Cannabis cultivation | Local News

FLANDREAU — Earlier this month, a group of South Dakota legislators visited the Native Nations Cannabis facility located on the Flandreau Indian Reservation to gain a better understanding of how the cannabis industry works and marijuana products are produced. In order to make informed legislative decisions about marijuana use throughout the state, the lawmakers got an in depth education on the cultivation, production, and distribution of marijuana products from the men and women most well-versed in the process.

The cultivation of cannabis, the plant that produces marijuana, isn’t all that different from the cultivation of other production plants.

“We are manufacture farmers, that’s really what we are. No different than a tomato farm,” Jonathan Hunt, chief operations officer for Native Nation’s Cannabis in Flandreau said.

Hunt was an environmental remediation superintendent prior to his work with the cannabis industry.

“In Long Island, I did a tungsten dredge where I removed tungsten from a tanning plant … I closed the largest silver mine in Colorado up in Lake City which was 3,300 lineal feet of silver mine, we closed that and capped it,” he said.

After being laid off at the beginning of the economic down turn in 2008, and with a new house payment, Hunt had to figure out a way to make a living. Already a self-taught cannabis home-grower in Colorado, he decided to expand his operation.

“I took all the money I had saved at that time, which was, like $35,000, and turned my 1,000 square-foot grow into a cultivation, and taught myself how to grow weed.”

From there, Hunt started working as a cultivation consultant for companies such as LiveWell, Strainwise, and Sweet Leaf.

“To date I’ve worked on, or modified, or from scratch (grown) a little over 2 million square feet of cultivation in seven different states,” he said. “I’ve done compliance in five of those states. I received the very first license in California history with the group that I was with out there. I opened up one of the very first dispensaries in San Jose. I’ve been all over this county doing this industry for the last 13 years.”

Based on his experience, Hunt has developed a method of cultivation that produces a high quality and consistent marijuana product. It all starts with finding the ideal environmental conditions.

Hunt said cannabis can be found naturally all over the world, but the plant thrives in environments with a stable climate, without major temperature and humidity fluctuations. At the Flandreau facility, Hunt maintains what he calls a “perfect environment.”

“We run at, like 76 degrees and 60{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd} humidity. There are a lot of opinions on how you’re supposed 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’re using rock wool as our growing medium and we’re feeding them through drip emitters. So we’re feeding them one ounce every hour, 12 hours a day,” he said. “It’s a complete nutrient, so we’re not deficient in anything, and we make sure that the environment is perfect, the lights are perfect, so the plants will grown perfect.”

The seeds for the plants are sanitized using a 10{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd} bleach solution at 110 degrees for 10 minutes. Once sprouted, the seedlings are matured for around three weeks. From there, the plants enter their vegetation stage.

“In vegetation, we’ll grow that plant for about 45 days. We’ll trim that plant, we’ll manipulate that plant, we will clean up that plant on the bottom sides of it and after 45 days we send that plant into the flower room. It will stay in there approximately super close to 60 days,” hunt said. “Then we go out and we harvest them.”

Each stage of the growing process is carefully monitored with the ideal lighting cycles for optimum growth. For instance, the flowering room is set to mimic the UV and rise/fall pattern of the sun.

The plants are harvested with their stems and buds intact. Hunt said around 80{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd} of the weight from the harvested material is water, so the facility uses dehumidifiers to speed up the cool drying process.

“Over seven days we’ll dry them down. We’ll start at 63 degrees or 62 degrees in temperature and 80{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd} humidity, we’ll move the humidity down after two days to 70{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd} and then the next day 60{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd}, 50{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd} to 45{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd}, and we’ll hold it there for the remainder of the week,” he said. “After seven days then we take it all down, we store it in bins with all of its leaf matter on it, we store it whole like that and we burp (open and close the lids) the bins throughout the day.”

Hunt explained that burping slows the drying process gradually before the flowers are trimmed.

“Once they’ve been trimmed, then they go back into air-tight storage containers for a month, and we’ll open then and close them, like, twice a day over that next month and that really gets the plants mature and brings out the flavor and the smell to the top,” he said. “(They’re) just so nice after that point.”

Cannabis products come in a wide variety of flavors, with names such as “Blue Dream,” or “Banana Daddy” signifying a blueberry or banana flavor profile respectively. Hunt doesn’t use any artificial flavoring or additives in his cultivation; instead, he relies on the plant’s own individual terpenes to determine its flavor profile. Terpenes are where the smell and flavor aspects of a plant come from. Hunt said cannabis plants contain hundreds of terpenes as opposed to, for example, an orange, which contains around three. This is what allows cannabis to come in so many different flavors.

“The terpene of the plant is, obviously, the flavor and also part of the entourage effect of the plant. In the entourage effect you have terpenes, you have cannabinoids, you have flavonoids, and all these are what contribute to your experience,” he said. “You’ll hear people say, ‘oh I need that fuel,’ or, ‘I want that gas,’ because (that strain has) a very petrol, chemical smell like diesel fuel or gassy with a heavy earthy undertone,” Hunt explained. “And other people will want something that’s very floral or fruit forward like the Blue Dream.”

Hunt said there are some factors that can be manipulated at the cultivation stage to affect the overall appearance of the plant, but when it comes to flavor and its medicinal efficacy, each individual gets to choose its own path.

“In breeding programs you can do that, we’re not doing any breeding programs here,” he said. “It’s Lance Armstrong, right. ‘Give it everything it needs to perform the way it’s going to perform and let it do its thing.’”

Some traits such as flavor profile and potency are obviously more popular and desirable for the types of experience the user is looking for. Since each individual plant develops at its own rate, it’s impossible for Hunt to know which seed will yield those attributes. That’s where cloning comes in.

“We just take cuts off of existing plants that we have at the facility and we root them and move those forward as well,” he said. “Everything from the cut forward is exactly the same process.”

Cloning allows the growers to take the best, most quality plants and reproduce them for a higher degree of consistency in the final product.

“We’ve grown it into flower, we’ve liked what it did, and we harvested 80{8a924211cc822977802140fcd9ee67aa8e3c0868cac8d22acbf0be98ed6534bd} of the plant. We then take that plant and … we’ll grow that plant in 24-hour light and turn it back into a vegetation state where it will start growing off a bunch of new leaves and shoots,” Hunt explained. “Then we’ll go through and we’ll cut all those new shoots off and turn those into clones and we’ll expand that. Once we have enough then we’ll send that into production. That’s how we bring back the plant that we liked.”

Essentially, marijuana cultivation is a farming operation. However, unlike traditional farming, which relies on weather conditions and seasonal conditions, cannabis growers are able to generate a controlled ideal environment year round, adding nutrients to the soil to feed their plants, and replicate the most successful strains to create a consistent 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 of it, to provide that good experience for the customer,” Hunt said.

Hunt was wary not to say how much the facility had produced to date, but with 9,900 plants in the vegetation and flower stages everyday at any given time, and 2,400 clones of already tried and true plants producing – ideally – two ounces of material from each plant; it’s apparent that the Native Nations Cannabis cultivation program is proving to be an effective and efficient model for South Dakota’s newest industry.

“We’re showing that this works here,” Hunt said. “We don’t have to guess.”

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