Beginner’s Guide to Integrated Pest Management “IPM” – What is it and how to do it.

By David Perkins

Formulating a Plan 

In this article, you will learn how to control pests and improve the health of your cannabis plants using integrated pest management, commonly referred to as IPM. This involves a multi-point strategy – there is no quick fix, nor is there one solution that will wipe out all your pest problems. Proper pest management requires patience, consistency, and determination. 

It is important to understand that not all pesticides are bad. While many are incredibly harmful not only to pests, but also humans, in this article I will educate you about some of the safer alternatives to traditional pesticides. It is possible to safely control unwanted pests in your cannabis garden without harming yourself, your employees, or the natural habitat around you. 

Every cultivation facility should have a well thought out plan for their pest management program. This program should account for the prevention, and if necessary, eradication of: spider mites, russet mites, fungus gnats, root aphids, thrips and caterpillars. These are just a few of the more common pests you’ll find in a cannabis garden. There could also be many other less commonly known bugs, so you have to be vigilant in looking closely at your plants, and the soil, at all times. Complete eradication of a targeted pest can be difficult. Once a pest has established itself, decimating or decreasing the population will require an aggressive regimen that includes spraying daily to control populations and prevent other pests from getting established. 

Spraying or applying pesticides to the foliage of plants isn’t the only way to control or eradicate pest populations. There are many other ways that you can minimize the spread of pests without the use of pesticides. In greenhouse and outdoor grows, growing specific types of plants around the cultivation area will attract both beneficial and predator bugs that will naturally control pest populations. Some plants that attract these bugs are: mint, peppers, and marigold. Beneficial and predator bugs, such as ladybugs, predator wasps, and predator mites can control unwanted pest populations in the area before they even have a chance to become a problem in your garden. Plants and flowers that attract bees, birds and insects will also create helpful biodiversity, making it more difficult for the unwanted pests to thrive. 

For indoor cultivation, it is imperative that you have your cultivation facility set up for a proper workflow. If you have pests you need to make sure you are not contaminating the rest of your facility when going from one area to the next. Make sure that you only go to contaminated areas at the very end of your day, and when you’re done working in that area, you must immediately exit the building. Do not ever walk back through the uncontaminated parts of your facility or the pests will spread quickly. 

When most people think of pests in their cannabis garden they think of the more common varieties: spider mites, russet mites, aphids and thrips. However, there are also soil-dwelling pests that can exist, without your knowledge. These will decrease the health and vigor of your plants, without you even knowing they’re there, if you’re not careful to check for them. Some of the soil-dwelling pests that plague cannabis plants are: root aphids, fungus gnat larvae and grubs. It is just as important to control the pests below the soil, feeding on your roots, as it is to control the pests that feed above soil on your plants. 

Maintaining healthy plants is essential to controlling pest populations, both on the foliage and below the soil. Healthy plants will have an easier time fighting off pests than unhealthy plants. Plants have immune systems just like humans, and the stronger the plant’s immune system, the more likely it will be able to ward off pests and diseases. Allowing a plant to reach its full potential, by minimizing pests, means your plants will also have a better quality, smell and flavor, not to mention a bigger yield. 

Worker safety, Regulation and REI times 

The application of pesticides requires certification from the state agricultural department. In certain situations, depending on the type of pesticide and method of application, a license may even be required. The application of pesticides without proper certification is against the law. Applying pesticides in a manner that is not in accordance with the label and instructions is also a violation of law. 

The proper PPE or personal protective equipment is required for anybody handling, mixing, or applying pesticides. Employees can be a liability to your company if they are applying pesticides improperly. Make sure you and your entire staff are well educated about pesticide use requirements and limitations, prior to usage, and that only a person properly certified is handling the mixing and application at your facility. 

After a pesticide is applied, you must abide by the REI or re-entry interval. This is the required time period limiting all workers from re-entry into areas where pesticides have been applied. This time period will vary depending on the type of pesticide used and the method of application. In some instances, pesticides applied in the last 30 days may require employee training before work can be done in those areas. 

The misuse of or improper handling of pesticides is not only unlawful and dangerous to human health, but can also cause environmental damage to waterways and wildlife. The direct effects of pesticides on wildlife include acute poisoning, immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, reproductive failure, altered morphology and growth rates, and changes in behavior. Pesticides can indirectly impact wildlife through reduction of food resources and refuses, starvation due to decreased prey availability, hypothermia, and secondary poisoning. Section 1602 of the California Fish and Game Code governs requirements for permitting of any project where pesticides will be used, and strictly regulates the disposition of all waste and run-off. It is imperative to know the regulations and to abide by them, or heavy fines will ensue! 

Using Pesticides in a Regulated Market 

Knowing which pesticides you can’t use, to avoid failing mandatory state testing, is just as important as knowing which ones you can use safely to pass required testing. Most states with regulated markets have strict limitations on the pesticides that can be used in cannabis cultivation. Pesticide use in the cultivation of cannabis is the most strictly regulated in the agriculture industry; the pesticides allowed for use in cannabis cultivation are far more limited than any other crop. 

Just because a product is certified organic, that does not mean that it can be used, or that it is safe to be consumed or ingested. Oftentimes when cannabis flower alone is tested it will not fail or a show or detectable amount of pesticides or heavy metals. However, when that flower is turned into concentrates, banned substances are then detected in testing, leading to test failures. 

Cannabis cultivation that is located on land that was previously used for conventional agriculture, or located near vineyards or other agricultural crops that are heavily sprayed with harmful pesticides, run a very high risk failing testing. This is because of either spray drift from nearby agriculture, or residual pesticides and heavy metals left in the soil from previous crops that were using pesticides banned for cannabis cultivation. Accordingly, if you’re going to be growing outdoors or in a greenhouse, it is imperative that you get a soil and water test prior to cultivation, so you can determine if there is any potential for test failures due to pesticide or heavy metals in the soil or water in that area. 

Proper Application – Using the Right Tools in the Right Way at the Right Time 

One of the most important factors in pest management is proper identification of pests and proper application and coverage of pesticides. It does not require an entomology degree to identify insects, these days there is a lot of information online that can help you identify cannabis pests. Proper identification of insects can make the difference between success and failure. With a good eye and a microscope, if you do your research, you can control most insects in your garden. 

In order to control pests in your garden you must get proper coverage of the foliage of the plant when you are applying pesticides. There are different types of equipment that are commonly used to apply pesticides in cannabis cultivation: backpack sprayers, foggers, and airless paint sprayers are the most common. An alternative method involves using an automated dosing system such as a dosatron, which injects fertilizer or pesticides at a specific ratio into you water lines, allowing you to use only the exact amount of pesticide you need. That way you avoid wasting money on unused pesticides. It is also safer for employees because it minimizes employee exposure, since there is no mixing required, and it allows for a large volume to be sprayed, without refilling a tank or a backpack sprayer. 

No matter what you are using you must ensure you get the proper coverage on your plants in order to control pests. The temperature and humidity of your cultivation area, and the PH and temperature of the pesticide solution, 

all factor into the success of your IPM. For example, PFR 97 needs to be applied at a higher humidity range, around 70% to be most effective. In some areas this is not possible so repeated applications may be required to ensure the application is effective. A high PH or alkaline PH can cause alkaline hydrolysis which will make your pesticide solution less effective and will dictate how long your pesticides remain effective after they are mixed. It is therefore important to use your pesticide solution as soon as you make it; don’t let it sit around for long periods of time before use or it will be less effective. 

In cannabis cultivation there are two different primary growth cycles, vegetative and flower. These cycles require different IPM strategies. In general, during the flowering cycle, pesticides should not be applied after the second week, with some limited exceptions i.e. for outdoor cultivation there is a longer window to spray since the flower set takes longer than a plant being grown inside, or in a light deprivation greenhouse, where there is a 12/12 flowering cycle. 

For the vegetative (non-flowering) cycle, a strict rotation of foliage spray applications targeting not only pests, but also molds and pathogens, will be necessary to avoid a quick onset of infestation. Starting with an immaculate vegetation room is crucial to maintaining pest and mold-free plants in the flowering cycle. Preventative sprays that are safe for use include: safer soap (contact kill) for soft-bodied chewing insects; Regalia (biological control) for powdery mildew; and PFR 97 (biological control) for soft-bodied chewing insects. It is also helpful to spray kelp, which strengthens the cell walls of plants making the plant healthier, and thus enabling the plant to better defend itself from pests and diseases. Also, bascillus thuringiensis (BT), is useful to prevent or kill caterpillars. 

The best way to control a pest infestation in the flowering cycle is at the very beginning on day one. You must start aggressively, with a three-way control consisting of a contact kill and preventative during days 1-14; preventative and biological control during days 10-18; and then release predator bugs on day 25, for optimal results. Knocking back the population with an effective contact kill pesticide early on is essential to ultimately lowering populations throughout the grow cycle, so that you can spray a biological control to preclude them from returning, before you release the predatory bugs at the end of the cycle. 

Biological controls can take anywhere from 3 to 10 days before they are effective. Biological pesticides are selected strains of bacteria or fungus. When the plant tissue is eaten by a targeted pest, the bacteria kills the pest from the inside providing control without having to spray pesticides repeatedly. Predator bugs are the last line of defense, used in late flowering. They can be used indoors, outdoors, and in greenhouses. An example of a common predator bug is Amblyseius Californicus used to control low populations of spider mites, but there are many different varieties and they are specific depending on the type of pest population you seek to control. 

A common concern with the use of predatory bugs, is whether they will be present when the flowers are harvested. However, if there is no food for the bugs (i.e. pests) the predator bugs will leave in search of food elsewhere. Further, indoor predator bugs are usually very small in size and difficult to see to an untrained eye. It is very unlikely to see any signs of predator bugs near the end of the flowering cycle, or in the finished flower product. Even when using bigger predator bugs, the bugs will leave the plants when harvested and dried. 

Having pests can be very stressful. It is not uncommon to have bugs, pests, rodents, animals and birds cause damage in cannabis gardens. Making an informed decision based on science and not on unproven assumptions can determine how successful you are at pest management. There are many factors that go into pest management and no one situation is the same. You must be dedicated and consistent; pest management never stops. You will always have something ready to invade your garden. Prepare, plan, prevent, and repeat! 

Read other articles by David Perkins:

Large Scale Cultivation Planning – Important Factors to Consider

Thinking of hiring a cultivation consultant? Here’s what you can expect.

Five Factors to Keep in Mind When Entering the Regulated Market

dave headshot photo

David Perkins is a cultivation manager and advisor with over 20 years of experience in the grow room. From build out to cultivation, cloning to processing, he has done it all. David can help you succeed in the grow room, and save you money along the way. If you are considering hiring a consultant, please reach out and discuss the ways in which he can help you achieve your goals. You can reach David at marleybrutusdave@gmail.com 

Large Scale Cultivation Planning – Important Factors to Consider

By David Perkins

Before you begin any large-scale cultivation, you must consider the four factors highlighted below, among many others, to ensure your cultivation is successful. Failure to do so will cost you greatly, in both time and money, and ultimately could lead to failure. While the four areas highlighted below may be the most important considerations to address, you should hire a cultivation consultant to determine the numerous other considerations you must deal with before you begin. 

  1. Genetics 

Genetics must necessarily play a huge role in your cultivation plan, as they can ultimately make or break the success of your business. Access to quality, verified genetics will greatly affect your profits. All cannabis genetics grow differently and may require different conditions and nutrients. Further, consumers in today’s regulated market have greater awareness; they are much more knowledgeable about genetics and able to discern between quality cannabis versus commercially produced green bud. 

Market trends will dictate whether or not you’ll ultimately be able to sell your harvest at market rate. You need to project out at least one year in advance the genetics you will be growing. But, oftentimes it is impossible to predict what consumers will be purchasing a year in advance so this part of your cultivation plan should be well thought out. Further compounding this difficulty is the fact that it may take six months to ramp up production of any given variety. 

Genetics that are popular now may still be popular next year, but that also means there will be more competition for shelf space, as more competitors will also likely be growing these same genetics. Therefore, don’t rely on only one trendy variety as the bulk of your selection for the year, no matter how popular it is at the moment. Producing a single variety as the bulk of your crop is always risky, unless you have a contract with a sales outlet, in advance, for a set quantity of that one particular variety. Diversity in your genetics is beneficial, when chosen correctly. 

Making proprietary genetics from your own seed collection can give you a big advantage in today’s competitive market. Having a variety with a distinct, unique and desirable smell, taste, effect or cannabinoid profile will allow you to distinguish your brand amongst others. Entire brands have been built off of a single variety: Cookies and Lemontree are two examples of companies that have done this. All it takes is one really good variety to attract a lot of attention to your brand. Individuals, who are constantly striving for a better flavor profile or euphoric effects in their genetics, create the best cannabis genetics. Having your own breeding project on-site will allow you to look for and identify varieties that work for you and your business model, and ultimately will help to distinguish your brand apart from others. 

Only buy seeds from reputable breeders! Any new varieties that you are going to be cultivating should be tested out at least three times, on a small scale, before being moved into a full production model. If you are growing from seed there is always the potential for your crop to get pollinated by male plants or hermaphrodites that went unnoticed, and therefore, they could be a potential risk to your entire harvest. Treat them accordingly, i.e. by cultivating them on a small scale in a separate, enclosed area. 

Buying clones from a commercial nursery can be risky. Genetics are passed from one grower to another haphazardly, and names are changed far too easily. This can create a lot of confusion as to what variety you are actually purchasing and whether you are getting the best version of the genetics. Just because a clone is called “sour diesel” doesn’t mean you’re actually getting the real, authentic sour diesel. And to further complicate things, the same clone grown in different environments can produce a noticeable difference in flavor, smell and effect depending on your cultivation method. Always try your best to verify the authenticity of the genetics you purchase. Ask about the history and origin of the particular genetics you are purchasing. Better yet, ask for pictures, physical samples, and most importantly certificates of analysis from a laboratory, indicating the potency. In many states anything under 20% THC is going to be hard to sell, while anything over 30% will easily sell and yield the highest price. It’s a good idea to have a laboratory test the terpene profile in order to verify a variety is actually what the seller purports it to be. 

Knowing the source of your genetics is imperative. It will help ensure that you actually have the variety that you were intending to grow, and therefore, allow you to achieve your intended results. Knowing what varieties you are going to cultivate, before you grow them, will also give you a better idea of the ideal growing conditions for that specific variety, as well as what nutrients will be required to achieve optimum output. 

  1. Automated watering systems 

Installing an automated watering system, during build-out, will by far be the most cost-effective use of your money, and will save you the most amount of time in labor. An automated watering system, commonly referred to as a “drip system” or “drip irrigation,” is necessary regardless of whether you are cultivating indoors or outdoors; it will allow you to water multiple different areas at once, or only water a few specific areas of the garden at one time. Hand watering a 22,000 square-foot cultivation site will take one person eight hours every single day, on average, to maintain. However, a properly designed drip system can water an entire large-scale garden in a couple of hours, without any employees; record all the relevant data; and notify you if there is a problem. This enables you more time to spend closely inspecting the plants to ensure there are no bugs or other problems present, and that your plants are healthy and thriving. This attention to detail is necessary if you want to have consistent success. 

Automated watering systems not only save a great deal of time but also eliminate the possibility of human error i.e. over watering which can decimate an entire crop quickly. There are water moisture sensor meters that can be used to regulate the supply of water to the plants in a precise manner. Without an extremely skilled, experienced workforce, damage to plants due to watering error is very common. A drip system will avoid the threat of human error by ensuring delivery of precisely the correct amount of water and nutrients to each plant every single time they are watered. 

Not all drip systems are created equally. There are different types of automated watering systems. Designing the right drip system for your cultivation site(s) can be complicated. Make sure you do your research, or better yet, work with a cultivation consultant who has experience with automated irrigation systems in conjunction with a licensed plumber, to ensure you are installing the best system for your particular set up. 

Adding a fertilizer injector to your drip system can further increase the efficiency of your operation and save you money on nutrients by using only what you need and ensuring correct application. Again, automating this process will save you time and money, and reduce the threat of human error. 

  1. Nutrients 

The types of nutrients you use and the amount of nutrients you use, are going to directly effect the quality of your cannabis flower. Conventional agriculture and Dutch hydroponic cannabis cultivation have always used salt-based fertilizers. However, they can be toxic for the plant in high amounts. While cheap and easy to use, salt-based nutrients are made in big factories using chemical processes to manufacture. They are not good for the environment, and overall, they produce an inferior product. The highest quality cannabis, is grown with organic living soil. Although seemingly contrary to popular knowledge, when done properly, cultivating in organic living soil is more cost-effective than using powdered or liquid salt-based fertilizers. 

It is a common misconception that synthetic nutrients produce higher yields especially when grown hydroponically. Yield and quality depend on the skills of the cultivator, more than the method they are using. Having healthy plants from the start, will always yield better results, no matter what way they were grown. In my 20 years of experience I have seen plants grown in balanced living soil yield as much or more than plants grown with chemical nutrients. Further, the quality is not comparable. 

Always remember, it is the quality of your flower that will determine the price it is sold for, not the yield. Even if you produce more overall weight of chemically grown cannabis, if nobody wants to purchase that product, then you are going to yield far less profit than another person growing in the same space using organic practices that yield a higher quality product. 

The difference in quality between plants grown in balanced living soil versus any other method of cultivation is undeniable. It is really easy to post a pretty picture of a flower on Instagram but that picture doesn’t tell you anything about what went into producing it. When flower is produced using chemical nutrients, it is likely going to be harsh and not enjoyable to smoke. Lesson learned: don’t judge a bud by an Instagram photo! There is a stark difference between consuming mass-produced, chemical-filled cannabis, versus that grown in living soil, with a proper cure. Once you’ve experienced the difference you will never want to consume cannabis that is grown any other way 

  1. Plant propagation 

Having the ability to propagate your own clones, from mother plants that you have cultivated, can save you a staggering amount of money. In most states having a cultivation license allows you to produce your own clones for your cultivation, while having a nursery permit will allow you to sell clones for commercial sales to other companies. The average price of a wholesale clone is around eight dollars. If you require 5000 plants for every harvest, that’s a $40,000 expense you must bear, every grow cycle. This can obviously add up quickly. And as previously mentioned there’s the risk of purchasing inferior genetics or unhealthy plants, both of which greatly affect your profit margins. 

On the other hand, the cost of materials and labor to produce a healthy clone can be as low as one dollar when using advanced cloning techniques. It will also ensure you know the genetics of your clones and the health of your clones before you spend time and money growing them out. Further, it doesn’t take a lot of space to propagate your own cuttings. In a 400 square-foot space one could produce between 5,000 to 10,000 clones per month, all of which could be maintained by one person depending on your situation. 

And last but definitely not least the most important thing you can do to ensure the success of your cultivation, is hire an experienced knowledgeable grower who is passionate about cannabis. The success of your company depends on it. You need someone with the knowledge, experience, and skills to make your cultivation dreams a reality. You need someone who can plan your build-out and cultivation to ensure success from the start. And you need someone with the skills to handle the multitude of inevitable problems that will arise in a cost-effective and efficient way. 

These are just some of the many considerations you must account for when planning a large scale grow in the regulated market. An experienced cultivation consultant can help you with these, and many other considerations you will need to contend with before you begin your grow. Creating a well thought out plan at the outset can end up saving you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road. 

David Perkins is a cultivation manager and consultant with over 20 years of experience in the grow room. From build out to cultivation, cloning to processing, he has done it all. David can help you succeed in the grow room, and save you money along the way. If you are considering hiring a consultant, please reach out and discuss the ways in which he can help you achieve your goals. You can reach David at (530)277-5891 or marleybrutusdave@gmail.com 

TO READ MORE ARTICLES BY DAVID PERKINS:

Five Factors to Keep in Mind When Entering the Regulated Market

Thinking of hiring a cultivation consultant? Here’s what you can expect.

https://cannabisindustryjournal.com/feature_article/top-3-ways-cultivation-methods-must-change-with-regulations/?fbclid=IwAR0t0hazOggMJGemNXCH259CAWpd6GeFoHtXKGiQgfPt8IovqKuESJ6KNdE

 

Thinking of hiring a cultivation consultant? Here’s what you can expect.

By David Perkins

Hiring an experienced cultivation consultant is yet another cost, amongst the
laundry list of never-ending expenses in the set up of a regulated, recreational grow.
However, in the big picture it can actually save you a significant amount of time and
money by providing you with the information you need to formulate a realistic
budget, profitable cultivation site, and well-trained workforce. This article will
explore just some of the many benefits a cultivation consultant can provide to your
company.
An experienced consultant will have a vast array of knowledge to ensure the
success of your company. One important area they can advise you on is budgeting.
With years of experience cultivating, in both medical and recreational markets, an
experienced consultant will have knowledge of not only start-up costs, but also
hidden costs you must prepare for in advance. They will also be able to advise you
on strategies to avoid future costs and problems. There may also be expenses in the
build-out of your cultivation site you have not considered. For example, you may
need a wastewater treatment plan if you have any fertilizer runoff that will flow to
a sewage drain. It is important to know all possible costs when securing your
investment or planning out your budget for the year.
Set up of a large-scale cultivation site in a regulated market can be extremely
costly. Gone are the days of putting up a few lights in a closet; growing in a regulated
market requires a larger scale, and therefore, larger costs and more complications. A
consultant experienced in design and implementation of such large-scale, intricate
cultivation plans will provide you with the knowledge you need to properly set-up
and maintain your facility in order to ensure your company’s success. They will also
know the tips and tricks to save you money along the way.
A good consultant will be able to advise you on the design of your facility to
ensure that the layout supports productivity, and that there is a proper workflow. It
is important to hire a consultant before you get started with the build-out of your
facility, as it will be much more costly to have to correct mistakes in your design
later on down the road. An experienced consultant will implement superior facilities
layout and design to avoid future problems at the outset. Something as simple as a
centralized irrigation distribution zone can save you a lot of time and money.
Once you have created the proper space, cultivation planning is important to
avoid unnecessary problems from arising, which will ultimately delay profit. A well
thought out cultivation plan will help you plan for success. A consultant will know
what does and doesn’t work. For example, some equipment will run off an app on
your phone; while convenient, there are some that don’t perform well which could
end up costing the entire crop. These are things you want to know and work
around, before you spend money unnecessarily.
An experienced consultant will have previously worked in various types and
scales of cultivation sites, and from that experience will be able to teach you which processes and techniques work, and which ones don’t. Someone with less
experience may believe that watering plants by hand would be an easy method to
keep your garden irrigated, but it is actually the most time-consuming labor task
(and therefore extremely costly), while an automated watering system can be very
simple and cost-effective to install.
A skilled consultant can provide the necessary training for your employees. Let’s
face it, this is an entirely new industry, and therefore, most people applying for
entry-level jobs at a cultivation site are unskilled. However, the best path to success
when dealing with large-scale cannabis cultivation is to have skilled, happy
employees. Educating and properly training your employees is essential. It helps to
teach employees not only how to complete a task, but to help them understand why
they are doing a given task. This will give your staff the skills and confidence they
need to complete the task properly. Unskilled hands in your garden can make or
break the success of your cultivation.
Don’t make the mistakes others have made. Hiring a cultivation consultant
can help you to avoid problems before they occur. A professional consultant has
the knowledge required to: predict issues and problems before they occur, or
implement a solution when corrective measures are necessary. Oftentimes issues
can be avoided just by knowing the cause and effect of decisions and the potential
outcomes they will have.
A cultivation consultant should also have a wide network of professional
contacts to help you address any issues or problems that arise. Having a network of
professionals to employ when necessary is critical for ensuring the success of every
project. For example, wholesale contacts for cultivation equipment can help you not
only to get the best price, but also ensure you are using the best equipment possible
for your situation.
If you are still unsure about whether or not you need a cultivation consultant
to help plan out your grow, or fix your grow if you’ve encountered problems, feel
free to contact me to discuss your needs. I assure you there are ways I can save you money, improve your yields, and help your company be more successful in this ever-
changing market.

To read previous articles by David Perkins click here

David Perkins is a Cultivation manger and consultant with over 20 years of experience
in the grow room. From build out to cultivation, cloning to processing, he has done it
all. David can help you succeed in the grow room, and likely save you money along the
way. If you are considering hiring a consultant, please reach out, and discuss with
David the ways in which he can help you achieve your goals. You can reach David at
(530)277-5891 or marleybrutusdave@gmail.com

Five Factors to Keep in Mind When Entering the Regulated Market

by David Perkins

It’s a different world growing cannabis in California; in fact it’s a completely different experience than it was even four years ago. It can be overwhelming to begin the process, which is where an experienced cultivation consultant can help. This article will highlight 5 factors to keep in mind before you begin growing in California’s regulated recreational market. 

Start Up – Costs, needs, and endless variables 

So you’ve decided to begin a recreational grow, here are the factors to consider before you get started. 

Permitting, the necessary precursor to cultivation, can be time- consuming, extremely expensive, and overwhelming. General experience dictates that any grow will take longer than planned and cost way more money than you ever expected or anticipated. Always account for more money and time than you think you need. Working with an experienced consultant can help you plan and account for all the costs and variables you may not have considered, prior to beginning cultivation, in order to ensure your success. 

Equipment. When choosing what equipment to use, stick to reputable equipment manufacturers. Don’t just go with the latest high tech gear because you see it on Instagram being advertised by a big, fancy grow operation. Stick to what you know best. Do your homework and research the equipment as much as possible, prior to purchase. Use equipment that has been tested and well documented with success. Some questions to ask yourself: is this necessary? Is it cost efficient? Will it help me reach my goals? 

Grow your business slowly and naturally. Getting too big too quick will most likely expose inefficiencies in your operating plan, which will be further compounded when production increases. Don’t sink before you can swim and start out on a massive scale before you have perfected your process. 

Cultivation – It pays to design it right the first time 

Success begins in the grow room. Never forget that. A properly engineered cultivation plan can be the difference between 3 and 6 harvest per year. Again, it is imperative here to do your homework. A well thought out plan can make or break you, and that is where an experienced cultivation consultant can help. 

Set realistic expectations. Understand that growing boutique-style cannabis is very difficult on a large scale, consistently. Don’t expect to grow perfect cannabis every time – it is unrealistic and can ultimately lead to failure if your financial model depends on it. Growing a plant, while mostly in your control, involves too many variables to rely on a perfect outcome round after round. You can do everything in your power, yet something unexpected can still happen and be detrimental to your yield, and therefore your profit. You must expect and plan for this. 

Automating as much of your grow as possible is always a good idea. This will greatly reduce labor costs and more importantly, minimize human error. In some instances, it will even allow you to review data and information remotely, in real-time, allowing you to ensure your cultivation site is always running as efficiently as possible, even when you aren’t there. 

Processing – Don’t skimp on the process 

If you are going to be harvesting cannabis for flower, it is imperative to have a properly built facility for drying, curing and storing your product. You must consider that this building will need to be large enough to house and properly store all of your harvest at once. This can make or break your crop at harvest time. If you don’t have the capacity to handle your harvest properly, it can lead to disastrous issues such as mold or too quick of a cure – conditions which make your cannabis unsellable in the regulated market. 

Although costly, if done correctly, you can also design this area to serve as your propagation, trimming, and breeding areas, which will ultimately save on costs in the long run. 

Also keep in mind, hand-trimmed cannabis will always look more appealing to the consumer than machine trimmed cannabis. However, hand trimming can be time-consuming, labor-intensive, and therefore far more costly than machine trimming. These are factors you will need to consider and budget for when deciding how to 

proceed. If you use a machine, you may save money upfront, but will you be able to sell your cannabis at full price? 

Distribution – Have a plan 

It is a good idea to have a plan for distribution, prior to startup. If you have an agreement with a retail outlet (or contract with a distributor), in writing, you will protect yourself from financial failure. Cannabis will never grow more valuable over time, therefore, you want to have a plan in place for distribution, as soon as the cannabis is harvested and processed. Just as was the case in the black market days, you never want to hold on to your cannabis for long periods of time. 

Do not distribute without agreements in writing! While some oral agreements may be enforceable, it will be extremely costly to litigate. Therefore, you should plan to hire a lawyer beforehand to create fail-proof agreements that will hold up in court, should a distributor not pay you for your product. 

Sales – Build your brand, but be realistic 

Building your brand is important. And if you don’t produce your own high-quality flower you cannot expect to have a product up to your standards. Your brand will not be successful if you cannot consistently provide consumers with high-quality cannabis. Relying on other growers to produce your cannabis for you is risky to your brand. Even if you are a manufacturer, you may not be able to rely on other suppliers to maintain the quality volume you need in order to manufacture your products consistently. 

The regulated market in California is new. Therefore your must necessarily account for a great degree of price fluctuations in the market. When creating your budget at the outset, you must account for fluctuations in profit. Knowing when prices are going to be at their lowest can help you avoid having an oversupply of inventory. It can also help you avoid such situations by planning your cultivation/harvest accordingly. 

There are both consumer and government influenced market trends that can affect your bottom line. Therefore, these must be accounted for at the outset. 

On the consumer level, you must know what people are buying and how they are consuming. And these factors can change quickly with the introduction of new technology, methods, or new devices intended for cannabis consumption. You must stay on top of these trends. The government regulations can also affect these trends. Products used for cultivation can become banned i.e. products you once relied on in your cultivation can be found to have contaminants known to cause test failures, even in “approved products.” 

Ultimately, all of these factors can make or break your success, and therefore, must be considered, researched, and accounted for prior to beginning your cultivation in the regulated market. Working with a consultant with over 20 years of grow experience, and more importantly, extensive experience in large scale cultivation in the regulated market, can help you achieve the success you desire. Cultivation in the regulated market is costly, but working with a consultant can help you cut costs at the outset, and save you from unexpected expenses in the long run.

David Perkins is a Cultivation manger and consultant with over 20 years of experience in the grow room. From build out to cultivation, cloning to processing, he has done it all. David can help you succeed in the grow room, and likely save you money along the way. If you are considering hiring a consultant, please reach out, and discuss with David the ways in which he can help you achieve your goals. You can reach David at (530)277-5891 or marleybrutusdave@gmail.com 

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