Mark Spear worked at Canopy Growth for two years until mid-2016, when it was still known as Tweed Marijuana. Over that time, he held a number of positions in cultivation and research, with his most senior title being manager of special projects.
After he was “restructured” out of the company, as Mr. Spear put it in an interview at his home in the Ottawa suburb of Ashton, he did sales and marketing for Rambridge Wholesale, which sold grow lights to some of the largest LPs in the country; Canopy, Supreme and CannTrust, to name a few.
“Tweed is a really interesting place but you’re in your own little world there. You have no idea what else is going on outside of those walls when you’re working there, so it was great to go to all the other big LPs and see what they’re doing and what is different,” Mr. Spear said while sitting on his porch overlooking his personal cannabis garden.
“There are a lot of common problems,”
Now, as founder and CEO of the Wildfire Collective, Mr. Spear is looking to assemble a network of small-scale outdoor cannabis farmers, starting with his own three-acre facility in the nearby town of Calabogie and two nine-acre sections of partner farms in southern Ontario.
The goal of Wildfire is to address many of the problems Mr. Spear says are common at larger LPs. Here are three key problems he says the major cultivators should address.
Walked through a wonderful little garden outside Ottawa this afternoon.— Jameson Berkow (@grassreporter) October 8, 2019
Thanks @spearster55 for the hospitality! I’m excited to see what @wildfirecanada cooks up next summer. #CannabisAcrossCanada pic.twitter.com/RLTWbuj9Eb
Lesson one: Stop putting your plants so close together
“You see how none of my plants are touching?” Mr. Spear said, pointing to the roughly two dozen cannabis plants in his private garden that are just one week from being ready to harvest. “That is really important and you won’t see that in a greenhouse or an indoor grow. They cram the plants as close together as possible because every square foot counts.”
“Plant overcrowding is one of the biggest problems out there. It causes pest and disease. Plants are much more likely to get infested if they are touching other plants,” Mr. Spear said.
“It takes a while to realize that if you grow fewer overall plants with more space then you have less crop loss. Everyone thinks crop loss cannot exist indoors because it is a perfectly controlled environment [but that’s] absolutely not true. There have been crop losses from indoor crops and I have seen it.”
Lesson two: Cannabis plants are not factory widgets
“You’ve got the production people that are just trying to grow the best plants possible under a super-strict system,” Mr. Spear said. “Then you’ve got the production managers who are typically from other factory-type environments who are just looking at the cannabis plants as if they were widgets, trying to get the cost per gram down as low as possible and stripping out things that don’t seem necessary but are, like curing.”
“[They are often] just cutting corners like they’re producing any sort of factory product that comes out the same every time,” he said. “With a plant you cannot create the same plant every time, that is just not the way plants work and it is also not what people want anyways. They want to see constant improvement.”
Lesson three: Your product is not ‘premium’ just because you say so
“It really seems like [big LPs] are trying to reinvent the wheel, but the wheel has already been invented and they really just need to replicate it in a legal environment,” Mr. Spear said. “In a lot of cases there is just this arrogance of, well we put all this time and money into it and we hired all these experts so we must be producing the best stuff, almost to the point where they are deluding themselves into thinking it must be great. And they will say things like if we aren’t selling there must be another problem, either we can’t get the stamps on or because derivatives aren’t yet legal.”
“Everyone thinks they are growing $10 or $15 grams, Mr. Spear said. “At least in the illegal market the cost would often reflect the cost of production, like a strain that took twice as long to grow so they charge twice as much.
“But in the legal market it is just ‘we think we can get $12 per gram for it, so let’s go see if we can’,” he said.