When you have a chance to see the data, you're always a step ahead
AROYA’s Grower of the Month series is an opportunity to shine a light on a craft cultivator whose resourcefulness and innovation have inspired us. Each month we feature a grower who found ways to scale, break new ground, and consistently produce high quality product—true markers of success in the cannabis industry.
For December’s profile - our last of 2021—we turned to our friends at Whipple Effect, a consultancy focusing on indoor commercial cannabis cultivation. Founded by two brothers with 15 years of industry expertise, Whipple Effect guides cannabis businesses through everything from understanding the science behind the plant, creating their indoor grow setup, using data to support cultivation efforts, bridging communication gaps between owners and growers, and more. And when it comes to setting clients up for success, this purpose-driven company believes that education is key.
No one understands this better than Mo Korched, who spent the last year not only adjusting to his role as Whipple Effect’s Partner/VP of Operations but also learning the ins and outs of growing cannabis during his very first harvest. Mo took time to speak with us about how things have gone over the last year, the impact our platform has had on his and his clients’ work, and which companies he considers to be among the industry’s trailblazers (spoiler alert: AROYA is one of them!).
So without further ado, meet our final Grower of the Month for 2021. Get to know Whipple Effect even better by visiting their website and following them on Instagram - and be sure to join us in 2022 when we have a fresh crop of amazing growers to spotlight!
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
AROYA: Mo, we're really excited to talk a little bit about your experience with the AROYA platform. How has your life been since implementing the systems?
MO KORCHED, PARTNER & VP OF OPERATIONS, WHIPPLE EFFECT: My life has been super interesting, especially over the last year. I started using AROYA about a year ago, but I also got into growing a year ago. Before I got into the cannabis world, I was a director at a production/beauty school in downtown L.A. and as I exited that company, I met Jack [Whipple, co-founder of Whipple Effect] who was writing our cultivation practice protocols, and I was writing a curriculum at the same time.
So, I got into the industry fresh - knew nothing about cannabis - and met Jack who was one of the first guys to use AROYA® out here. My first job was to log AROYA data and track EC and water content, dry-backs, and environmentals. I actually haven't grown without AROYA, which is kind of cool. But yeah, dude, the capabilities within this whole platform, it's super cool to be able to track environmental data, substrate data, and be able to steer and manipulate the plants in the way that we do - probably one of the coolest things I've done. So, has it helped? I mean, it's the only thing I know, and it's pretty badass what you can do [with AROYA].
AROYA: We definitely understand how it's easy to pair the data with the growth of the plants when you don't have any precognition to what should be happening.
MO: It's important. Being able to see what's going on on the graphs, how they actually relate to the plants in the rooms, being able to correlate the data with what you're doing and trying, then being able to track it and log in and then see what works and what doesn't work, and you can repeat things if they work well, I think is amazing. I've heard all the stories of OG growers, the guys who've been growing, always picking up the pots and kind of guessing, doing these different things. Where now, it's like, I got spoiled—I got AROYA. I get to go in and just look at it and be like okay, this is what it's doing, this is what we can do, then go from there.
AROYA: Nice. How many clients do you have from Whipple Effect?
MO: Currently, I believe we're about five to seven, around that range, all over the country. All the way from Oklahoma City, to Phoenix, to New Jersey, to Boston, here in LA. Couple things that we worked with up in Oregon as well.
AROYA: Nice, great work. We absolutely love seeing you guys involved with the systems around the country.
MO: Jack's been here since the start of cannabis legalization, so it's cool to have somebody there that can mentor and really teach you the way. And then obviously working with AROYA has been really awesome. There's a guy named George Allen, who's part of the customer support staff. He hits me up and I set meetings with him and I get to actually sit here and walk through and go through the different categories inside of AROYA, like the task management, being able to load your harvest groups to set recipes and track the data. So AROYA has been super supportive. There's Josh and Ramsey - being able to get support from those guys with some of the irrigation strategies, and learning those things has definitely been one of the most interesting things that I've got to learn about growing and cultivation and...yeah, definitely absorbing the knowledge and being able to see the data and apply it, it's always been just super helpful.
At Tradecraft here at 14th Street, we're also in two-tier double stacks and we've been able to hit three pounds of light. And it's cool to steer and send the generative signals when you need to send generative signals, and be able to send vegetative signals when you want to send vegetative signals, and be able to steer the plants to get the right heights that you want. Being able to track that is super important for us. Our lower double stack's about 4 and 1/2 feet tall, so we have to do some major crop steering to make sure that we can keep those plants at certain heights. It's been fun for sure, definitely.
AROYA: Are you guys helping your clients detail recipes in strain-by-strain, so they know how long to do certain cues and when to change steering methodology?
MO: One of the first things we do is go in and set up the recipe, especially for the substrates that we're going to use, so that [clients] know the different stages of the plant's life and the different stages of how they need to feed. We've also applied some other ways of categorizing things: so when you have multiple sensors in a room, how you can split them up and into what zones, and how to label those sensors so that you can see if a room has more than six solenoids, you can track where the irrigation's coming from and how that happens.
And so we get to train our people and the staff on not only how to use the data, but also how AROYA is so customizable [when it comes] to organizing the structure of their garden. That's definitely been a tremendous help. And in finding errors: if one row didn't feed, what the issue is, and being able to see that on a graph and saying, “Hey, I don't see my water content going back up. Did the solenoid go out? What's happening in there?” So being able to track those things then see the data and read that, I think has been super useful just in managing the business.
AROYA: That's awesome. It sounds like you guys are really making a lot of value from the AROYA system to your clients. Are they using alerts and target ranges in their recipes? Are they getting text messages or push notifications giving them a heads up that, “hey, this area is low on water content"?
MO: Yeah, that's an important part too. Because of the size of the rooms, there are certain limitations that we have to be aware of. Things like having multiple sensors in a room to avoid microclimates, or having to adjust for microclimates, and being able to see that has definitely been useful.
My favorite thing about AROYA is being able to set the parameters in which I can use my phone app to notify me when things are going off - if a water content level reaches below 25%, or I see the temperature in the room dropping or spiking significantly. It also gives me that [heads up]: "Hey, all right, is there an equipment failure? Were the settings wrong? Somebody do something in that room to make those settings happen?", or whatever the case might be. It definitely helps save you, because without having to walk into a room the next morning and seeing something - a table flooded or something going on - you immediately get to react, and save your garden and make sure that it's thriving at all times. I've heard of scenarios where there are no sensors and a controller goes out and maybe the heater can take out a room.
AROYA: We’ve heard horror stories of equipment going down. Our favorite time is when we hear from a client who says, "Hey, this alert saved my crop".
MO: Especially when we're going to a new facility that doesn't have AROYA and we're rebuilding a garden, helping out the grow, or whatever it is that we're there for. The alerts are probably the first thing that we set, because without knowing the equipment that's been put in the rooms, or who's worked on that equipment and knowing the condition of the building or whatever it is, those are the first things that you need to know. What do you have to grow with? What are your temperatures going to be? What are they not capable of? Super, super important.
AROYA: What other companies have you been working with in the industry that have been awesome?
MO: Tradecraft - we're working on their gardens here in downtown. They've been amazing people that we've been able to come here and really do some great work with, and then Tradecraft staff. We got Tru Infusion down in Phoenix, AROYA, Front Row Ag, RF Ag, HGV, Luxx is an amazing brand for lighting. There's a lot of great companies in this game and it's awesome to see a bunch of amazing, really talented people coming together in one place to share ideas and being willing to be open and helping each other out. I think this time in history is super cool with cannabis because we're at the forefront of an entire industry and we're all here trying to make it together and grow some fire weed at the same time. So yeah, it's definitely really cool, lots of great brands out there that have been definitely helping. Shout to everybody that's been involved and continues to be involved.
AROYA: Right on, sounds like you take the same pathway as we do: take the best product from different vendors and give them a shout out, because it's hard to tell what is going to work out best until you get your hands on it. Sure, they got white papers and stuff, but until it's in your hands and operating in a facility, then you really don't know.
MO: Yeah, for sure, I'm with you there. We had some clients out in the Midwest that were running in double-stacks, and one huge piece of information and data to track in AROYA that a lot of people may not spend the time doing is being able to start tracking your plant height and internodal spacing. When you're in an environment where you can only grow in so much space - a short two-tier or three-tier system - then being able to see how that plant reacts to the different irrigation signals that you send it over time and be able to look back at some of that data so that you can grow just a beautiful looking room that's meant for that space and you get amazing results every time.
If there's one piece of advice that I could add to anybody that's out there using double stacks, or going to be: track your data. It's made so simple in AROYA that you can literally watch your irrigation and EC levels with your environmentals, see how that plant is tracking in height or how it's stacking. And depending on the results that you want, it's going to take some time to get that data, but it's super important to start tracking it so that you can make those decisions. That's one of the things I learned growing in a two-tier system with AROYA that's super important when it comes to decision-making. So I definitely encourage everybody to do that as much as possible.
AROYA: That's a great point. Those crop registration data points are so valuable. We can capture quite a bit with sensors, but with some of the stuff it's just easier to go in, take a quick runoff reading at your pH or take a plant height, take an internodal spacing. Can you elaborate on how often you encourage people to take some of those readings, and at what section in flowering?
MO: Most definitely. So generally in the first 21-28 days of stretch in a flower setting - the generative life of the first stage of this process - is when I'll measure probably three times a week, just because there can be massive growth. My goal is to send generative signals as much as I can until these flowers set and they stop their stretch. So being able to see by day 21 or 28 or whenever it is that you decide to change, if you change, that at this point in the last run or the run before is generally when we can start setting vegetative signals to encourage bulking. Because this is what we know what the height is and where it stops.
And so after that is done – it's really the first four weeks of flower, that's where most of the data is as far as tracking goes - after week four and the harvest, I would say the coolest part about the data tracking then would be the photos. So then we'd go into adding photos once a week, just to see what that plant looks like: when does it look [like it’s] starting the ripening phase, when would that look faster, what are the results by the end of this time by setting these? And so it's more about photos than internodal spacing or plant height.
AROYA: That's so awesome. We get really excited when we go into a client’s harvest group analytics and they've got a whole photo library. There's 50 pictures, you get to follow the plant through its life. That's where templates come in, having a harvest group that you can compare, keep track of those things harvest-group-to-harvest-group. Understand how our inputs - environment, crop steering techniques, irrigation schedules - affect the output of that crop. And so having a library to check out those analytics is how we've made a major impact in people's ability for continuous improvement across cycles.
MO: 100%, it's so helpful to have that information there. For new genetic testing too. If you're on a pheno hunt and you're trying to see what these things do time-over-time, it's a great way to put that info in and see it, and then also see the final product. It's definitely a cool resource, and we train the staff here to know about it as well. It’s just more eyes - anytime you're in a garden and you can get more eyes on anything, it will help your chances of success so much more. And it gives you a tool to have another level of caring. We have checks and balances: this is what we're going to look at and this is what we're going to mark, and this is why these will be our results because of it. You see progress. It's one of those things that I think we all strive for in this industry and in cultivation and crop steering.
AROYA: That's a great point: using collaboration for the bigger picture. We always encourage people to use tasking, and have quite a bit of your staff in and using the AROYA system. That's why we've got the roles features where user roles have different levels of permissions. Obviously you’re going to have some people on the site that can control everything in AROYA, but if you want people that can contribute to it - maybe they don't need to see data, maybe they’re only adding notes and working on tasks with each other—absolutely do that. The more people working together and using the system to unify that data, the more complete the picture.
MO: Yeah. We've thrown an Atmos sensor in our dry room; our veg [room] has an Atmos and the Teros. So we have sensors all the way from our dry room into the veg into flowers. We're watching water content, we're watching dry backs, we're watching EC levels, we're watching environmentals, all the way throughout the process in every room. When you have a chance to see the data, you're always a step ahead. So, it's nice to be able to do that for sure.
AROYA: That's another great point: the fact that we've set up harvest groups to have what we call stages - so those are those different rooms. If you come from propagation to veg, to flower into dry, a harvest group is going to splice that data from different rooms to follow the plant through its entire cycle. We want to know as much of the inputs from the beginning as we can, and that's going all the way to tracking the outputs after the dry room as well. As you know, a ton of energy goes into cultivating, and if you goof up some of those dry parameters or the dry timeline, you're not getting it back.
MO: There's a leaf parameter setting on there too, right? So you can actually track the transpiration rate of the leaf?
AROYA: Yeah, another manual reading—great crop registration point. Using that leaf parameter for stomatal conductance is a great way to understand if your environment is optimized for that crop. Different types of genetics are going to like different environments, even if you're on different lighting types - LEDs versus HPS - you're going to have probably slightly different temperatures in that room to achieve the optimal transpiration rate. We were talking a little bit about that leaf parameter in our Office Hours weekly up on YouTube there and kind of diving into why having the highest stomatal conductance possible is going to get you big plants as fast as you can. The more photosynthesis going on, the more food that plant gets, the more energy that it's going to put into reproduction.
MO: I'm excited to play around with that. I'm still learning how to use it. It's definitely important information. I got something with one of the AROYA support guys soon to learn that so once I do, I'll definitely let you guys know how that works, for sure!
AROYA: Nice. In meetings here, sometimes we'll talk about a three-step process with the facilities that we work with. It starts with Standardize: so make sure everything's operating enough that we don't have rogue variables playing in things. Then Strategize: what are you going to try and do to build off of that standardization? And then Optimize: basically the point where things really get to be fun.
MO: Yeah, it gets fun at that point, for sure. Definitely been getting more into the genetics world recently, and to be able to have all of them logged in one place, be able to see wet weight versus dry weight and having photo references, and then being able to look back and see if that's going to be a winner, or if that's something that we can match again in a different run - is really, really cool.
When I first started getting in this industry and started growing, one of the guys I would look up to a lot was Dr. Bruce Bugbee from Apogee Instruments. I remember, I was learning about DLI and daily light integral from one of his videos a while ago, and I thought it was this crazy coincidence - and it was super cool- to find out down the line later on that AROYA has their light sensors from Apogee. That was one of the companies I forgot to get a shout out to, but Apogee Instruments, for sure. It's awesome that you guys use their light sensors there. That guy's awesome, dude, huge fan of that guy. He's got a program at Utah State University in cannabis, I believe, and he is doing some really, really, really cool stuff out there. So big shout out to that, to Dr. Bruce Bugbee because that guy's bad ass.
AROYA: He is. He can break crazy science down into things that almost any of us can understand. We've had a pretty long relationship with Apogee here at METER Group with the AROYA project and we're actually sponsoring some of that work that he's doing at university.
MO Korched: There's some major funding for that through NASA, I've heard. That's really cool, that's awesome that you guys are doing that, so sick.
AROYA: It's an opportunity for us. We really appreciate the chance to work with those great minds. Well, we've had a pretty good conversation going here today. We really appreciated your time!
MO Korched: Hell yeah. Thanks for the opportunity to talk today!
Photos: Tradecraft Farms Instagram, care of Whipple Effect