Before you begin any large-scale cultivation, there are four important factors to consider. Failure to do so will cost you, in both time and money, and could lead to failure. While the factors below may be the most important, there are many things you must deal with before you begin. You should hire a cultivation consultant to determine the factors specific to you.

1. Genetics

Genetics plays a huge role in your cultivation plan, and can make or break the success of your business. Access to quality, verified genetics will affect your profits. All cannabis genetics grow differently, and may need different conditions and nutrients. Further, consumers in today’s regulated market are much more knowledgeable about genetics. They’re able to discern between quality cannabis versus mass produced green bud.

Market trends will dictate whether you’ll 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. Often times, it is impossible to predict what consumers will be purchasing a year in advance. It also may take six months to ramp up production of any given variety. This part of your cultivation plan should be well thought out.

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Genetics that are popular now may still be popular next year. As more competitors grow these genetics, there will be competition for shelf space. 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 variety. Diversity in your genetics is beneficial, when chosen correctly.

Proprietary genetics can give you a big advantage in today’s competitive market. A variety with a unique terpene or cannabinoid profile will distinguish your brand. You can build an entire brand off of a single variety. Cookies and Lemontree are two examples of companies that have done this. All it takes is one good variety to attract a lot of attention to your brand. Breeders who strive for a better flavor profile or effect create the best genetics. Having your own breeding project on site will allow you to identify varieties that work for you. This can ultimately help to distinguish your brand apart from others.

Only buy seeds from reputable breeders! Test any new varieties that you are going to be cultivating at least three times. Do this on a small scale, before moving into a full production model. There is always the potential for pollination by male plants or hermaphrodites. This 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 pass from one grower to another, and names change far too often. This can create a lot of confusion. What variety you are actually purchasing? Are you getting the best version of the genetics? Just because a clone “sour diesel” doesn’t mean you’re actually getting the real, authentic sour diesel. To further complicate things, the same clone can be grown in different environments. The flavor, smell and effect can very depending on your cultivation method. Always try your best to verify the authenticity of the genetics you buy. Ask about the history and origin of the particular genetics you are purchasing. Get pictures, samples, and certificates of analysis from a laboratory, indicating the potency. In many states anything under 20% THC is going to be hard to sell. Anything over 30% will easily sell and yield the highest price. It’s a good idea to have a laboratory test the terpene profile. They can help verify a variety is actually what the seller purports it to be.

Knowing the source of your genetics is imperative to achieve your intended results. Find out what varieties you are going to cultivate, before you grow them. This will give you a better idea of the ideal growing conditions.

2. Automated Watering Systems

Installing an automated watering system during will save you time and money. Doing this during build out is the most cost effective, and will save you the most amount of time in labor. An automated watering system, is commonly referred to as a “drip system” or “drip irrigation”. This is necessary regardless of whether you are cultivating indoors or outdoors. It will allow you to water area at once, or only water a few specific areas of the garden at a time. Hand watering, it would take eight hours a day maintain a 22,000 square-foot cultivation site. A drip system can water an entire large-scale garden in a couple of hours. Without any employees, it will record all the relevant data, and notify you if there is a problem. This enables you to spend more time inspecting the plants for other problems present. Your plants should be healthy and thriving. This attention to detail is necessary if you want to have consistent success.

Automated watering systems save time, but also eliminate the possibility of human error.  Over watering for example can decimate an entire crop. Water moisture sensor meters regulate the supply of water to the plants in a precise manner. Damage to plants due to watering error is very common without an experience work force. A drip system delivers the correct amount of water and nutrients to each plant every single time.

Not all drip systems are created equal. 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. Work with a cultivation consultant who has experience with automated irrigation systems. In conjunction with a licensed plumber, they can install the best system for your set up. Adding a fertilizer injector to your drip system can further increase the efficiency. This will save you money on nutrients by using only what you need. Again, automating this process will save you time and money, and reduce the threat of human error.

3. Nutrients

The nutrients you use are going to affect the quality of your cannabis flower. Conventional agriculture and Dutch hydroponic cannabis cultivation have always used salt-based fertilizers. They are cheap and easy to use. However, they can be toxic for the plant in high amounts. Salt-based fertilizers are manufactured in big factories using chemical processes. They are not good for the environment, and overall, they produce an inferior product. The highest quality cannabis, is grown with organic living soil. When done properly, it is more cost effective than using salt-based fertilizers.

It is a common misconception that synthetic nutrients produce higher yields. This is especially true in hydroponics. 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. 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. 

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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, you are going to yield far less profit than another person that yields 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 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, and 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

4. Plant Propagation

Having the ability to propagate your own clones from a mother can save you a staggering amount of money. In most states having a cultivation license allows you to produce your own clones. Having a nursery permit will allow you to sell clones. 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. There’s also the cost of purchasing inferior genetics or unhealthy plants. This can add up quickly.

Using advanced cloning techniques, the cost to produce a healthy clone can be as low as one dollar. You’ll also know the genetics and 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. For example, 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.

Most importantly, 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 a multitude of inevitable problems in a cost effective and efficient way.

These are a few of the many considerations you must account for when planning a large scale grow in the regulated market. An experienced cultivation consultant can help before you begin the grow. A well thought out plan at the outset can save you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands down the road.

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About the Author

David Perkins
Cultivation Manager
(530) 277-5891 or marleybrutusdave@gmail.com

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.