Cannabis Business Times has always worked to bring lessons from mainstream agriculture and academia to you, based on two premises: not reinventing the wheel (after all, cannabis is an agricultural crop and, as such, will eventually be commoditized) and bringing in proven, researched insights from those with significant horticulture backgrounds, including university professors and researchers. Research on cannabis cultivation, however, has been seriously lacking, particularly in the university setting, due to the crop’s federally illegal status.
However, times are changing. And Cannabis Business Times is now able to provide you with even more insights from academic researchers and mainstream ag.
Our March issue will feature the first of a recurring series on nutrient management co-authored by:
- Dr. Brian Whipker, a professor of floriculture at North Carolina State University (NCSU) specializing in plant nutrition, plant growth regulators and diagnostics, who has more than 28 years of greenhouse experience working with growers. He has co-authored eight scientific journal articles on the impact of fertilization with greenhouse species and three disorder diagnostic guides.
- Turner Smith, a graduate student in substrate science at NCSU.
- Paul Cockson, a research assistant and undergraduate at NCSU, who, for the past two years, has worked in the plant nutrition lab at NCSU with Dr. Whipker.
- Hunter Landis, an agronomist at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who works with growers using plant tissue analysis to monitor plant nutrition and diagnose plant nutrient disorders.
While the quartet has written several nutrient management features for Cannabis Business Times, they will now be sharing the results of their latest research at NCSU on cannabis nutrition.
We also are pleased to introduce two new columnists:
Robert Eddy (whose name you might recognize from a number of features he has penned for CBT), the director of ag projects for Core Cannabis in East Lansing, Mich. He was the Plant Growth Facilities Manager at Purdue University for 20 years and was responsible for the success of hundreds of research studies involving more than 100 diverse flowering, food and medicinal species.
This issue features Eddy’s second “Hort How-To” column (his first column on hydroponics can be found in CBT’s February issue). Eddy will be alternating with Ryan Douglas, the owner of cannabis consultancy Ryan Douglas Cultivation, who has also worked in commercial horticulture for 20 years and specializes in legal cannabis start-ups. He spent three years directing cultivation for Canada’s largest licensed producer of medical cannabis, Canopy Growth Corp., at the company’s Tweed facility and now lives year-round in Colombia consulting for businesses in the medical cannabis industry.
These exciting new opportunities that are emerging as the cannabis world continues to advance also are being shared in person at Cannabis Conference 2019 (www.cannabisconference.com); in addition to the 90-plus leading cultivation and dispensary business owners and professionals who will be speaking at the event (April 1-3 in Las Vegas), you will hear from Dr. Whipker, along with:
- Dr. Raymond Cloyd, Professor/Extension Specialist, Kansas State University, Department of Entomology
- Dr. Shouhua Wang, Plant Pathologist, Nevada Department of Agriculture
- Dr. Bruce Bugbee, Professor, Utah State University, Department of Plants, Soil and Climate; and
- Dr. Brian Jackson, Director of Horticultural Substrates Laboratory, North Carolina State University
While you or your team may have decades of cannabis cultivation experience, we can’t ignore that there are 12,000 years of agricultural experience to learn from (according to National Geographic). No doubt there is huge potential for rapid and significant advancements to be made in cannabis cultivation through research and lessons from the millennia-old agricultural community at large.
Of all the things that can go wrong in a grow room, HVAC system failure is among the most critical. This vital system is required to manage the heat produced by the powerful grow lights we use, but it also helps to remove the humidity produced by plants. HVAC failure can greatly reduce yield, decrease quality and lead to devastating pest issues such as powdery mildew. When an HVAC system breaks, the clock is ticking to save your crop.
Here are six tips for looking after your HVAC systems, so your HVAC systems can look after your plants.
1. Set up a preventative maintenance schedule.
HVAC system filters can become clogged with dust and dirt circulating in the air, so check your system components on a pre-established schedule. More clogging makes for a less effective or even broken system, so it’s vital to check and change these filters regularly.
Setting schedule reminders on your phone or going through a checklist to assess the components of the HVAC system between each crop is a good place to start. Consider attaching a form near the system to note when maintenance was last completed and by whom.
2. Turn the system off when you don’t need it.
Don’t currently need your HVAC system? Switch it off.
When running closed-loop systems activities such as transplanting, filling pots or otherwise handling soil, you create a lot of dust and airborne particles, which will be picked up by an HVAC system. Switching off the system during these instances can help to increase the lifespan of filters and avoid unnecessary wear.
3. Have a contingency plan.
Accidents happen, hardware breaks down, and growers without contingency plans can quickly lose an entire room if the lights stay on but the HVAC switches off.
Consider checking if you can connect your HVAC to a backup generator in the case of a power outage, then ensure you and your staff know how to make this connection. Invest in a separate dehumidifier in case the HVAC goes down. And if it’s an option, choose two smaller HVAC units rather than one large one, so you’ll have a secondary unit if one experiences issues.
4. Install an internal UV light in your HVAC.
All the air in a grow room will ultimately circulate through an HVAC system; take advantage of this by adding UV light sterilization to your system.
Beyond sterilizing the air in your cultivation area, UV light can help to combat fungal spores and bacteria that could result in plant diseases or a failed micro-contamination test on the finished product. Be sure the light is properly sealed into the HVAC ducting to avoid detrimental effects to plants and workers.
5. Think about air flow; use floor fans.
Cold air and carbon dioxide naturally sink to ground level if left unchecked. Use floor fans to help redistribute the air evenly. Angle fans so they redirect stale air toward the HVAC intake to help create a more uniform temperature at the canopy level.
6. Install HVAC systems above the canopy.
Hot and cold air should be mixed above the canopy—not at the same level as the plants. This way, plants can enjoy temperate air as it falls to their level, rather than experiencing hot and cool air in turns.
David Bernard-Perron is The Green Organic Dutchman’s vice president of growing operations and an agrologist with a Master of Science in plant sciences from McGill University. Bernard-Perron worked as the lead agrologist at Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation and designed its certified organic growing system.
Transporting cannabis product from the grow or marijuana-infused producers (MIPs) to retailers effectively, efficiently and compliantly is a top priority. Failure to do so could deteriorate your product, pose potential compliance breeches for your company, and keep you from completing the sales cycle and bringing in revenue. Whether you have an internal distribution department or are evaluating a third party, below are four tips to help you close the sales loop and ensure you are getting your goods to market.
1. Focus on driver training and safety.
Safety programs for vehicles and drivers should include federal and state Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) best practices. These include cameras with 24-hour live feeds on the inside and outside of all vehicles, showing the driver and cargo area, as well as securable cargo space and communications equipment. Cameras can be helpful with vehicle accidents and traffic tickets. Cruise control is also a critical component in any delivery vehicle. By setting cruise control at the speed limit, drivers avoid exceeding the speed limit and reduce the risk of tickets and accidents, which increase costs to run the transportation team.
Purchase or lease new vehicles every few years to keep vehicle mileage low. The expense of a new lease or vehicle purchase is far less than maintenance costs—which increase exponentially for vehicles with more than 70,000 miles—creating a positive ROI. To deter theft, delivery schedules should be varied so they can’t be predicted.
All drivers should be required to take a self-defense and defensive driving course in case they are accosted or notice they are being followed. While it is sound policy to instruct drivers to walk away from a dangerous situation, some conflicts may become unavoidable. Drivers can better protect themselves by learning de-escalation skills and steps to be in control under adrenaline-enhanced situations. They should also follow the U.S. Department of Transportation rules and regulations for the number of allowed hours on the road.
Consider outsourcing wholesale cash pickups from your facility to a specialty armored car service to avoid putting drivers carrying large cash amounts in danger.
2. Stay compliant.Many state regulatory bodies, such as the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) in Colorado, mandate that packages must be delivered to the intended destination the same day it was shipped. If the delivery cannot be completed because it is rejected by the receiver for any reason, such as quality or order error, the shipment must be returned to the grow or MIP the same day it was shipped. Vehicles must be completely unloaded each day as no product can be left inside overnight. It is also mandatory that manifests match the delivery, including METRC or other state-specific tracking-system tags. It also is advised that drivers remain on-site while product is checked-in at stores in case of discrepancies.
3. Package product effectively.
Dimensional packaging approaches can make distribution more efficient and cost effective, maximizing space both inside packages as well as inside vehicles. Ensuring that all orders are made in case-quantities makes certain there are no half-empty boxes being delivered. Efficient loading also improves time efficiency for delivery schedules; load last delivery in first and first in last.
4. Track shipments properly.
All tracking is done through the manifest but can be bolstered with a courier tracking software. These types of apps allow internal departments or separate clients to have their own portals for submitting delivery requests with specific fields of information. These can be assigned to specific drivers who can access all needed information as well as mark steps complete in real-time, as they are accomplished, providing emails to senders and receivers. This creates a digital stamp of all the hands through which the product has passed in its journey.
Theresa Ekman is the supply chain director for Native Roots in Colorado.
What do Buckeye Relief—an Ohio cannabis producer and extraction company that earned top marks from the state for its cultivation license application—and presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have in common?
They all have been under the protective umbrella of one Lewis Merletti, Buckeye Relief’s director of security.
Merletti has “among the most impressive security resumes in the country,” according to Buckeye Relief co-founder and CEO Andy Rayburn. Rayburn and Merletti are 15-year friends, but even with their history, Rayburn remained unsure what Merletti would say about joining Buckeye. After all, Merletti was the 19th director of the United States Secret Service and has protected his fair share of high-value targets during his 25 years of government service, as well as during his military service before that, when he served in the U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam.
The two discussed the opportunity on Rayburn’s back patio in 2016, even before the Buckeye project was off the ground. As Rayburn described his plan, a look from Merletti forced him to pause. “‘Lew, what are you smiling about?’” Rayburn recalls asking, to which Merletti replied, chuckling, “‘Well, I can’t wait to tell my Secret Service buddies that I am the security director for the leading cannabis company in the state of Ohio.”
One of the biggest factors influencing Merletti’s decision to get involved with Buckeye was the opportunity to work with his friend. “[Rayburn’s] high caliber of leadership has positively influenced every aspect of this operation and the relationships we were able to create with the community along the way,” Merletti said in an email interview with Cannabis Business Times.
With Merletti calling the security shots, Buckeye was able to go “above and beyond state security requirements,” Rayburn says. “We did that for the security of our employees, and we did that to send a strong message to our community that this was a very, very safe environment.”
After joining the team, Merletti approached his task of securing the Buckeye Relief complex the same way he approached any other security assignment he was given: by assessing his priorities.
“Whether I was serving in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces 5th Group in Vietnam, or protecting three Presidents both domestically and abroad, the immediate top priority has always been personal safety (human life),” Merletti says. “[Securing] product or valuables [is] the second priority. The additional priorities, in this case, include the relationships [with], and protection of, the community as a whole.”
With those clears objectives in mind, Merletti began building a staff that could work with those priorities. His first hire was Matt Winningham, a former Navy veteran who transitioned into the private sector in 2003 and went on to train international agencies, Fortune 500 corporate security teams, and ultra-high net worth family offices in “technical counterintelligence.” Winningham took on the role of on-site security director and relocated his family from Tennessee for the Buckeye job.
“I have worked with Winningham for years in the past, and trust his judgment and integrity to represent me any time, especially in my absence,” Merletti says. And as his only direct hire, “I knew he would complete the mission to my high expectations and requirements,” Merletti adds.
Buckeye’s security team continued to grow under Merletti’s and Winningham’s supervision. The duo hired former federal law enforcement agents, former Army Special Forces members, former Navy SEALs, former members of the U.S. intelligence community and local career security professionals familiar with Northeast Ohio, Merletti says. Buckeye’s security team has a combined “half century’s worth of ‘tip-of-the-spear’ security experience,” including experience in 10 different American cannabis markets.
Those security experts conducted multiple rounds of risk assessments—“an evaluation of the likelihood of an event weighed against its impact,” as Merletti describes—that included site surveys and analyses of open-source intelligence (OSINT) and less publicly available information.
Security in Action
Risk assessments in hand, Buckeye put its security plan into action. The process was reasonably straightforward, the company says, thanks in part to the security staff’s level of experience and the fact that they were all on the same page. In an email interview with CBT, Winningham said one of the biggest challenges was in bridging the gap between security staff and the rest of Buckeye’s team.
“Most people in industrial farming operations are not used to working in this [highly secured] environment,” Winningham says. To help avoid conflicts, “the security team must have well above average public relations skills to ensure they are not perceived to be limiting [the cultivation team’s] ability to get their job done.”
At least two armed guards are on duty during operating hours, including overtime, Rayburn says, and only the security guards can let visitors onto the property. In addition to the armed security agents, Buckeye’s facility uses more than 500 technical devices and controls such as cameras, sensors, locks, gates, vaults, safes, barricades and barbed-wire fences “to provide multiple layers of defense,” Winningham says.
He notes, however, that having multiple layers of defense means nothing if the individual components are not interconnected. “You have to look at security as a system,” he says. “When we talk about a security system, we mean the integration of people, tools and technology to achieve a cost-effective, appropriate defense against a defined threat. … Security is not just a tall fence or a tough guy.” To avoid being an easy target for theft, it’s important that the system projects “a formidable defense so any rational criminal will think twice and take their misdeeds elsewhere.”
A security system must “learn, adapt and improve as the environment changes or as you gather more information,” Winningham adds. Risk assessments should be happening continually. “Our security plan … is a dynamic, constantly evolving plan, geared to address and mitigate risks associated with the industry as it grows and matures,” Merletti says.
For example, when a significant floor plan change was required in cultivation and drying rooms, “we basically had to re-design 25 percent of our CCTV [closed-circuit television] cameras,” requiring a new risk assessment, Merletti says. Compared to the challenges of planning a presidential visit to an active war zone “these issues were easily mitigated and resolved. I think the more difficult challenge deals with predicting trends related to a new industry, and with new opportunities for malicious activity,” he says.
Guarding the Community
Merletti’s third priority, protecting the community and the business’s relationships with it, meant making sure “that our business and operation would serve to benefit the community and not be a source of any negative impacts.”
“This is a business that we all need to do all we can to make sure that the public understands that the cultivation facilities are safe, that processing facilities are safe and that dispensaries are safe,” Rayburn says. Merletti set the tone from the onset, the CEO says, by getting local authorities and law enforcement officials involved in the security design process.
“I probably spent the most time with Chief [Larry] Reik of the Eastlake Police Department, sharing our ideas, seeking input and verifying that our security operational plans, building designs, protocols and procedures were a fit with his own organization’s philosophies,” Merletti says. “It was very important to have local law enforcement support and feedback.”
Winningham says this approach removed any hint of adversarial attitudes between the cannabis company and local police. Beyond collaborating on SOPs, “we have scheduled joint training sessions coming up on the calendar, and we approach the immediate community’s security as a team.” Indeed, part of Buckeye’s dynamic security plan includes live exercises to train for different security threats. Winningham brings in security consultants to consult, audit and simulate break-ins, robberies, internal thefts, among other criminal incidents.
“Criminals attack where they see the weakest link,” Winningham says. As such, “we’re constantly working to prevent theft and the associated threat to employees, customers and the surrounding community as a whole.”
In addition to working closely with local law enforcement, Buckeye Relief began every community meeting with Merletti presenting the facility’s security plan. Having a security expert like a former Secret Service director available to the community to address any concerns before and during the construction process helped win acceptance from Eastlake residents, Rayburn says.
That’s what most impresses Rayburn about his company’s security: the caliber of his staff. It’s because of that staff’s professionalism and experience that he can say he has “never seen tighter security in any cannabis cultivation facility in the country.”
“The only thing we haven’t been able to keep out ... is the Canadian geese that hang out on our property,” Rayburn says with a laugh, knowing that if geese are his biggest issue, he can rest assured that his facility, employees and community are secure.
Brian MacIver is senior editor for Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary magazines.
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