We—well, our in-house grow-guru Josh Neulinger—sat down recently with Sergio Picazo from CLTVTD Genetics, Lance Guyan from Mercy Wellness and Joe Cimino from Good Greens to talk about crop steering, lighting and the near limitless potential of cannalytics. This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length. Enjoy!
AROYA: Alright, we've got a full-house here. So I wanted to just say thank you, guys, for joining.
Sergio: So, from a cultivated genetics perspective, we see a lot of different cultivation partner operations, and the economics of crop steering is really where I'm starting to say, "Holy crap, this is real."
Two and-a-half pound per-light average is pretty consistent around the commercial realm. When we start hitting the four, four and-a-half pound range consistently, I'm saying, "What's going on here?" These guys are saying, "Well, it's crop steering tech. Josh and Ramsey [from AROYA] are hooking us up with certain strategies in place."
So I instantly said, "Wow." Our genetics are performing at one level, and they're absolutely crushing it on this other level. That's where I started digging in with Joe, with Lance. Obviously, we see the stories that you guys are sharing and really just publicizing how successful that you guys are utilizing this technology to really change the economics of your business.
That's how we started getting this conversation or the topic of all these different talking points together, so the value that I want the community to really take out of this is to think about the strategy in place and what are certain things that Lance or Joe are doing in order to succeed and really project their business, utilizing good genetics.
Joe: What day is that room right now?
Lance: Right now, this room is day 43? 43. So we have about 14, 16 to 20 days left, which is what I'm guessing. I'm kind of excited to be on this call and show you guys this, because I'm really new to crop steering, and this is the biggest bulking that I've had yet with this particular royal mint strain. It's all crop steering tech and cultivation methods that Josh has blessed me with.
Joe: One of the questions I have for you, Lance, is what are the biggest differences you're seeing between the last run and this run, in terms of what you're doing, in terms of dry vats, in terms of whatever else?
Lance: Before, I was literally just doing all this by weight, like the old school way we would do it. It was all by feel and touching. And the reality is, you can guess all you want how much water content you have and what you think, but the reality is you have no idea. And even trying to use other sensors and comparing it, you realize, "Okay, well, maybe I was even reading the wrong numbers."
The AROYA platform made by METER Group is so advanced and it's so dialed, it shows you your exact water content, and it flips the game on its head.
I was never a data guy. I've always been rudimentary, hands-on, old school, and I've fallen in love with it. It's like a whole new part of cultivation that I've never had before that's exciting. I'm in bed at midnight, 1 a.m., and I'm analyzing graphs and shit as my wife's sleeping. It's kind of crazy. It's amazing that you can dial in these fine points and really watch your water content, and then the results start speaking for themselves.
Joe: I've been cultivating for a little over 10 years at this point. I had to take a little time out. But the advancement, it's like you said, you're trying to gauge whether or not the rock wool's wet enough, or how dry it is. The biggest thing for me with the sensors has been that what I thought was too dry or too wet, isn't really too dry or too wet, you know what I mean? My reference point was just totally off.
The other big thing too is now that you kind of start to understand the EC levels and water content levels, it's also about the whole system. I try to target my plants for 72 inches, and that's the biggest that I've been really trying to dial in my plant height, and I wonder how many bud sites I can fit into that vertical area.
I think for me a big part of it has been the whole system and simplifying it. And Lance, you talk about plant speakers. The plants tell you everything you need to know. Whatever you're doing wrong, the plants will let you know. I think that being able to take a step back and really let the system work itself, except it's system rather than have to monitor every single plant or every single strain. It's just become so much easier to get the results that we're all looking for.
AROYA: Yeah. And the whole reading the plants is definitely a necessary thing, and it's how you make your decisions around crop steering and whatnot. But, at the same time, if you're just looking for bad things in the plants and then correcting for that later on, you've already lost some weight, you've already lost significant weight if you're seeing health problems in your plants that you then have to go and correct for later. So yeah, being able to do that preemptively definitely helps.
Sergio: I would love to take a step back and let's talk about crop steering. What is crop steering? Can we bring it back to just the high-level overview of what exactly that means?
AROYA: Yeah, I can take that. So the crop steering is something that I'd love to take credit for inventing, but we didn't. We stole it from hydroponic vegetables. A few, oh geez, six, seven years ago now, we started looking into... I had worked in agriculture for my whole life, basically. So had Ramsey. We partnered up together. He was working at Grodan, I was working at Netafim. We were kind of going around in the cannabis industry together, and we were like, well, we see all these practices in hydroponic vegetable production, where these guys are able to really direct the way that their plants grow, and shape that plant literally just by changing irrigation tactics, changing a little this or that about the climate, any one number of little tiny tweaks that would then have this huge effect on these plants.
And so we were just like, "Okay, well, let's take that into cannabis and see what do we need to apply when, to figure out what we could do with this plant with these tools."
One of the first trials was just hammering plants with a ton, a ton of shots of water, just going as absolutely vegetative as we could because we knew that was the way that these guys got the plants to grow the quickest. So doing that from day one of veg and keeping with that vegetative, uber, uber vegetative signaling all the way through end of flower, we were doing it with just a few plants outside to play around with and damn things go 12 feet tall and started leaning over neighbor's fences and started getting me in trouble. It was just like, "Wow, I've never seen plants grow this fast."
And so we started playing around with the technology a little bit, and basically what it is, it's just a way to use the osmotic potential and, or the matric potential, depending on what you have. If you're into natural soil, you have matric potential to play with. If you're in a hydroponic, you really don't.
Taking it a step back further, the matric potential is the force that the roots have to overcome to absorb water from the soil. Osmotic potential is the force they have to overcome to extract water against a really high EC environment. The inside of the roots is at a certain EC, and it's held higher than the outside of the root, so that that water flows naturally with that osmotic gradient. So if you raise that EC, it makes it harder and harder and harder for the plant to absorb that water.
We use that concept by using some specific irrigation tactics to get the plant in a state of simulated water stress. It's simulated in that there's all the water in the world for that plant to drink, and it has all the resources it needs to grow as fast as it possibly can. But what we're doing is we're just telling it that, "Hey, your water is not always going to be there." And it puts it into what we call a generative state that has it focused on reproductive parts. And so when we say generative versus vegetative, that's what you hear when we talk about crops during back and forth, generative, vegetative, generative.
Generative is just targeted intentional stress, and the resulting behavior of plants is to focus on reproductive parts so that they can finish getting their DNA out into the world before they die, basics of evolutionary selection. And so the vegetative, on the other hand, is removing all of that stress, and just treating that plant to the absolute maximum that you can so that it can grow at the fastest speed that it can. And so we use the timing of those when we apply, which, one, to get the plants to put on more bud sites, well, almost double the count of bud sites typically, versus just not doing anything or going vegetative as opposed to generative during that time. And then using it to really bulk those flowers out once they're there and the plant has that focus, and we don't need to force that focus anymore. We can just get that thing pumping up those flowers as big as possible. Hopefully, that was kind of a decent five minute explanation. I tried to keep it short.
Sergio: That was perfect. But most importantly, there's two call-outs. There's the vegetative steering and the generative steering. So I think that's really where Josh, you now, were talking about can we even bring this back into deep water culture. Our nurseries are based on deep water culture. And you were talking about the osmotic response and really just understanding if we can create more node sites on our clones.
Sergio: We're going to be getting that going soon and testing that hypothesis on that, which would translate into a clone that has more bud sites for the next stage in the supply chain.
AROYA: Absolutely. Yeah, it'd be really interesting to see, by just playing with that osmotic potential in your system, we may be able to get, say, a six inch clone that may normally have two bud sites. Maybe we can get four, maybe we can get five, six, who knows? We'll see. It'll be interesting.
Sergio: So Joe, talk to us about your setup. You're in rockwool currently?
Joe: Yeah. So originally, pre-AROYA, I was doing six inch and then into unit slabs. And now I've gone to the slab god tech, the three-inch by six-inch by six-inch. In this facility I've had three runs. My third run here was the first run I had with AROYA. To put it to perspective, I almost just about doubled my yield, just about. A little less than doubled.
The big changes were, obviously, getting veg on point. Again, all those things I had been doing pre AROYA, I kind of follow a typical Grodan literature, which was vegetative, you're looking to start your irrigation an hour after lights on, you end it a couple hours before lights off, you try and hit your lowest EC I think what are four hours into the day, or six hours in, at noon for the plants. I was getting what I thought were good results.
The whole transformation with AROYA was, it's like getting the light levels right, and getting those dry vacs and veg right. The biggest things I noticed were just the roots and veg got out of control. I saw reduced internodal spacing in veg. Then going into flower, it's really trying to create transition where there isn't any stress, whether it's too much light, too little light, humidity, VPD, all that stuff.
This run that I have going right now, I over vegged my plants. I thought that they were slower. The thing I'm starting to really notice is, when stuff is on point, how fast the plants grow and the results you get. It's really crazy. And I'm already at my target height. I think I'm on day 16, 17 right now. I still have probably another five, six days of stretch. I got a strain that's growing three inches a day right now, and it's already over 72 inches.
It's things we talked about, I'm upping my light level, I'm running as high EC as possible. The dry backs are absurd. I guess those are good problems to have, that the plants are doing so well that they’re a pain in the ass to handle them. Again, it's all the things I'm learning now that I can always look to the next run to try and improve. Again, it's getting that right starting height, so you get that finishing height. And then again, it's trying to put as many nodes in that height as you can. Look behind Lance, those things look fucking beautiful.
Lance: To go back on what Joe was saying, this was only a 12 day veg. These plants, they're massive. And then I don't if you can see how tight internodal spacing is, or how many bud sites these have, but nothing like I've ever seen.
Sergio: Lance, I would love for you to talk about lighting. I know you've got the Agnetix A3 high PPFD light going on there. And Joe, you're running HPS. So let's talk about lighting and how this turns crop steering into a physical tool that you're going to be adjusting. How is lighting integral in the whole crop steering process? Adjusting light intensity levels, giving PPFD, etc.
AROYA: Well, yeah, light intensity is absolutely... As far as things that impact yield, crop steering takes a backseat to light intensity. Light is what determines it. Luckily enough, most growers under HPS have figured out that you can almost never have too much light. 1,000 micromoles is about as much as you can get with those fixtures. And so, it's not too typical that we find under-lit flower rooms. What I find most often is very under-lit veg rooms. In order to get your plants into flower at full-speed, we want to have them able to enter that flower room at 100% light intensity, as much light as you can throw down on those things with your equipment in your room.
A lot of times I find veg rooms lit at 250, 300 micromoles. And then the guys have to throw plants into flower at 500 micromoles with their 1,000 lights dimmed to 50%, 60%. Then they have to ramp it up over the course of a couple weeks. Well, that first two weeks in flower, first three weeks in flower, is the most critical time of your plant's life to set up your yield. If you miss that boat, you missed it. You're not going to create more bud sites after the stretch is done.
Getting your light intensity up to the right level and veg to match the DLI going into your flower room. So say you were a 1,000 watt HPS grower, you could hit 1,000 micromoles in your flower room. You would want to get your veg up to about 600 micromoles over 18 hours to match that daily cumulative light level. In matching that, if you have 600 micromoles in your veg for 18 hours, you can throw them right into 900 to 1,000 micromoles immediately and they won't stress at all, won't have any shock, nothing like that. Because as far as they're concerned, the total daily amount of light that they receive is exactly the same. And it's just a difference in that they get more intense light for fewer hours or less intense light for more hours.
When you have that nice 600+ micromoles in veg, and for people with Agnetix and some of these super high PPFD LED lights, you may even need to get your veg room up to 1,000 micromoles ideally, to be able to put them right in the flower.
Lighting the veg room to the right level is something that I see really commonly that could be improved upon to get people some better results. In veg, if you're under lighting it, you get stickly plants with a lot of space in between nodes. So you wind up with a thin, sparse, stickly looking plant.
If you're able to get that intensity up to that 600 or so level over those 18 hours, you get a lot more branching, you get a lot more node count, you get a lot more squat, bushy type plant almost. It allows you to leave those untopped. Keeping that main color down on that untopped plant is done much more easily if you have the right intensity, and it allows the lower plants to reach up and catch that top there.
Having that intensity] in veg will set you up with a good structure to go into flower, and it also sets you up to be able to just put those plants into flower at full light intensity and let them have as much energy as possible while they're building those bud sites. The more energy they have, the more bud sites they're going to be able to build quicker.
Joe: Yeah, just to touch on what you're saying, I was always under the impression that you needed a lower light level in veg, and that they always, when moving them into an HPS environment, they always get stressed out for a couple days. And again, that's just that kind of the old myths in terms of topping increases your yield, which I'm finding out... Dude, I topped all my plants for a long time and now I'm not. My yield's way better.
I don't want to call them grower myths, but again, the way information was shared back then, it wasn't like it is now where you can show stuff on the internet, take photos. You had to be so secretive about all this stuff. You had to hide. It wasn't like you could just talk to your friends about it. It was ICMag and THC Farmer, you'd hear about all these other stories. You're like, "Oh, that guy's doing that. Looks pretty good. Let me try that out."
Going back to the whole light thing, it was lower light and veg. That was one of the biggest issues I had here, was getting my lighting and veg right. And not just the light levels, but also the uniformity. Then transitioning that into flower. Again, it was one of the biggest things that I was failing at here. And I think it's one of the biggest things that changed my yield, essentially.
AROYA: Awesome. All right, Lance, we're going to get you to talk now too. Let's hear some of what you think about the whole crop steering game and what you thought was probably the most impactful tool that you got out of the whole thing.
Lance: The most impactful tool is you. Definitely.
Joe: That is true. Straight up truth.
Lance: You've laid the foundation for everyone. You're the unsung people's champion when it comes down to it.
AROYA: Well, thank you.
Lance: You share a philosophy that very few of us share, and that is teaching a village how to fish so they can feed everybody. A lot of everyone wants to keep all their techs secret. I even get DMs from people like, "Why are you sharing this? It's taken us forever to figure this out." I'm like, "Dude, I'm not a fucking island." Why would I share it? That's the stupidest question I've ever heard in my life. I thought the whole idea as human beings was to level one another up and help your fellow man as much as you can.
AROYA: That's the goal.
Lance: That’s basically what y’all have done. Now that we've partnered with AROYA, which has helped bring all this data to light. And so the best tool, obviously for me, is the TERROS 12, I would have to say. Just having something that reads so accurate. I don't even know how the hell they made that. How do you make a fucking sensor that can tell you your water content percentage, all the way down to zero? You can watch it drop, three, two, one. It's amazing. And then to be able to look at your irrigation times and say, "Okay, I want to dry back 10% in these 20 minutes." And to be able to watch that dial in your irrigation down to the second, hit a 10% dry back, bring it right back up.. Let's say you're at 55. To be able to bring it back down to 45, back to 55, 45, that's an amazing, amazing tool.
When you think about cannabis, it's such a new industry and it's growing at such a fast rate, all this stuff has been used by commercial ads for such a long time, and we're just now coming up from underneath the rock and we're utilizing these tools. In the Central Valley [of California], they can't afford to have mistakes. They can't afford to have something that is low-producing fruit or low-producing berries. They have to be on their fucking field perfectly.
AROYA: Yeah, margins are slim. Margins are very slim.
Lance: We can learn a lot from all those great Americans out there doing God's work who don’t get enough credit producing all of our food and all of our produce. It's so easy to go into a supermarket nowadays and forget that this is farmed by someone, and these fields are watched by somebody. Same with our cannabis. People, consumers, probably don't realize how much work and how much effort and how detailed we have to get to produce a good medicine for them to purchase and consume on the retail side.
Sergio: That’s a great point. It's the consumer understanding the process of cultivation, which is why I love the fact that you guys are sharing the content every day. You're a part of the process. You're seeing the love and care that goes into the cultivator. And everybody that's recognizing that isn't going to care about the THC number that's printed on the bag at the shelf. The entire retail experience right now is driven. This is not a knock, this is just more of an observation that the consumer is only driven to make a buying decision based on that THC percentage on the bag or the jar. So as long as we can continue to educate and level other people up around the cultivation process that you guys are putting in every single day, now we're not going to pay attention as heavily as to that THC number.
We all know that it's part of the total cannabinoid process that we utilize the entourage effect from terpenes and flavonoids and everything that goes into it. But you guys are touching on something so dramatic that's going to help the industry progress in such a matter to where the consumer's going to be more educated based on what you guys are showing them. So kudos.
Lance: Education is huge. Just like everything else, you can get steered away by the media, and being preoccupied with what's the cool thing, and everything like that.
I think what's so amazing about cannabis flower in general is every single strain is so unique and so special. You can take a wedding cake and back cross it into itself, and then it has its own traits coming out. It really makes me think of family and brothers and sisters. Rarely do you have twins. Yeah, they exist, but most of the time you have this individuality to them, and we see that in these cultivators, with how they're testing, and the different effects they have, and the terpenes. The terpenes are by far where the magic happens, where your taste and your feeling and your smell. You just have to really educate the community on terpenes more than THC.
Sergio: Let's tie that into crop steering. Every specific cultivar has its own feeding needs. This is why I feel that crop steering is so essential for the future and how we progress as an industry.
Lance: Using that crop steering tech is going to allow you to bring out the most of that cultivar. For instance, if you look at craft farmer 1.0 eight months ago, and he's in these rooms and he's picking up his pot, he's got his little petri dish under the plant, it's catching its run-off, and every night he's pouring his run-off into his milliliter cup and taking his notes and dialing that all in, he gets his test, he's excited. And then you fast forward seven months to craft farmer 2.0 under that Josh lab God tech, and you start looking at what the different crop steering method brings out in the cultivar. You start seeing the terpene analysis rising, you see your THC rising, your total cannabinoid rising. So it's basically showing you that by hitting these specific water content moisture levels and drying back to these precision amounts, and bouncing back and really steering that fucking battleship through these rough waters, it's going to bring the most out of the cultivar that you're working with.
Joe: To touch on that, I was going to say, one of the big things I'm noticing is the fine line between being too vegetative or being too generative in terms of quality and yield. Once we stress those plants out, we're steering vegetatively to try to bulk, bulk, bulk. I had one strain that I went a little too vegetative this last run. Quality was not nearly as good as some of the other stuff. It was a little too leafy. Just in general, the looks didn't have the bag appeal. The nose was great, a lot of terps, but it didn't have that "exotic" look that everybody's looking for. There were a couple other strains in there. Again, I'm running strains by bench. I had one bench that was a kind of tester. So that's where it kind of got a little funky. One big thing I'm noticing too, depending how the strains' structure is, is setting it up in those first three weeks.
When you're stacking and your plants are too close, you run into these issues. The plants were not meant to get that big in nature, or the buds. You start to run into these other issues that you got to think about. To touch on what Sergio was saying in terms of dialing in these strains, every strain has this balance of maximizing yield, maximizing the quality. It really is happening those first three weeks, whether you need to go more generative, a little bit more vegetative, whatever. So that way, you're setting up that plant up for success for the rest of its nine weeks, or however long you guys run.
AROYA: Very well said. That's 100% true. You said that the first three weeks are really the plants’ launch point. If you miss the boat there, that boat's gone. During that bulking phase, there's definitely a point of pushing too hard. Then you're getting white hairs in week seven. It's just like, "What is going on with this thing?" And that usually is just back a little bit off of the frequency, and maybe let the EC creep up a little bit more or something like that, and then you usually find that sweet spot. Like Joe's saying, there's a little bit of balancing act to do with each genetic so that you can really push that thing to get bulk, the best quality, and the best yield that you can possibly get out of it. And there's always the potential to get more yield, but it may not necessarily be the yield that you want. It might not be the product that you want to yield that much of.
So there is definitely a minute at which pushing that thing any hard is just going to start being a detriment as opposed to helping. But luckily enough, I've seen many, many rooms that are getting four, four and-a-half pounds of light, or 80-90 grams a square foot and still just absolute fire ... just 35 plus cannabinoids, all that good stuff. There is definitely the capability to get large yields and quality at the same time. It's like Joe said, it's playing that balancing act for each strain.
Lance: When you're talking about pushing it too much, are you talking about too much water, too many waterings? What were you referring to?
AROYA: Yeah, like pulsing a little too frequently during that P2 phase, where you're just maintaining that water content up at that higher level for the majority of that day. That irrigation frequency there, as well as the EC, can sometimes send them a little too vegetative. I'm not sure that you've had to experience that because you're programming each individual irrigation in at a time. So I don't know if you've gotten that frequent yet. I think we stuck to no more than every 45 minutes with your setup, right?
Lance: Yeah. So first of all, I made a few errors. One, I've dried back rockwool too much. And what happens is, if you're not on top of your water content and you dry it back too much, you're never going to get the saturation level that you're requiring to get. It's almost like once you dry back too much, you're never going to be able to get over 40%, let's just say.
Another thing I've noticed with these particular lights, these Agnetix, everything is on the gas so fucking hard that originally, after my stretch I would stack my first-aid watering within two hours, and then I would go to another six waterings after that on the hour. But on the hour watering wasn't enough to maintain my water content. So I had to dial that even back to every 30 minutes to maintain that water content.
AROYA: You touched on something else there too that's really critical: substrate sizing. The ability to steer those crops to the ideal methodology really requires that you have enough water holding capacity in your media to do so. During those intense dry-back periods in the generative phase, they're going 22 hours without getting watered half the time. And so, that kind of duration of dry back can ... if you're in a Hugo cube, nope. You're not going to get it. It's just not going to be possible.
If you've got the rest of your environment dialed in and you're light intensity's at the 900-ish range, somewhere around there, you're never going to be able to get those long sustained dry backs without getting down below 10% water content. So sizing your substrate is a really critical piece to the whole thing, and making sure that you have enough water holding capacity for the plans to have all the water they need to be able to be steered properly.
During the last half, when you're just pulsing and bulking, it's not as a big of a deal, but trying to get that generative piece, which again, is during the most critical part of the plant's life, you really want to make sure that you have enough substrate to hold the water. But not too much so that your dry back doesn't have the effect that we need it to have with the osmotic potential.
Lance: What do you recommend in those situations where you're in that situation, you haven't finished your stretch, all of your watering times are stacked into that first two hours, there's absolutely no way you're maintaining stretch. What do you recommend people do?
AROYA: You’re going to have to give a few more shots spaced out across. The fewer you can give, the better, though. If you can give just one more large shot, a couple hours later bring it back up and then let it dry back down, then you're still relatively generative. There's variations of that that you can try, just playing around with it. But the overall goal is to be drying back for as much of the day as you can, and really getting that EC to climb like we want it to.
Alright, it's about time. We got to wrap this up. I want to thank you again for joining us here. It's been a pleasure. Love speaking with you all as always.