Canadian cannabis growers on coping with COVID-19 — and what they can’t wait to harvest this season

Re-posted from The Growth Op

The pandemic is challenging these growers to tweak their processes. But production isn’t slowing down.

By Elianna Lev

July 9, 2020

Just because there’s a global pandemic, doesn’t mean cannabis is going to stop growing — in fact, it could be we need weed more than ever before.

Despite the new normal, Canada’s cannabis growers are still getting their work done. The GrowthOp spoke to three head growers across the country about how COVID-19 has affected their work, the secrets to a good crop and what consumers have to look forward to in the coming months on store shelves.

Taylor Carr, Horticulture Manager and Master Grower with WeedMD

  • Strathroy, Ontario
  • Years growing: 10 years, four years with WeedMD

Has your work been disrupted by the pandemic? 

Not so much. I’m busier than ever. We’ve got a lot of employees that are doing leaves of absences here and there. Generally the work’s still getting done, but we have to do more hours.

What’s the most popular strain you’ve grown for the Canadian market?

Pedro’s Sweet Sativa (aka Wine Gums) or Ghost Train Haze

What’s the proudest moment of your career thus far?

Being officially the Master Grower on the licence and planting the first official outdoor legal cannabis plant for the LP system for WeedMD.

What can you tell us about your approach to growing?

I don’t think there’s one way to do things, there’s usually a few. Being open to concepts and ideas has got me to where I am. I used to think that certain PH levels were the only acceptable ways, now I’m starting to see there’s so many ways and techniques to growing.

What are you growing this summer that consumers should be excited about?

More Ghost Train and Wine Gums. We’ve got the Ultra Sour that’s potentially going to make it out there that we’re growing mostly indoor. We’ve got about seven strains right now, compared to last year, which was 37. We’ve dialed in on which strains grow the best outside, as well as what were the popular strains on the market.

If you could change anything about legalization so far, what would it be?

Allowing for more expansions to happen quicker. Potencies of edibles should be a little higher.

What are your personal goals for the coming year?

To have a successful outdoor harvest, which we’re on track for right now. And hopefully get through this COVID situation and get people back to work.

Hua Zhang is Hexo’sHead of Cultivation. Photo: provided

Hua Zhang, Head of Cultivation with Hexo

  • Gatineau, Quebec
  • Years growing: 20 years growing warehouse crops, mostly vegetable, two years growing cannabis

Has your work been disrupted by the pandemic? 

Yes of course. We work very diligently to protect the health and safety of the employees, but at the same time to keep the production site for cultivation and manufacturing going. We’re doing a lot to keep the supply and capacity to fulfill orders. It’s a lot of work but it didn’t interrupt our production but it did have an impact on us.

What’s the most popular strain you’ve grown for the Canadian market?

In the past when I worked in B.C., I’ve grown the famous Master Kush. At Hexo we have Tsunami, which is our bestseller.

What’s your proudest moment of your career thus far?

I’m so proud after  six months working at Hexo. We achieve high-yield and quality, mainly high-potency and high-bud to trim ratio, but doing so in such a redeeming environment — particularly under COVID restraints.

What can you tell us about your approach to growing?

Each individual grower has a different approach. Know your plants and the requirements inside out, regardless of if it’s vegetable or cannabis. Follow GPP — good production procedure — as much as you can. Find and tackle your bottleneck, your limiting factors, find that out and work on it. See details in precision control. Greenhouse grow is more like a manufacturing process instead of agricultural practice, so you need to pay attention to detail. You need to be precise in control.

What are you growing this summer that consumers should be excited about?

We have some exciting strains coming this summer. I better not name it. I’ll leave it to the marketing department when they launch.

If you could change anything about legalization so far, what would it be?

I’ll leave that to Health Canada to figure out as they grow and learn from the industry. I assume as legislation gets more mature, I’d love to see Health Canada loosen up some rules on the practical side of the business so the whole industry can better compete with the black market.

What are your personal goals for the coming year?

Continue to work hard and establish a top notch cultivation team.

Peter Doig is the co-founder of Rubicon Organics. Photo: provided

Peter Doig, Chief Scientific Officer with Rubicon Organics

  • Delta, B.C.
  • Years growing: Six years

Has your work been disrupted by the pandemic? 

Yes and no. With regards to biosecurity measures, it’s always been the highest priority to minimize the spread of diseases and pests. My background is microbiology, so hygiene and biosecurity is like muscle memory. Since the pandemic, we’ve enhanced our biosecurity measures with regards to social distances, so only three people per room. If you can’t maintain the two-metre distance, you’ve got to pull up your mask and keep it on. Other than that there haven’t been too many changes on site.

What’s the most popular strain you’ve grown for the Canadian market?

Blue Dream is our top seller.

What’s the proudest moment of your career thus far?

When we got our Health Canada licence. And when we got our yields and results from our first harvest and it exceeded our budget forecast.

What can you tell us about your approach to growing?

My approach to growing is comprehensive and systematic with consideration to the system as a whole, rather than a sum of its parts. For example, outside weather, inside climate targets, crop work, fertility and IPM (integrated pest management). It’s never just one of those things. It’s a marathon not a sprint is what I tell the young growers. Being mindful that it’s a complex biological system and not a plant factory.

What are you growing this summer that consumers should be excited about?

We’re launching Sour Cookies, which is a phenomenal strain that has large flowers and is really high in THC. We’re about to launch our first Kush in the marketplace as well, as well as a new strain called SFV, which is San Fernando Valley. We’re rounding out our profile to date.

If you could change anything about legalization so far, what would it be?

Perhaps there could be education and public engagement? Any bureaucratic system has to have a lot of government processes and scrutiny.

What are your personal goals for the coming year?

To produce the highest quality certified organic cannabis as possible.

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