Cultivator vs Horticulturist: What background should growers have?
In hiring a head grower, there is a constant push and pull between the two ends of the cultivation spectrum. On one end is a true craft grower who has immense knowledge of the cannabis plant, genetics, and terpene production; someone who can grow incredible products at small scale and who likely started in a black market setting. On the other end of the spectrum is a commercial horticulture expert who has experience managing large scale operations in mainstream agriculture. The commercial grower knows how to grow consistent products at scale, but may know little to nothing about the cannabis plant before joining the industry. Many have told me, “A plant is a plant is a plant. Cannabis is no different than other plants, you just need to learn all its unique requirements to grow it at scale effectively,” as you can imagine this does not go over very well with existing employees who have a love of the plant, but does make sense on some levels.
Finding success in the legal cannabis industry requires finding the right harmony and balance between these two approaches to cultivation. The tension that may arise from choosing poorly can affect everything from employee morale to profit margins and product quality. But this is not a one size fits all decision. In order to make this choice effectively, a company needs to ask themselves some straight-talk questions and get clear about who they are, where they are, and where they want to go.
If you hire from the horticulture world, the typical real world result of that is commercial scale operations that produce “mids.” The flower will pass all testing requirements and the facilities typically don’t have catastrophic failures, but the product is not all that sought after by consumers. It is a product that can compete in protected markets, but informed consumers in competitive markets will pay more for better products–so-called craft flower. However, hiring a grower who knows and loves the plant, often from the black market, has its own pitfalls.They may be far from ready to run an operation at scale and oversee a grow that produces tens of million in revenue per year. For some companies, growing fire flower at small scale is everything. To others, being able to efficiently pull off a large grow successfully and have a mid-level product to sell is perfectly acceptable and sought after.
So it’s all about making decisions about that before you go to hire so you will know what to look for.
Here are some examples of questions to ask yourselves before you go into this hire:
- How big of a grow facility both in the short and long run are you building?
- How complicated do you want automation and internal grow systems to be?
- Will you be a big scale producer of mid-level product vs small craft producer of fire flower?
- Where are you in the process: are you in middle, or starting from the beginning?
- Are you running multiple grow sites, in different cities?
This should all be laid out before going into the hiring process and, of course, where there are compromises that can be made, note what they might be. In fact, I had one client several years ago with a creative approach to this issue. This client approached me about recruiting for two positions, rather than just one. One was going to be a true cannabis expert “Master Grower,” who if asked to grow one plant could produce the highest quality flower in the industry. The other was a horticulture executive who had 20+ years experience managing major commercial operations–someone who has extensive experience with operational workflow, environmental control, personnel management, P/L management, and quality control at large scale. The idea was that the craft grower was in charge of determining the product quality for the company, while the commercial grower was in charge of producing it consistently at large scale. The two employees needed to collaborate properly to make a successful grow. This worked out well for the client and to this day they are known for having a reputation as good people who really care a good deal about the cannabis plant and turn out a great product at scale.
So there are considerations, trade-offs, and questions to go over before making this decision. It is key to understand where you are in the process. If you already have a functioning facility and you just need someone else to take it over and maybe there’s just some work they need to do to change around some SOPs, but otherwise it’s a functioning facility, then you likely don’t need to hire the same level of grower as a company starting from scratch. If you do actually need a new-hire who has to design and build that something from the ground-up, that person is usually more expensive and you may want to look at someone with a horticultural background on a big scale. Too, if you are running multiple grows in multiple growth sites, you are going to need someone who’s had experience doing that and is comfortable with and compensated for managing multiple growers below them at different sites, plus traveling a lot.
In conclusion, this is not a single solution question. There is not one right answer to the debate about what type of background a head grower should have. This is about asking some pointed questions about your company and where they are at, and then deciding accordingly: what are your must-haves right now and what can you compromise in the interest of budget or other considerations. If you choose well, you will not only be setting up both your new-hire and their grow for success, you will head off any possible strife their acquisition could make within the ranks of existing employees and get everyone on track for a great year of all kinds of growth.