One of the first clean green “organic” producers on the East Coast is Culta, a vertically-integrated cannabis operation that has both indoor and outdoor grows. “We have a 20,000 sq. ft. indoor facility, and a 1-acre outdoor organic cultivation,” says Mackie, Culta CEO.
Growing medical cannabis indoors can be easy on the one hand, but on the other hand, this ease of growing is just a result of the careful planning that preceded the setting up of the operation. “The grow room environment is the biggest challenge,” Mackie says. “You need to absolutely control the environment: the mechanical system design as well as the room design is critical. This latter aspect is particularly crucial when it comes to IPM.” Indeed, even though pathogens are not supposed to get into such indoor facilities, potential danger might always occur. “This is why you have to be able to compartmentalize the facility,” Mackie points out. “If a pathogen gets into the grow room, you need to be able to contain it.”
However, that is not the only thing that prevents pathogens from thriving. “You need to be extremely clean,” he says. “You need to carry out preventive measures, you have to make sure to adhere to the SOP, and as I said, you must have a very clean facility. For instance, we spend most of our time just cleaning, taking care not to go into grow rooms without protections and so forth. After all, humans are the first carriers of pathogens, in such situations.”
Mackie further explains that the indoor facility utilizes a multi-stack LED grow. “We are very happy with the LEDs supplied by Fluence. Plants look healthier and yields are bigger.” However, Mackie is one of the few growers to use LED throughout the growth. “Three years ago, we started using HPS lights,” he says. “Then, we started experimenting with LED. From that moment on, we changed completely. Not only do you get better yields, and the climate is easier to control thanks to the LEDs generating less heat, but it is also environmentally friendly.” According to him, many growers still stick with HPS because they have been used to utilize it. “A lot of growers do not like to get out of their routine,” he observes. “They do not like to tweak their processes. You can call it fear of change. However, I think it is only a matter of time when the industry will switch to LED only; this is just the smartest way of growing.”
Other than a technologically advanced lighting system, Culta’s whole indoor facility is highly computerized. “You need automation in these kinds of operations,” he says. “You want to take away the things that people do not do well, such as watering, for instance. You just cannot irrigate manually thousands and thousands of plants with the same amount of water.”
Culta utilizes the same mentality when it comes to growing outdoors. “Cannabis is unlike any other crop,” Mackie points out. “You have to be extremely careful as to what you put on the plants that customers will eventually consume.” This is a particularly pressing problem when it comes to growing cannabis outdoors, as growers have to protect their crop against Mother Nature itself. Thus, needless to say, this is quite an unsurmountable obstacle, yet, it does not mean that this can be mitigated.
“Even though growing outdoors is quite challenging, we were quite excited to start doing that as it represented the ‘back to the farming’ mentality, which perfectly aligns with our ‘organic attitude’,” he says. “When growing outdoors, pathogen pressure is particularly high, and it is almost impossible not to have at least minor losses in the eventual yield. However, through a careful work of etymology of microclimate, it is possible to come up with a preventive plan that can greatly reduce the risk of lethal pathogens. That’s why we have a beneficial insects program for a lot of pathogen problems, on top of using many organic oils to protect our plants.”
Mackie further recounts that recently they have been having problems with the Asian caterpillar. “This insect gets into the stock of the cannabis plant and kills it when it lays eggs. To fight this, we are going to get a beneficial insect specifically designed to counter the Asian caterpillar.”
Finally, Mackie takes care to point out that Culta identifies itself as a craft cannabis producer. “In a not so distant future, the cannabis industry will be divided between mass producers and craft producers. At Culta, we aim to produce the highest-quality craft cannabis. That is why it is of the utmost importance for us to carry on with our organic approach to growing medicines for patients.”
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