Name: Robert Trotter
Location: Gypsum, Colo.
Title: Co-owner, Pot Zero
One word to describe your cultivation style: Integrity
Indoor, outdoor, greenhouse or a combination: Outdoor, two acres
Can you share a bit of your background and how you and your company got to the present day?
We have owned our property here for 26 or 27 years, and we’ve been ranching it for that period of time, and we’ve been living off-grid with our own hydroelectric turbine for that time period. When marijuana became legal, I started thinking about the possibility of growing it out here and dovetailing it into our already organic, off-grid ranch. So, we went to the county and got the entitlements and got the licensing, and we are now in our fourth year. We’ve created fantastic standard operating procedures and MacGyvered our way through all kinds of obstacles, from weather to watering techniques—the list can go on and on. We’ve gotten to the point where now what is helping us the most is 26 years of knowledge of this property and the very difficult environment that it is to grow anything because we are [at] 8,200 feet. We’ve come to the point where we’re at now because of lengthy, embedded knowledge we have of our property and all the different things that happen—the weather, the soils, our water, the nutrients from our cattle herd. Our nutrients primarily come from our cattle herd, so we’re really as organic as you can probably get. We have clean water with biology and mineral in it, we have beautiful nutrients coming from the cattle, and it’s just working fantastically.
Probably the thing that’s going to set us apart even beyond the fact that we are a zero-carbon footprint and zero-chemicals [farm] is that at our elevation and with what our environment is producing, we’re getting tremendous cannabinoid profiles. We are getting 2 to 4 percent CBG [cannabigerol], which is a rare cannabinoid. We’re getting two to four percent of it in all of our strains. So, we’re already a very cool brand with what we’re doing, and then you put on top of that cannabinoids that people are looking for that are unique and scarce, and it’s really driving what we’re doing.
We are an energy resource farm because of our off-grid status and the fact that we provide our own electricity. Over time, we can scale that because of the potential for more hydroelectric power. We’re an energy farm, and then we’re a water resource management operation because you have to manage your water, especially in a horrible year like this with a drought. And now we’re turning into a cannabinoid farm. So, it’s energy, it’s water and it’s these cannabinoids—that’s the combination of what we’re doing.
Anybody can take a look at the marijuana industry and realize that one of the largest inputs is energy, so if you can have low energy costs, you’re probably going to be economically more viable. We run off our own hydroelectric turbine, which is zero cost—other than me fixing it once in a while. But it pretty much runs 24/7 and [continuously] produces 15 kilowatts and supplies the energy for the whole ranch here, including the marijuana operation. So, there’s literally zero emissions from that, and there’s almost no cost to that because it’s been installed and paid for over time.
Once we’re at the point where the seedlings are big enough and we’re out of [spring’s] bad weather, then we put our plants directly into the soil. We basically have about a 90-day growing season between frosts, so we mitigate all that risk when the plants are little by keeping them out of the outside. They’re in enclosed containers, and all the electricity and everything is provided by our sustainable power, but there’s no way that they could live outside when they’re seedlings in May. They just wouldn’t live. We keep them all happy and warm and wait for the weather to get good and then we watch the weather like a hawk and make sure that when they do go in the ground that they’re stable enough and big enough when the weather window is starting as far as the frosts are gone.
Our pest management program is pretty simple. At 8,200 feet, we do not have a lot of bugs. Even in the summertime—July and August—you can still get cold nights in the 30s and even potentially frost, so bug populations don’t proliferate at high elevation. We do a lot of beneficial releases—for example, ladybugs eat aphids, and there are aphids up here, so we basically use ladybugs that come in as the flying cavalry to get after any aphids that are coming into the plantation. We’ve never sprayed. We don’t want to, and we don’t need to.
What tool or software in your cultivation space can you not live without?
We don’t use any software for our cultivation. Our plants are all being driven by their environment—by the sun, soil [and] inputs that we put in there, and the recipe is darn good. The computers can stay away for now.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your business in the last six months?
Pipe cleaners. We use pipe cleaners to hold our seedlings up when they’re starting to stand up and grow because they can get real floppy and fall over, and it works really well.
What cultivation technique are you most interested in right now, and what are you actively studying (the most)?
We’re perfecting our sustainable and organic model and trying to get higher yields, higher potencies—all of what any farmer would want from their crop. As each year has progressed, we’ve gotten better and better at this, and we have a phenomenal bud set in our field right now, so tuning yourself into your environment [is] more [important] than anything else. Human intervention can probably screw it up more than if you just listen to your plants and let the environment do the work. And listen to the plants, look at the plants, understand the plants. They will tell you everything. They’re the teachers. We’re the students.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Our second year—because this business is new, especially two or three years ago—strains were difficult to find, especially seeds. We do not use clones. We go from seeds because we want the full DNA of the root structure because we need strongly rooted and strong plants that can withstand winds up here. And in our second year, we had some strains that pretty much just wanted to stay in the vegetative state and they really wouldn’t switch to flower. So, we’ve perfected our strains.
The first year, we had probably 10 different strains, and eight of them really didn’t do anything. We had two strains that worked well enough, but if we didn’t have those two strains, we might’ve said, “Oh, this doesn’t work up here. Let’s skip it.” But we had enough strains going the first year that it worked to a certain extent, then the second year was disappointing, but then last year we really got it together from a strain perspective.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven grower about to enter the legal, regulated industry? What advice should they ignore?
Make sure you’ve got enough money to fund the business for several years because cash flow will be a big challenge.
I don’t like the word “ignore”—you always want to listen to everything, even if it sounds crazy, because it could help you make a decision. I wouldn’t ignore any advice—I would listen to everyone and then make a smart, informed decision.
How do you deal with burnout?
We work extremely hard. My wife and I had extremely good work ethics before all of this—you’ve got to have a work ethic. You’ve got to have a huge work ethic. You wear this thing. I think for burnout, you have to have a huge work ethic and you have to have successes. If you don’t have successes, the burnout will start coming along and wipe you out. Somewhere along the line, you just have to manufacture successes, even in the face of difficult situations.
How do you motivate your employees/team?
We try to keep the whole atmosphere really positive, having everyone understand that what we’re doing up here is really unique and special and different, and they tune into that and they understand it. Right now, it’s [the end of September] in the high country in Colorado, and there’s probably no other place on the planet that’s as pretty as this right now because it’s fall colors, it’s yellow. Our folks are out there, we’re trimming fan leaves, everybody’s got great attitudes, and we know we’ve got a harvest to do. So, you get people who are darn good workers and have good attitudes and keep the positive vibes going.
What keeps you awake at night?
I’ve gotten better at just saying, “Forget it. Go to sleep.”
What helps you sleep at night?
Here’s what puts me to sleep—I did all I could do. There’s nothing more I can do. If you got to the Super Bowl and you’re a great player and you played the game of your life and did everything you could do but you still lost, and you tip your hat to the other guy and you go home proud. It’s that same attitude. You’re persevering. You’re working hard, and you have to be in here for the long haul.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photos courtesy of Pot Zero