hero-graphic-A deep dive into cannabis cultivation - Vangst Vertical Series
Posted by Mike King / Sep 09, 2021

A deep dive into cannabis cultivation - Vangst Vertical Series

Without the cannabis plant, there’s no cannabis industry. From products like flower, concentrates, edibles and tinctures to entire sectors of the industry from manufacturing to retail, everything starts with the plant. That’s why cultivation is the most essential vertical in the cannabis business. We held a roundtable discussion with two leading cultivation experts, Leland X and Jon Jirikovec, Cultivation Superintendent at Next Big Crop, to shed light on what a career in cultivation is all about and share advice, tips and insights for beginning and advancing your career in this dynamic and hands-on side of the business.

How our experts got into cultivation

While the path to a cultivation career may look a little different for each individual, a passion for growing is a must for everyone. In fact, Leland had plans to pursue a Master’s or Doctorate in Botany with the goal to work for the forest service until a cannabis grow opportunity was presented to him along the way. But once he got started in the industry, he never looked back.

Jon’s interest in growing started early with dabbling in amateur-style grows, eventually leading him to Colorado where he took a job with a dispensary. From there, the cultivation side of the industry piqued his interest and he worked his way up the ladder, learning from each job and finding that cultivation was the right fit for him both culturally and professionally.

Tips for breaking in & setting yourself apart

The cannabis industry is competitive and finding ways to stand out can help you stand apart in your cultivation career journey. Both our experts agree that an entry-level role is one of the most effective ways to break into the industry. “Entry-level is always a great way to get a foot in the door” exclaims Leland. From there, it’s all about asking questions, learning on the job, taking in as much knowledge as possible and simply “getting your hands dirty.”

And when it comes to setting yourself apart from other applicants, knowledge is power. From organic gardening books to Internet communities around cultivation, there are so many great resources about growing and cultivation that companies appreciate. Spend time reading resources online, check out what’s available at your local library and be sure to get involved in the conversation on the Vangst Cultivation Forum.

Knowing your state’s laws and regulations is important

Every state has a different set of laws and requirements not only for selling cannabis but also for growing it. Getting familiar with the rules for your state is not only essential as a cultivator, but it’s also something employers look for in new hires. Spend some time getting familiar with the specific regulations in your state with our easy-to-use State Requirements Tool.

Key cultivation positions and their roles

Cultivation, like every sector in the cannabis business, has a variety of titles and responsibilities. From entry-level positions to managing the whole operation, here are a few common titles you’ll come by in cannabis cultivation. And be sure to check out our Cannabis Salary Guide to get an idea of compensation for each position.

  • Director of Cultivation. The Director of Cultivation is responsible for overseeing operations of all cultivation facilities, managing cultivation agents, establishing standard operating procedures and meeting production goals.
  • Grow/Cultivation Manager. Often referred to as the Cultivation Manager, a Grow Manager is primarily responsible for assisting in the oversight of the cultivation facility including propagation, vegetation and flower.
  • Grower/Horticulturalist. The Grower/Horticulturalist is responsible for the cleaning, upkeep and sanitation of the cultivation facility. Similar titles include Harvest Manager, Cultivation Technician and Horticulturist.
  • Trimmer/Post Harvester. Typically and entry-level or hourly position, Trimmers and Post Harvesters are responsible for hand trimming flower from plants in a quick and efficient manner while ensuring quality cannabis leaves the cultivation facility.

What types of qualities are you looking for when you hire and promote?

When it comes to hiring and promoting, our cultivation experts agree that being a team player, having a good work ethic and attention to detail is key for not only breaking into cultivation but also advancing in your career.

  • Be a team player: Growing cannabis is a team effort and working well with others is an essential quality employers look for in both hiring and promoting.
  • Come prepared to work: Cannabis cultivation is a lot like farming: it requires work. When you show you’re willing to put in the work, employers recognize and reward it.
  • The details matter: Cultivation is a meticulous side of the industry and an attention-to-detail is key in your success. Sweating the small stuff helps you make big moves in your career.

Be ready to adapt—no two grows are the same

One thing a lot of people get wrong about cultivation is understanding that an industrial grow is a much different operation than a home grow. More than that, varying climates mean there are differences when it comes to growing from state to state. For instance, Colorado’s dry air makes for a different growing environment than a more humid climate like Oklahoma.

Even within your state, one facility can differ from another. That’s why it’s so important to be able to adapt to each growing facility but still rely on your baseline knowledge for what a cannabis plant needs to be successful. Things like lighting, air, water, temperature and humidity, balanced pH levels, good soil drainage and proper nutrients.

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What did you learn from your biggest mistake in cultivation?

It didn’t take long for Leland to learn that while automation technology is great, you still need to keep a close and watchful eye on everything. “You keep thinking everything is good until the day you walk in and realize 10% of the grow is dead because no one checked on it” exclaims Leland. “If you’re in charge of things, don’t always leave it to someone else, even if that someone is a computer” he continues. You can’t just “set it and forget it” because cultivation is a hands-on job.

Meanwhile, Jon learned the hard way that a lot of people pretend to be experts, especially on the sales end of the spectrum. “I took advice from a pesticide company and tried their product, which threw off the pH and led to a big yield issue.” Jon adds, “I didn’t double-check what I was being told was correct.” Always do your research beforehand because shooting from the hip can cost a lot of money.

Also, both learned to never make a “full change” to your operation, whether it be introducing a new pesticide, new nutrient or making a significant change to how things are done. Read up on it beforehand, check out the forums to see what the community is saying, then test it on a small control group of plants before deciding whether you should make a major change to your operation.

Final thoughts and tips from the pros

It’s always a good idea to get ahead of things like paperwork, background checks, filing fees and licenses beforehand. And if you’re interested in cultivation, it’s a matter of just jumping in. The right entry-level position is the best way to start. “You’ll never know unless you get in there and do it” exclaims Leland. Do some research on the companies you want to work and “talking with a company like Vangst is always a good idea” adds Jon.

When you’re ready to make the jump into the world of cultivation, Vangst is ready to support your journey. Start by creating your Vangst profile and checking out available cultivation jobs in your area.

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