What does it take to grow quality cannabis? And how do you best recognize if the buds in front of you are quality or not?
This was the focus among a top-notch panel of cannabis experts in the Growing For Quality session at our November 2020 CANNATalk. This panel was moderated by Katrina Schaller and William Fournier, with featured speaker Max Montrose, President of the Trichome Institute, and great insights from panelists Jake Ward of Aqualitas (who was named Canada's Top Grower by Grow Opportunity Magazine), Alexandre Gautier, Master Grower, Origine Nature, and Patrick Scanlon, Head of Cultivation, and Co-Founder of CannTx Life Sciences, Inc.
Read on to learn insights about growing for quality from these cannabis experts from Canada and the United States.
How do you grow higher-quality cannabis?
Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there are multiple ways to grow quality cannabis. And with several cannabis experts on our panel, they shared various methods they each strongly believe in to achieve their common goal.
Max Montrose, the lead speaker, passionately believes the way to grow quality cannabis is with regenerative farming
Regenerative farming is more organic than organic.(as organic is currently defined) It is how the world worked before humanity messed with it. And really good growers who practice regenerative farming focus more on growing their soils than on growing the plants, because they let the soils grow the plants for them. And these are people that don't spray their plants with any pesticides or fungicides. Everything comes from the earth. It's fiber from the earth. And that's the good stuff. The more manure and warm stinky horse poo that there is, the better. It's all about the microbiome tingling, little bugs and microbes.
- Max Montrose, President, The Trichome Institute
As Max said, regenerative farming (also known as regenerative agriculture) focuses on the rebuilding of organic matter and biodiversity in the soil. It's somewhat a paradox: instead of focusing on plant yields, focus instead on making the soil as healthy as possible -- which in turn improves plant yields as a result! Regenerative farming also focuses on crop rotation and minimizing tilling. It's more sustainable because it improves the watershed and increases carbon capture.
Session panelist Alexandre Gautier believes that quality comes from not just one thing but all the steps -- from how you start to how well you grow it to how it's manicured, and how it's packaged. And since it requires attention throughout the entire process, quality ultimately depends on having a team that values delivering quality cannabis:
You have to make sure that all the steps are really followed through. And that the people that are supervising all those steps have the end product at heart. They enjoy cannabis. They respect cannabis. They enjoy what the experience is.
-Alexandre Gauthier, Master Grower, Origine Nature
How the Canadian Top Grower of the Year Grows For Quality
As a part of this panel, Jake Ward, awarded Top Grower of the Year in Canada, explained how his facility is set up with aquaponics to grow high quality cannabis sustainably, with terpene levels as high as 3%.
Aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (farming fish) in a symbiotic relationship. The aquaponics set up at the Aqualitas facility uses fish waste as a grow supplement for their plants. Primarily they use a 100% organic, live living soil, with 16 different ingredients in it. Once set up, it's an add-water only process. There is no supplementation other than the Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) water. They have 900 koi fish that are treated as pets, not for harvesting.
The live living water is basically the same as your live living soil. It's a compost. It'll break own. It's always growing in your pond in your backyard or river system. It's naturally occurring. It's a conversion from the fish waste. You're going from ammonia to nitrite to nitrate, which is good for the fish and for the plants and food that they're eating and the waste from their secretions. The solids go one way and the nutrient rich water goes the other way. Your plant acts as your filter. So all those nutrients can be uptaken.
- Jake Ward, Master Grower, Aqualitas
Acqualitas has another organic grow line in which they use the BIOCANNA products to grow certified organic cannabis. They ran fairly extensive tests to find a way to use RAS water and actually break down those nutrients and make them readily available to the plant.
What is the most important aspect of cannabis quality?
Session moderator William Fournier asked the panel to go beyond how to grow for quality, and discuss how they personally recognize quality: "Name one or two aspects of what is the most important thing in regard to the quality of a dried flower?" There was a lot of overlap on their answers to this question:
- For Will Fournier, the key aspect is the funky smell and uniqueness of a terpene profile.
- For Jake Ward, the most important aspect of cannabis quality is product consistency for the end user. The way you grow it, the way you experience it, the way it tastes, should be the same every time.
- For Patrick Scanlon, it's about repeating the terpene profile consistently so once you find something that works for you, that you can go back and enjoy it again and again.
- For Alexandre Gautier, it's a consistent and attention-getting smell when you open the bag, plus consistency the manicure and the terpenes.
- For Max Montrose, it's how clean the product is, "a cannabis that is so clean that when you consume it, you can really taste all the flavors because nothing else is in there to muddle it up. You're not smoking on synthetic nutrients."
Max Montrose also expanded the Overton window on this discussion of recognizing quality, offering new ideas outside of the more common factors:
- Cannabis growers can get a literal badge of quality by organizing to have their operations recognized with an appellation, much like champagne or mozzarella cheese, which is awarded to famous, long-standing, high-quality products associated with a specific geographic region. This requires legislation.
- Or go even further, and get their cannabis denominated as a terroir. A terroir is an even tighter subset of an appellation geographic location, but because of its distinct microclimate, produces products that experts can consistently detect where it was made.
- Finally, Max offered a more high-tech solution for detecting quality. For so many the terpene profile and its resulting entourage effect is the true signature of cannabis quality. Rather than rely on what a genetic's name is or where it was grown or how it was grown, instead rely on the terpene profile as a fingerprint. There is now technology that can read over 500 terpene types. This technology produces a digital map of what the smell of a specific cannabis strain looks like visually. And then from that digital map, you can test to see if a sample of a plant strain matches that flavor profile, and then certify it from a terpene perspective that it's that original, high-quality strain.
Growing For Quality - No Shortcuts
Growing for quality takes investment, expertise, and commitment. Thank you to our session panelists for sharing their insights and passion with us so that we can share them with you.
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