Damian Solomon, Director of Cultivation for MedMen, who has worked for some of North America’s largest hydroponic greenhouse operations and was the NAFTA region greenhouse expert for international vegetable seed company DeRuiter Seeds shares his experience in the cannabis field.
I got my start in the cannabis industry by consulting for several of Canada’s largest LPs (Limited Partnerships). I currently manage cultivation operations for MedMen, a Los Angeles-based cannabis management company. I started growing because I love growing and have a passion for it. I’ve been involved in the high-tech, controlled-environment agricultural industry for close to 20 years.
MedMen is a company with the express purpose of mainstreaming marijuana by fundamentally changing the way cannabis businesses are capitalized, built and managed. MedMen is headquartered in Los Angeles, but we manage grow operations on behalf of license holders in several locations, including locations near Reno, Nevada, and the Sun Valley area of LA.
When we build cultivation projects, we select locations based on many factors, such as the availability of natural resources like sunlight, water, and elevation. We prefer to build high-technology glass greenhouses. However, in a warehouse-retrofit situation, we can optimize indoor operations by incorporating modern agricultural technology.
The 101 of MedMen Operations
How many different plants are you growing?
The actual number of plants will vary depending on the square footage of each facility. Generally speaking, our flowering density is 2.0 plants per square foot. Vegetative density is 8.0 plants per square foot, and our clone density is 39.0 plants per square foot.
We choose strains based on customer demand and qualities such as aroma, flavor, yield potential, and shelf-attractiveness. We understand the importance of meeting customer demand and are always looking at new strains for our R&D trial section. Currently, we have a set of eight core strains we are working with.
What’s unique about your growing style?
Our designs are based on commercial hydroponics, using our proprietary nutritional recipes. We do not use pre-blended, hydroponic store fertilizers. We produce our own fertilizers at a cost of $0.40 per gallon, using our own nutrient recipe for all life stages.
We also utilize Integrated Pest Management (IPM) protocols. We believe that early detection, coupled with the use of natural predators, is the best way to catch issues early and mitigate problems without using harsh chemical pesticides. Monitoring and controlling plant/leaf temperature, especially in the hours before “sunrise,” is a key tool for controlling mildew and molds
What kind of equipment are you using?
Automation: There are very few tasks performed by hand in our facilities. We are always looking for ways to incorporate modern robotics in our facilities. We use Hortimax to control lights, CO2, irrigation, cooling, heating, humidity, temperature, and even labor management.
Some facility designs also feature automated moving benches. All our inputs into the system are automated to reduce labor needs. We use drip irrigation, so each plant gets the same amount of water every time.
Lighting: We are utilizing Fluence Bioengineering LED lighting technology for all our projects. We use their RAZR series for propagation, their SPYDRx series for veg, and their SPYDRxPLUS series for flowering. With the LED lights, we’re using 40 percent less electricity compared to HID.
What challenges have you faced?
Since we are working with a biological process, we have faced the normal agricultural challenges like pests and disease, nutritional issues, and even labor. However, by incorporating Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), we can find issues early and mitigate them quickly to reduce any economic loss.
It’s also proving difficult to find suppliers and manufacturers from commercial agriculture that are willing to participate in the emerging cannabis industry, especially those from Europe that specialize in controlled environment agriculture.
What has been your biggest success?
Successful integration of modern technology into cannabis production. After all, a plant is a plant, and 90 percent of what it takes to optimize tomato production is the same for cannabis. And a good grower can easily adapt to the final 10 percent that is species-specific.
What advice do you have for future growers?
Rely on the experience and know-how of commercial agriculture/horticulture growers when designing your grow operation. It will be the way of the future for growing crops. Always look for better ways of doing things.
This article has been paraphrased with permission from Growers Network.
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