AROYA’s Grower of the Month series tells the stories of craft cultivators whose ingenuity and resourcefulness we find inspiring. Every feature is a chance to shine a light on growers who have taken the time to refine their processes, develop new ones, and stay on the cutting edge while also achieving success in this emerging industry.
For April’s feature we spoke with Eddie Hanson, CEO of Palm Springs-based consulting firm Apex Growth Solutions. While visiting a cultivation facility in 2020, Eddie noticed there were issues with spider mites. An experienced cultivator who understood the level of damage the pests posed to the business, Eddie lent a hand - offering products, guidance of biological controls, and a spray rotation, all for free. His pest management support was so successful that they offered Eddie a job. He decided to become a consultant instead, and now he provides support to commercial cultivation facilities in the Golden State and across the country.
Eddie spoke with us about everything from the most common reason growers reach out to him, to his best advice for home growers looking to scale into commercial cultivation, to the different ways sensors and data from AROYA set him and his clients up for success. Enjoy the read, and be sure to follow their journey on Instagram.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
AROYA: When a midsize grower is considering working with you, what’s your process? How do you get the ball rolling?
EDDIE HANSON, CEO OF APEX GROWTH SOLUTIONS: The first thing that I want to do is just have a discovery call to see where they're at, what equipment they might have on-site, get a brief understanding of some of the pain points of their operation, and then we would move into the first professional engagement, which would be a current state analysis would be performed at their facility. That's where I would walk the facility for six to eight hours, make contact in every department and gather information to evaluate their key performance indicators (KPIs). So understanding where they stand as far as infrastructure and equipment will give me an idea on how they can perform at the facility overall.
I can see how many staff they have on hand, what lighting they have, what kind of HVAC they have, the tonnage they have per light, see what their capacity is to dehumidify or humidify the environments, see if they have a fertigation system, injection system, if they're hand watering – just get a hands-on experience of what the day-to-day looks like inside the facility.
After the visit was completed, I'd have a broad overview with the ownership or management team. And then in 7-10 business days, I would deliver a report that outlined all of my findings and all of the data that I had captured in regards to KPIs, then show them some of the pain points of their operation and how they can recover from those areas with a detailed roadmap to recovery.
AROYA: What’s the most common reason that growers to reach out to you?
EDDIE: It's most likely crop steering or increasing their grams per square foot, but there's a lot of hurdles to get through before we can start even talking about that most of the time.
AROYA: Once AROYA is set up in a facility, what data are you looking at during your daily check-ins? Which AROYA features help you make sure that everything’s dialed-in correctly?
EDDIE: the most important thing that I'm looking at is the graphical data coming in from the ATMOS 14 and the TEROS 12, and then making data-driven decisions from that information.
And then also using the notes feature in the platform to record any changes that have been made in either the environmental settings or in the irrigation strategy - be that in the EC that's coming out of the drip, or the volume of water, the shot size, how many shots, the time at which each shot is occurring - and also manually recording some of these light levels for the time being.
I would not be able to do what I do at the level that I do it if I didn't have access to this quantifiable data coming in such a clean way.
AROYA: How are you using AROYA to help home growers looking to scale and move into cultivating for a midsized operation?
EDDIE: We all started somewhere. I started in the backyard 23 years ago, made a lot of mistakes and didn't have anybody to help me, so I had to mess a lot of things up to figure things out. So if and when somebody who's a hobbyist-level grower contacts me, I make sure that I spend a little time answering some of their questions because I would've really appreciated that kind of help and support back when I started.
[For] hobbyist growers who all have a SOLUS sensor, my recommendations for how to get the best experience using that piece of equipment is to build out a spreadsheet to record your volumetric water content, your electro conductivity (EC), and your temperature along with your feed volume, EC and pH, as well as your runoff volume EC and pH - all in one sheet.
You could all also collect your environmental data on the same sheet, but to get the best experience out of the SOLUS sensor, I would recommend recording your data three times a day. That would be at the end of P3, just before your first irrigation event, so you can see how much they've dried back. So I just picked some times right before P1 at the end of P3, 20 minutes after P1 and somewhere in the middle of the day - let's say, hour six of lights on in your flowering period, or maybe hour 10 lights on your vegetative period - and that I'll give you an idea of what's happening to the EC in the substrate after all of your irrigation events, or during your maintenance period.
AROYA: What are the key data points that you’re seeing with the TEROS 12, and how does that compare to what you’ve seen in the past with other sensors?
EDDIE: The data that I'm most paying attention to are the electrical conductivity and the volumetric water content. I am looking at the substrate temperature, however, the substrate temperature is usually just a couple degrees lower than the air temperature within the grow environment. So as long as I don't see anything alarming in that area, like it's higher or extremely cold, I'm not really focusing too greatly on that.
The accuracy of the electroconductivity readings coming from competitor sensors is lacking. If you're going to be crop steering or trying to do these high-performance cultivating techniques, you have to have the high-performance tools. You don't want to go into a Formula One race in a Pinto, you need a Formula One race car.
AROYA: What sold you on the full AROYA platform?
EDDIE: I was working with Ramsey Nubani - he had moved over to working with METER Group – he just sold me on the value of the production platform. It just felt like a comfortable move for me.
I had some data coming in, but I also had the added value of this production platform and then being able to log all of my historical data from every single harvest group, every single run. So whatever happened in a run, whether good or bad, we could look at what was going on in the data and make sure we did or didn't do that again.
AROYA: What are the first metrics you look at when you open a client’s AROYA platform?
EDDIE: I'm looking at their environmental settings. I'm looking at the ATMOS 14 and the TEROS 12, 100%. Most of the time they aren't recording information regarding their irrigation event changes. So I just look at the graphical data coming in and see what they're doing in regards to irrigation, what environmental setpoints they have, then make recommendations on how to steer into the proper direction - be that in their vegetative area, or whatever phase of flowering they're in.
AROYA: Among all of AROYA’s features, which would you say is the least utilized by clients?
EDDIE: So the most underutilized is the readings. The readings features are super important if you have the capacity to collect some of those readings. Collect your feed volume, your runoff volume, plant height, the feed EC and pH, and the runoff EC and pH to be collecting the stem diameter, the internodal spacing, the bud diameter. Because if you change an input on the same varietal from one harvest group to another, if you're not collecting some of this data along the way, you might find in week five that your shift in approach is good or bad if you're looking at some of these readings.
AROYA: What’s your advice for growers of any size on how to test the accuracy of the different sensors on the market to determine which one's right for them?
EDDIE: Grab one sample, whether that be a compressed cocoa block or a quick fill, hydrate your substrate, and see what the EC reading is. Then you can validate the sensor's accuracy before you start to go live with that sensor in your garden.
I'm fortunate to have started with sensors designed by METER Group. Most of what I know about other systems is what I see happening at client facilities, or from colleagues that are ripping their hair out trying to utilize some of these scientific set points in these crops, but feeling frustrated about the data that's coming in.
AROYA: Beyond the importance of data, what other advice would you give to growers looking to level up their grams per square foot?
EDDIE: We can throw all the sensors and devices and irrigation strategies in the world at a project, but if there isn't good leadership on-site, you're not going to have good results. People can come into work every day and punch the clock and do their tasks, but if they don't feel appreciated or feel like they're working towards something, they're not going to perform well. So simple things like doing some employee appreciation, delivering some recognition in a group setting, getting all teams together in a meeting, and sharing thoughts and feelings about the facility. Now you're listening to them and providing a safe vessel and container for this conversation.
Another part of leadership is going in and doing things with the staff – like, "I know how to do this, I'm not above this and I like helping." You don't have to do it every day, but just getting in there and getting dirty and just being a cultivator is a way to lead.
People can be the greatest assets in the garden; they can also be the biggest pests in the garden. It's rare that there's bad employees; it's more common that there's bad management. And I'm not saying that they're bad people, they're just having a different look and if they're stressed out about what's going on, they might not be thinking about how their stress is affecting the people within the operation. And I'm only speaking from experience: I've had my hair on fire, I've been stressed out and running around and I forget how that can impact the environment around me.
So learning from those mistakes and also observing people go through the same scenario – just remember that at the end of the day, you're a leader and people are watching you and they're going to follow your lead. If you're apathetic and stressed out all the time, they may also be apathetic or stressed out all the time. Never punch down, ever, because these people are supporting you, and so you got to support them and love and appreciate them.
AROYA: You’re such a great resource and valued partner of ours, Eddie. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today!
EDDIE: Thank you very much AROYA for having me, and look forward to continuing to steer the direction of the industry with you guys.
Check out the full video interview on AROYA’s YouTube.