By Rasta Ronnie, High-Grade Specialist at Sevenfive Farm
Bringing a fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality into commercial cannabis cultivation is setting yourself up for failure. Every weakness in your operation will become readily apparent as poor production practices quickly devour profit margins.
When hiring a cultivation manager, beware of someone proclaiming to be a “master grower”—their ability to produce pounds of Blue Dream in their basement probably won’t translate into successfully running your commercial facility. There’s a difference between a person who had a hustle going in the illicit market and someone who has received formal horticulture training for commercial agriculture or gained their skills working in established greenhouses.
If the grower isn’t open to change, lacks willingness to use data to assess their production goals and doesn’t build up your facility’s cultivation team through education and mentorship, you’re going to have problems.
Here are 10 warning signs that someone touting their bona fides as a master grower is unequipped to run your cannabis business:
1 – Grower Biases
If you’re considering hiring someone who claims to be a master grower, make sure they’re not biased about cannabis. You don’t want someone who has a personal attachment to certain genetics or methodologies that may not fit the model your company has built. If a grower is attached to particular strains because they grow them well but aren’t well-versed on the needs of other cultivars, it can result in conflicts with your business model—particularly if you want your company to stand out by developing new genetics, higher-potency strains or having trendy cultivars available.
2 – Conflicts of Ownership
Bringing on a former underground grower to run your cultivation operation can backfire when they have their own ideas on how the business should be run. Someone who has been selling homegrown products likely won’t see the bigger picture for scaling your business, or meeting the needs for development of new products. You might want to get into manufacturing concentrates, for example, but someone who has been focused on growing smaller quantities of high-quality cannabis may be unable—or more likely unmotivated—to determine which cultivars are the most cost-effective to use.
3 – Lack of Management Experience
Just because someone is successful at growing cannabis doesn’t mean they have the skills to run a commercial facility. They also need to be adept at team building, which will help to head off conflicts among grow technicians who have different opinions about how things should be done.
Your cultivation manager must be able to implement rock-solid standard operating procedures (SOPs), be clear in their communications and open to cross-training and sharing knowledge. That means not withholding information from employees because the manager wants to be perceived as the most knowledgeable and more valuable than others in the operation. A good facility manager will share information with their co-workers to enable them to also succeed.
4 – Not Putting the Company’s Needs First
Many so-called master growers are passionate about marijuana plants but are not capable of translating that passion into doing what’s best for the company and its bottom line. If the business has capital, it should diversify its product line, but if the cultivation manager isn’t willing, branching out into new products won’t be sustainable.
The manager also needs to implement good cultivation practices that are based on facts and data, rather than opinions about what “should” work. If a grower is not used to collecting data about the growth cycle, it can be a challenge to instill the importance of the practice. Capturing data gives the cultivation team the ability to reference decisions and retain information so the company can look back at how it was done and use it to inform future decisions.
5 – Attitude
Growers who come from the illicit arena often aren’t willing to share their knowledge with others. But that goes both ways. In order to build a manager’s trust and loyalty—and succeed in having them impart knowledge to others—ownership also needs to be open and transparent in sharing information about operations. A cultivation manager who educates employees about the “why” behind best practices will build a stronger team.
6 – Lack of Knowledge About Industry Compliance Needs
Because many growers honed their skills when cannabis was still illegal, they may not be up to date on compliance issues. It’s imperative that everyone in your operation understands the regulations for employee safety and cannabis production, including knowing what products cannot be used.
If a grower is adamant about using certain products or equipment because that’s how they maximized the yield in their illicit operation, it’s a problem because it limits their ability to adapt to a different growing regimen.
7 – Not Using Data
Many growers don’t make data-based decisions because they never collected data in the first place. I’ve learned from my experience in manufacturing concentrates that the more cultivation data you have access to, the better decisions you make, which will help you achieve the company’s growth objectives.
For example, it’s difficult to make a profit when producing trendy solventless hash, rosin and rosin vapes unless you already have an established brand that is a market leader. Instead, you should use the same material to make CO2 oil because you can create more product doing milliliters of CO2 as opposed to grams of rosin.
The same idea applies to growing: Run the numbers. With strains you’re uncertain about, the numbers may look good on paper, but if you need to sell it for $1,500 and no one wants to pay that much, you’re in trouble.
8 – Bringing Old Habits to a Grow
What worked at the last grow won’t necessarily work in a new environment with new methodology. If a grower starts implementing changes before they understand how the company operates and the facility’s different needs, things could get off track quickly.
A cultivation manager who is new to your business needs to soak in how your company works and keep an open mind. If the grower relies on data to judge what’s working and where to improve, as well as bouncing ideas off others who have been at the company for a while, they’ll have a greater chance of improving efficiencies. A brand-new facility will tempt a well-intentioned grower to suggest switching directions, but any changes should be vetted by the entire cultivation team.
9 – Big Talk, Poor Work Ethic
If you’re interviewing new candidates to oversee your cultivation facility, be wary of anyone who talks like they can do everything and never had problems at their previous grow. Ask about what kind of challenges they faced, and most importantly, how they resolved them. Follow up with a question about what proactive measures were put in place to ensure the issue didn’t arise again.
Work ethic is also important. If your grower only cares about making himself look good and doesn’t put time in the trenches, it will affect productivity and trickle down to employees.
10 – Not Understanding the Market
Growers who are stuck on strains or growing a certain way may not be paying attention to the market, but that’s the only surefire way to stay competitive. They need to be involved in learning about the latest technology and stay informed about new cultivars, nutrient options and cost-saving automation techniques for growing such as watering systems and trimmers. It’s not enough to say, “We have the best weed around,” because it’s likely someone else can top you.
Cultivation managers must figure out ways to meet changes in consumer demand for cannabis products, particularly when it comes to production for concentrates, and oil extraction for infused products. A cultivator must be prepared to diversify their lineup and step up to help develop new products.