Buffalo Skull Ranch is a 3rd generation farm located in Southeast Kentucky, dedicated to cultivating the highest quality hemp in small batches.
While the farm’s roots are in cattle, they recently expanded into hemp production two years ago, and 2020 was their first full year of greenhouse production. The greenhouses were originally built for propagation and seed production, which they would sell to other hemp growers. That changed in 2020, when they decided to transition to full flower production and are now in full swing with a successful first year of hemp cultivation.
Matt Perret, who was a wealth of knowledge when it came to hemp production and lighting, works alongside David Jaggers and Sydney Parker, a small group of passionate growers with years of experience growing hemp around the country. For the last year, they have been growing in their 18,000 square foot, fully automated greenhouse, with 6 growing zones. Having a small team means higher quality as they pay close attention to the health of each crop, as well as hand harvest and hand trim all their plants.
Even though they are in a greenhouse, hemp is a high light plant, so supplemental lighting was an important part of their greenhouse build to ensure consistent quality and high yields. They chose to install P.L. Light Systems’ NXT2 with Alpha reflectors, for their reliability and ability to evenly distribute light over the crop, which is ideal for their setup that has perfectly spaced plants and benches in each zone.
When they transitioned over to full flower production, they chose to grow auto-flowering varieties so they would not be constrained by light hours. They have the crops on a 14-day growing schedule, which means they are harvesting and planting new crops every two weeks. To keep up with a 14-day harvest schedule, they stagger each growing zone to be ready every two weeks. This allows their customers to continuously have fresh product year-round. Since they grow auto flowering varieties, it means each crop has a determinate time in the vegetative growing stage before going into flower. Therefore, since photoperiod is not as important as it would be in photosensitive varieties, they can use higher light intensities, over a longer photoperiod, to grow a more premium product. They have been using genetics from breeder High Alpine Genetics and growing strain called Alpen Gleaux, which has been a high-yielding and high-quality strain for their specific environment.
A unique part of their operation is the hybrid MH (metal halide) and HPS (high pressure sodium) checkerboard lighting system. This was designed so that the plants are receiving full spectrum light from propagation all the way through flower. This is important because they direct seed the crops into their final home, so having full spectrum light through every stage of development, means there is less plant shock and a more rounded growing environment. You may wonder why they don’t use clones, and the reason is that the auto flowering varieties, once cut and planted, will continue to think they are the same age as their mother plant and will flower at the same age, which can mean lower yields and quality on smaller plants.
To ensure a consistent DLI, they use a PAR meter which automatically turns the lights on when outdoor light levels dip below a certain point. They also use the supplemental light to help extend light hours by turning them on 30 minutes before dawn and 3 hours after sundown. Since flowering depends on how old the plant is versus daylight hours, they can hit the crop with lots of light without sacrificing quality. They actually found that when they compared a crop in one house that went into flowering without supplemental light, versus the next crop that went into flowering under supplemental light, the younger second crop grew larger, with more buds and generated higher yields than the crop without extra light.