Taking a Look Back for a Better Cannabis Future
When two companies that share the same philosophy on how to grow great cannabis partner up, amazing things happen. That’s the case for Premier Tech and Purplefarm Genetics, who are working together to grow the best possible cannabis flower and raising standards for the benefit of consumers.
Knowing our Past, We Can Develop the Future
In the early 17th century, England was in desperate need of securing their own, reliable supply of cannabis fiber. As a naval superpower, cannabis fiber fueled their colonial expansion, and lawmakers worried that their reliance on other powers, specifically Russia, would hinder these efforts. So English lawmakers passed a series of increasingly stricter laws in the American colonies to force the production of cannabis plants for producing cannabis fiber. However, even after considerable labor, almost exclusively provided by slaves, they kept producing an inferior product. This was mainly because after all that effort, they would dry ret (biological process of separating fibers from stalks) their crops, instead of water ret, as producers feared that wet retting would impact their water sources. At the end of the day, the English, after spending considerable sums on producing their own cannabis fiber, still purchased the vast majority of their cannabis fiber from Russia.
For us in the 21st century, what can 17th century cannabis fiber production tell us about cannabis flower production?
Three Historical Take-Aways
The first is that one procedural misstep can be the difference between producing As and AAAA+s, at any stage of production. There was no discernable quality problem between cannabis produced in the American colonies versus Russia, but the post-production process made all the difference.
The second is that this procedural problem can be systemic. It was common practice throughout different American colonies to dry ret and despite being unable to use the outcome for naval supplies as intended, the practice persisted. Cultivators settled for less when everyone else did.
The third is that cannabis production needs to balance out operational efficiency, quality production and environmental sustainability. Wet retting was widely disabused given its impact on water sources, making it unusable for livestock and other purposes. However, alternatives were not pursued to improve the quality of the fiber, such as warm water retting, and modern improvements in technology help to mitigate environmental impacts of production.
Every Step with Quality in Mind
Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t going to grow AAAA+ cannabis from day one. Growing great cannabis, with great yields, is the result of extensive, sometimes mind-numbing research.
Sometimes that research is informal trial and error, but if you really want to accelerate your cultivation methods, you have to do research trials.
For example, at Purplefarm Genetics we have conducted extensive trials, utilizing rigorous research protocols developed in partnership with PRO-MIX®, to evaluate the inputs that we use in our production process. These trials have stretched over the course of years, and we are even still testing products in light of new research, working in collaboration with manufacturers like PRO-MIX® to test hypotheses. Having first access to these products developed by their scientific teams also enables us to keep abreast of new research; it also allows us to outsource our product research needs to focus more on operating and growing. Having close relationships with these manufacturers is the only way to conduct this type of research on a commercial scale.
All theory with no practice, though, is equally useless. You must have great starting materials in order to grow great flower. This means pheno-hunting or sourcing breeder’s cut plants. At Purplefarm, we have a bank of more than 700+ strains to pull from, with constant pheno-hunting occurring to select the next strain to bring to market. All pheno-hunting is done in-house, so that we minimize our risk of bringing in pests, powder mildew, and other problems. Plants are regularly screened for viruses, because it is far easier in the long run to be proactive than it is to be reactive.
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- The Power of Mycorrhizal Inoculants on Indoor Cannabis Crops
- Strengthening the Roots of Your Cannabis Plants
What Are Your Goals?
We haven’t even begun to talk about actually growing flower yet for a reason. Too many people focus solely on what goes on in the growroom; there is the familiar mantra right now of “hang dried and hand trimmed” that people are using as a shorthand for quality product. Don’t get us wrong, we have strong opinions on when (or if) to foliar spray, updressing, hydroponic growing, rockwool vs plugs, pest management, which lights to use, environmental conditions, etc. However, you need to make sure you are setting yourself up for success, and that comes with the prep work. Do you have a robust environmental control system? Are you able to track variations between batches? But most importantly, what are your goals? If it’s to get one beautiful bud to take a shot on Instagram, that’s fine, but it’s no model to build a business on. You have to make sure that the flower you grow at the beginning of the year matches the quality that you grow at the end of the year. Being consistent is key.
It’s in the vein of consistency that we only source inputs that we know are exactly what is in them, and we know that their quality will remain the same today, tomorrow and a year from now. That means doing the work of understanding the manufacturer’s supply process. How is their product developed? How homogenous is the product? What’s their variation between product batches? For example, the mycorrhizae that we purchase from Premier Tech contains solely active spores created through a robust manufacturing process, whereas comparative mycorrhizae products may have a similar spore count but include inactive spores or have non-sterile manufacturing processes. We selected it specifically because we know that we are able to achieve a consistent result batch after batch. Because when a customer is expecting the AAAA+ flower that they had last time, you can’t give them anything less the next time.
Modern Dry Retting
So, what would be the current cannabis industry’s equivalent to dry retting? In our opinion, it’s post-harvest microbial remediation, more specifically irradiation of the flower bud. In the Canadian market, this is a common practice to ensure microbial sterilization of the cannabis flower. This is a common practice not just in the cannabis industry, but with spices, potatoes, wheat and meats as well. By some estimates, more than 80 percent of the industry uses irradiation to sterilize their cannabis. Sterilization ensures that the cannabis, when packaged, is shelf stable and safe for consumers, so why is it a problem?
The most recent studies of irradiation and cannabis come to conflicting results, with some showing a marked decrease in quality, and some showing no effect on quality at all. It’s also a misnomer that irradiation dries out the flower. Irradiation has become the boogey-man for connoisseur consumers, who complain that the flower comes back overly dried, has a loss of color, and most notably a loss of taste.
There is some basis to the claim that of loss of taste, due to studies indicating delicate terpenes being destroyed during the irradiation process. However, a lot of the quality issues have been overstated, or have been mixed up with other undesirable qualities resulting from the growing processes. Our issue with irradiation is not from the perspective of safety: it’s from the perspective that it enables a lot of really awfully grown product to get to market in the first place.
Let us illustrate it a bit clearer: if you have moldy bread and irradiate it to kill the mold, its technically sterile and technically safe to eat. But we are not about to volunteer to eat the sterilized moldy bread, and we would sure as hell like to know if we are buying that in the first place. Right now, though, especially in the Canadian market, it’s nearly impossible to know before purchasing.
Irradiation becomes a poor method of dealing with one of the simple, unfortunate realities for large corporations treating it like any other consumer packaged good: that cannabis is a plant, and it is best enjoyed shortly after being cured and released. Irradiating the product to ensure shelf-stability is working under a model that sees large batches being released and purchased slowly, rather than small batches being released and purchased quickly. At Purplefarm, we release manageable, smaller batches every six to eight weeks, with the philosophy that we are trying to get each batch to consumers as fresh as possible, so that they can enjoy it while it is most favorable and most potent.
Impact and Sustainability
This gets us back to our third lesson from history: sometimes quality requirements come at an environmental cost. This should be obvious to anyone familiar with production. For example, surgical steel comes at a greater environmental cost than structural steel. Recognizing our position, however, allows us to take ownership over that problem. We source environmentally sustainable materials, have diverted all our organic waste from landfills, and are making investments into our facility’s environmental footprint.
We will freely admit it: lots of methods of indoor growing are not environmentally sustainable. Even with methods in place for sustainably managing material waste at our facility, capturing irrigation runoff, utilizing products from companies with sustainable practices and trying to minimize our electrical use, we are not as sustainable as mass produced sun-grown cannabis. We do our best, such as offsetting emissions to be responsible operators, but we understand our impact.
We grow cannabis indoors because of the factors that we listed: ability to have consistent, quality flower that is able to be perpetually released in small batches throughout the year to provide the best possible flower, at all times. Especially in Canada, where the climate limits the periods which you can grow outdoors, having a perpetual small batch high-quality grow model is only possible indoors.
As such, we are responsible for ensuring that we are looking at being as effective as possible with our production and try to maximize yield relative to our inputs. By tracking our grams per watt, we are ensuring that our production is not wasting inputs, such as energy, fertilizer, water, and medium. It’s not simply about your cost per gram, it’s about your environmental cost per gram, and that drops when you are growing effectively with high quality inputs.
As an industry, we have a long way to go, but as technology and efficiencies come together, it is the responsibility of our industry to find creative ways to adopt them quickly. After all, we have a history of operating under the most oppressive conditions and coming out ahead, so this should be no different.
Written by Mitchell Alswiti and Jonah Clifford | Master Grower & CEO