How to Select a Plant Nutrition Partner for Your Cannabis Business
Courtesy of Harrell's

How to Select a Plant Nutrition Partner for Your Cannabis Business

Harrell’s Director of Agronomy outlines three fundamentals for plant nutrition programs.

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March 21, 2019

The cannabis market is awash in plant nutrition options. Growers of all experience levels may easily feel daunted by the sheer scope of nutrient program offerings. The range of data points needed to be adequately informed on plant nutrition is also deep; cannabis growers can’t go into this process without knowing precisely what they’re looking to get out of their crops.

With decades of experience behind Harrell’s entrance into the cannabis space, the company’s MAX Rx program is set up in a way to fit any grower’s needs. Customization and compatibility are key—not only to what Harrell’s is offering the cannabis industry, but to all growers’ approaches to providing high-quality nutrients to their plants.

It’s vital to understand your own business and the background of any prospective plant nutrition partners, according to Harrell’s Director of Agronomy Dr. Jeff Atkinson.

The company was founded in 1941 in Lakeland, Fla. The goal has always been to deliver customized agronomic solutions for a spectrum of plant needs. As cannabis becomes the increasingly competitive marketplace we see today in the U.S., that custom-built product line-up is the sort of thing that will complete cannabis cultivation facilities of all sizes.

Here, Atkinson lays out three fundamentals to working through that process and selecting a trustworthy partner. “For us, reputation is everything,” he says.

Cost and Value

“There are a lot of different sources for nutrients out there,” Atkinson says. "We’re able to provide a concentrated, quality product at a value customers likely wont find elsewhere."

Of course, when selecting any vendor for your business, cost is king. Plant nutrition programs should be built into your business to increase yield and  profits; if the cost is cutting into your bottom line, then you’re off to a bad start.

“The business is just going to get more competitive,” he says. “There are going to be more constraints on cost and overhead that go into producing these crops. Growers need to understand how much they are really spending on any number of things—lighting, facilities, fertility, … pest control. Once they have that information, they can take a look and say, ‘What are my fertility options? Where can I control my costs and where can I get a consistent product?’”

Before getting into the work of selecting a plant nutrition partner, growers should take a close look at precisely where their own business strengths and weaknesses lie—where to fit a solid program into the balance sheets.

“We look at it as an investment,” Atkinson says, "investment in a high quality, consistent, and compatible nutrient program will provide returns at harvest time.”

Compatibility

This is one of the tentpole mandates that drove Harrell’s to develop the MAX Rx program. Cannabis growers may be coming to the company from all sorts of avenues in the industry; Harrell’s, in turn, insists that a plant nutrition partner must provide solutions that are compatible across all types of cultivation. Atkinson says that the company set out to create a set of products for cannabis growers, and that each must be clean, clear and compatible.

Look for the track record of a business.

“By using high-quality ingredients, you know that you’re going to have compatibility between products,” Atkinson says. “You know that they’re going to provide a plant response that you’re looking for—and you know that you’re going to get a good value for the money that you’re investing.”

 “All of that [is] so that we have confidence as a company in our products—but, as an extension of that, our customers have confidence in our products, that they’ll do what they say they’ll do, that the customer is getting what we’re telling them they’re buying,” Atkinson says.

“Our position is that knowing the science behind the why is very important.”

- Dr. Jeff Atkinson, Harrell's Director of Agronomy

And much like your business is planning an investment when comparing plant nutrition partners, you should look for those businesses that, in turn, are investing into the scientific research needed to bring the finest products to market.

Scientific Rigor

Cannabis plant nutrition is a complex subject, and an effective program requires an in-depth understanding of plant responses. The work that a grower is putting into his or her operation—managing pH levels, environmental controls, lighting metrics—should be matched by whatever plant nutrition partner comes into the fold.

A helpful partner is one who adds value to the business. Proper scientific research is a critical component of that.

“Just like any other crop, there are going to be differences between varieties and strains,” Atkinson says. “As you go from strain to strain or variety to variety, there may be adjustments that may need to be made. Or a grower might be growing under a set of conditions that may require an increase in a certain type of nutrient—or a decrease in a nutrient—or changing ratios up or bringing a different product in because the media that the crop is growing in needs some sort of pH adjustment.”

RELATED: New Research Results: Optimal pH for Cannabis

“We have reps across the country that are experts in plant nutrition,” Atkinson says, “and utilizing their expertise and their experience in all types of production systems—including cannabis production systems—is a great resource of information in a market that has a ton of misinformation and a ton of misguided information.”

What it comes down to is understanding the needs of the business, sure, but also the needs of the plant.

“Let’s say I’m in my backyard growing any kind of crop in my vegetable garden,” Atkinson says. “I can add things to it, and I can see a plant response. I might attribute it to something I did, but there’s often so many variables that I cannot say scientifically that X caused Y. Using research and using the scientific method, we can control for specific variables and change specific variables, so that we know when we change a variable—for example, when we add one of our products to a program or we take away a product out of our program, we can identify specifically what that product is providing to a program or taking away from a program. [We can identify] what benefits we might gain from adding that product to a program. And then we can go to a customer, we can take that information and say we did this under a controlled environment. We know that this product is going to give you this result. That’s pretty important and powerful.

“Our position is that knowing the science behind the why is very important.”