FLANDREAU – Earlier this month, a group of South Dakota lawmakers visited the Native Nations cannabis facility on the Flandreau Indian Reservation to gain a better understanding of how the cannabis industry works and how marijuana products are made. In order to make informed legislative decisions about marijuana use across the state, lawmakers received thorough training on the cultivation, production, and distribution of marijuana products from men and women familiar with the practice.
Growing cannabis, the plant that produces marijuana, is not much different from growing other production crops.
“We are manufactory farmers, we really are. No different from a tomato farm, ”said Jonathan Hunt, Chief Operations Officer of Native Nation’s Cannabis in Flandreau.
Hunt was the superintendent of environmental remediation prior to working for the cannabis industry.
“I made a tungsten excavator in Long Island, removing tungsten from a tannery … I closed the largest silver mine in Colorado up in Lake City, which was 3,300 meters of silver mine.
After his layoff at the start of the economic crisis in 2008 and a new house payment, Hunt had to find a way to make a living. Already a self-taught cannabis grower in Colorado, he decided to expand his business.
“I took all of the money I had saved at the time, which was about $ 35,000, and turned my 1,000 square foot cultivation into a cultivation and taught myself how to grow weed.”
From there, Hunt began working as a cultivation consultant for companies like LiveWell, Strainwise, and Sweet Leaf.
“To date, I’ve worked, modified, or grown from scratch a little over 2 million square feet of acreage in seven different states,” he said. “I’ve done compliance in five of these countries. I got the very first license in California history with the group I was out there with. I opened one of the first pharmacies in San Jose. I’ve employed this industry across the country for the past 13 years. “
Based on his experience, Hunt has developed a growing method that will produce a high quality and consistent marijuana product. Everything starts with finding the ideal environmental conditions.
Hunt said cannabis is naturally occurring all over the world, but the plant thrives in environments with a stable climate, without large fluctuations in temperature and humidity. At the Flandreau site, Hunt ensures what he calls “a perfect environment”.
“We run at around 76 degrees and 60% humidity. There are many opinions about how to grow, but that’s how we grow, ”he said.
Hunt uses a premixed formula of micro and macronutrients dissolved in water to feed his weed.
“We use rock wool as a growth medium and feed it with drip jets. So we feed them an ounce every hour, 12 hours a day, ”he said. “It’s a complete nutrient, so we don’t lack anything and we make sure the environment is perfect, the lighting is perfect so that the plants grow perfectly.”
The seeds for the plants are disinfected with a 10% bleach solution at 110 degrees for 10 minutes. After germination, the seedlings ripen for about three weeks. From there the plants reach their vegetation stage.
“In the vegetation we will let this plant grow for about 45 days. We will prune this plant, we will manipulate this plant, we will clean this plant on the underside and after 45 days we will send this plant to the flower room. It’ll stay in there for about 60 days, ”said Hunt. “Then we go out and harvest them.”
Each stage of the growth process is carefully monitored with the ideal lighting cycles for optimal growth. For example, the flowering room is set to mimic the sun’s UV and up / down pattern.
The plants are harvested with intact stems and buds. Hunt said about 80% of the weight of the material harvested is water. Therefore, the plant uses dehumidifiers to speed up the cooling drying process.
“In seven days we will dry them. We start at 63 degrees or 62 degrees temperature and 80% humidity, drop the humidity after two days to 70% and the next day to 60%, 50% to 45% and keep it there for the rest of the week, ”he said. “After seven days we take everything off, we store it in containers with all the leaves on it, we store it whole and we burp (open and close the lids) the containers all day.”
Hunt explained that the burping gradually slows the drying process before the flowers are pruned.
“Once cut, they come back in airtight storage containers for a month, and then we open and close them twice a day over the next month, and that really brings the plants to maturity and brings the taste and smell up” , he said. “(They are) just so nice after this point.”
Cannabis products come in a variety of flavors, with names like “Blue Dream” or “Banana Daddy” meaning a blueberry or banana flavor profile, respectively. Hunt doesn’t use artificial flavors or additives in his grows; Instead, it relies on the plant’s individual terpenes to determine its flavor profile. Terpenes are the source of the smell and taste aspects of a plant. Hunt said cannabis plants contain hundreds of terpenes, as opposed to an orange, for example, which contains around three. This is what makes cannabis possible in so many different flavors.
“The terpene of the plant is obviously the taste and also part of the entourage effect of the plant. In the entourage effect, you have terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids and all of these add to your experience, ”he said. “You will hear people say, ‘Oh, I need this fuel’ or ‘I want the gasoline’ because (that kind of) has a very gasoline, chemical smell of diesel fuel or gas with a heavy earthy undertone,” Hunt said . “And other people want something that is very floral or fruity, like the Blue Dream.”
Hunt said there are a few factors that can be manipulated in the cultivation phase to affect the overall look of the plant, but when it comes to taste and medicinal effectiveness, everyone can go their own way.
“You can do that with breeding programs, we don’t do breeding programs here,” he said. “This is Lance Armstrong, right. ‘Give it everything it needs to perform the way it will be and let it do its thing.’ “
Some traits like taste profile and potency are obviously more popular and desirable for the type of experience the user is looking for. Since each individual plant develops at its own rate, it is impossible for Hunt to know which seed will produce these traits. This is where cloning comes in.
“We just take cuttings from existing plants that we have in the facility and we root them and move them forward,” he said. “From the cut, everything is exactly the same process.”
Cloning enables growers to take the best, highest quality plants and reproduce them for a higher level of consistency in the final product.
“We grew her into flowers, we liked what she did, and we harvested 80% of the plant. Then we take this plant and … we grow this plant in 24 hour light and put it back into a vegetation state where it starts to grow from a pile of new leaves and shoots, ”explained Hunt. “Then we’re going to go through and cut off all these new shoots and turn those into clones and expand that. As soon as we have enough, we will send it to production. This is how we bring back the plant that we liked. “
Essentially, marijuana growing is a farm. However, unlike traditional agriculture which relies on weather and seasonal conditions, cannabis growers can create a controlled ideal environment year round by adding nutrients to the soil to feed their plants and replicating the most successful strains to create a consistent one and timely product for a growing customer base.
“We try to keep everything food grade, we try to keep everything as clean as possible; Air, light, all to give the customer that great experience, ”said Hunt.
Hunt was careful not to say how much the plant had produced to date, but with 9,900 plants in the vegetation and flowering stages each day at any time, and 2,400 clones of already proven plants producing – ideally – two ounces of material from each plant ; It is evident that the Native Nations cannabis growing program is proving to be an effective and efficient model for South Dakota’s newest industry.
“We’re showing that this works,” said Hunt. “We don’t have to guess.”
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