Everyone pretty much knows what happened when the cannabis industry got regulated: a lot of excitement burst out as new markets were opening up, which was followed by the great urgency to seize such a lucrative opportunity; people just wanted to get into the game. “That caused reason to go out the window,” Ryan Douglas of Ryan Douglas Cultivation says. “What I also found was that a lot of those new companies were not from the agricultural world. They were professionals from other industries, and admittedly had very valuable expertise, yet they did not know anything about growing cannabis.” Such a trend led many cannabis companies to make what Ryan calls ‘avoidable mistakes.’ “Problem was that they lacked hands-on experience,” he points out. “On top of that, these companies tried to go it alone, by themselves. That is a big issue, because if you don’t have the experience and knowledge, then it’s going to be extremely difficult to be successful. Even in an immature industry, you can carry out a project perfectly if the team you rely on is good.”
From seed to success
Considering all of these ‘early adopter’ issues, Ryan Douglas has been working to help newly licensed cannabis companies launch their commercial cultivation sites. “The idea is that I help the client to avoid start-up mistakes so that ultimately they can come into the market much faster.” For this same reason, Ryan has just published a book titled ‘From Seed to Success: How to Launch a Great Cannabis Cultivation Business in Record Time’, whose purpose is exactly to guide growers through the process of setting up their growing operation. “This is a business book,” he explains. “Out there, it is full of manuals on how to grow the best cannabis, and I didn’t want to join that fray. That’s because I found that there was a severe deficiency in guidebooks for cannabis entrepreneurs. And this is how the book eventually came into being.”
Ryan has worked on countless cannabis projects throughout the US, and he has seen growers and facilities of all sorts, which actually has given him a good understanding on the things that growers struggle the most with when it comes to large-scale cannabis cultivation. “I would say that the most common issue is surrounding genetics,” he says. “Oftentimes, companies launch facilities with a lot of genetics stuffed in, which can be extremely overwhelming for the cultivation team: usually, companies want to launch many different brands based on ‘special’ cultivars; but if you start from seed, it takes a lot of time to refine those plants for commercial cultivation. Bluntly put, there is an underestimation of the difficulty of managing a library full of genetics.”
“Another critical issue that I have seen is when companies hire an inexperienced head grower. This person is the most influential for the success of an operation. Yet, when it comes to hiring such a figure, companies tend to value more cannabis knowledge rather than plant production experience. Most of the times, these alleged head growers have no experience in growing tens of thousands of plants, or in managing a big team, or know-how facility management works. When a company hires for cannabis knowledge, they set up for a big learning curve, because the grower needs to learn and to make mistakes.”
Aside from the challenges related to experience and knowledge, there are others that come from another side. “The cannabis industry is coming under increasing pressure to reduce the carbon footprint,” he says. “We don’t want to be responsible for increased electricity consumption globally.” The argument on high operational cost can be made with regards to indoor facilities. “Growing indoors is the most expensive way to build and grow cannabis,” he says. “The lights, the HVAC, are just two of the things that consume a lot of energy.” Yet, recently there has been a greenhouse trend, with companies opting more for greenhouse cultivation rather than indoors. “I hope it continues,” Ryan says. “As more places legalize cannabis, there will be more areas of cultivation, and I’d like to see them with greenhouses.” At the same time, this does not necessarily mean that greenhouse cultivation is the way to go. “Just because our country has legalized cannabis cultivation, it doesn’t mean that this is the ideal location to do it,” he says. “The one instance where I would be cautious about greenhouse growing is in those areas with high levels of humidity. There are techniques to evacuate the humidity; yet, in such a situation, a greenhouse might be even more expensive to operate than an indoor facility. This also because, if you grow in a greenhouse in an area with high humidity, the possibilities of having pest outbreaks increase exponentially. Cannabis growers are limited when it comes to crop protection products that they can use. So, the best way to do it is by controlling the environment.”
These considerations will be even more important in the coming years, with the US potentially going for federal legalization, and new countries adopting cannabis laws.