with the industry routinely; however, there are still many details and policies that need to be revised. The main bottleneck is that the legal industry is so young and there have not been enough data and statistics to create a solid basis for many policies.
Just as an example, right now, the same microbial and pesticides criteria applies to both indoor and outdoor, which is very questionable. I trust that policymakers are fully aware of that but until there is not enough data that define the basis of each category, it is to expect well defined criteria.
GN Member: This has always been true in horticulture scince so many group have input.
For example elemental sulfur should not have limitation except in the final product and emissions. Same is true for any Cu.8H2O. Ir135 and IR 138? All of these are old fungiced and plant essential nutrient? How do they derermine good use or bad? Painted with Ca hydrate H2O plus Cu.8H2O. Think combination of old fashioned white wash plus bourdox mix. Kill slugs better than most slug baits and does not kill you unless you have a fetish of licking greenhouse walls. Mo-bot still uses it in there operation. And they have the longest continually operated greenhouse. That where the white wash is in the cemillia house.
GN Member: The biggest challenge in HC regulations is the latitude given to the inspector and the total lack of Horticultural common sense that are in the regulations. LP’s are terrified of their inspectors and never try to let common sense prevail, so we end up with ever growing non sense.
As an example, everyone wants to do organic, yet HC doesn’t want to see any kind of bacteria, microbes, fungi etc. Therefore most organically grown buds need to be irradiated (or pasteurized) giving an end product of lesser quality.
Another hurdle comes from the inspectors which apply the regulation differently in different areas. Some LP’s barely ever contact me, other are on a daily basis requiring all kind of new certificates to satisfy the nutbar sent by HC to their facility. Of course there are also QA managers who ignore horticulture which is also a big problem, as a bud will never be as evenly produced as a Tylenol can, yet they wont settle for anything less.
GN Member: Hi. I love the conversation. What can you say about lab testing for THC? It’s very popular for dispensaries to advertise the percentage of THC in their product, but I feel like the testing can be misleading. The focus is getting a high THC percentage over anything else. Do you see any standardisation in lab testing coming into market?
Host: The lab results on potency [...] unfortunately can be misleading. On the grower sides, due to the marketing value of THC/CBD, the sampling can be done biasedly. On the laboratory sides, unfortunately many labs are not doing a great job in validating their methods and I am not aware of any lab that participate in proficiency testing program, which is a must.
In Canada, the federal legalization is paving the road to standardization and I know that some labs are starting proficiency testing. So hopefully, we will see less paradox in lab results of the same sample. In addition, because of the price of the cannabis, usually a fair amount of product is not sampled. Just to mention some of the reasons why there are many misleading lab results…
In addition, you are right, cannabis is more than THC and CBD, and hopefully with customer awareness, the other tests such terpenes are becoming more important.
GNS: Where do you purchase all your scientific testing supplies?
GNS: If you could offer one key piece of guidance to young people trying to break into the cannabis industry, especially young women, what might that guidance be?
Host: The timing is perfect because the opportunities are endless. So much to explore and learn. At the same time, it can be overwhelming and there are unfortunately many claims and false directions. It took me some time to learn how to avoid unnecessary noises and misleading directions. So maybe my advice is to do a good research on everything that comes on your way. I hope it makes sense
The other thing is to expand your network, do not be shy to reach out experts and ask for help and at the end of the day, try to make your decision only based on facts.
GN Member: What are your thoughts on patents and their role in your work? What do you think can be done to make patenting and data usage more ethical in the cannabis space, where there’s definitely a lot of innovation happening in labs and, still, a lot of information still underground?
Host: There is a great space for patents in both horticulture part and technology and you are right, many information are hidden underground. Due to the speed of the industry and the profitable aspects, many are working individually and I think that will not benefit anyone at the end. If the industry was more established, it would make it much easier for innovations that find their ways to the commercial stage. I hope I answered your question. I apologize if not.
GN Member: May I paraphrase. There are no secrets in horticulture. There are good and bad practices. The most important thing you know you learned in kindergarten. Share, be kind, cover your mouth with you elbow when sneezing and caughing, don’t talk with a full mouth and washer your hand to ABC song twice before leave. Everything else you learn is details and as the first part says SHARE.
GNS: What has been your biggest mistake as a grower? What did you learn from that mistake?
Host: My biggest mistake was probably trying to incorporate pieces of information from any sources. Now, I have learned to refer to plant physiology and only carefully apply things that nicely fit in my protocols.
GN Member: Is there a lot of weed consumed in Iran? We don’t really get good information about Iran here in the US, and I wonder if marijuana popular there.
Host: The status is illegal, but like many countries it is popular regardless
GN Member: I was wondering, what your thought[s] are on CBD only vs “entourage effect?”
Host: There are some proven facts on [the] health benefits on CBD alone, but I am not a fan of isolated cannabinoids. I prefer to retain other important components such as micro cannabinoids and terpenes in the final product as well. But CBD has been very well studied and it offer many health benefits by itself.
GNS: Where do you see the legal cannabis industry in the USA by 2023?
Host: I think it will be federally legal by then and that will open up a whole different spectrum.
GNS: This has been a great AMA! Thanks so much for taking the time to be here with us today, and thanks for being an important forum GN Member and a voice for the industry!
As always, thanks to everyone who participated and made this a great and successful first AMA of 2019!
Host: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate the network and all the support from all the GN Members.
Happy 2019 all. Wish you all a wonderful year.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’ve found the subject matter quite interesting and engaging. If you haven’t joined our community already, I highly recommend you Join Now! We’d love to have your voice chime in!
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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.