Extracted Episode 7: The Future of Horticulture with Michael Williamson

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We know cultivation plays a critical role in the success of the Canadian cannabis market. But what challenges does Canada face when it comes to growing consistently high quality cannabis? And what’s next in the world of horticulture? For our seventh episode of Extracted, we recorded live from the Lift & Co. Expo in Vancouver. We were fortunate to sit down with horticulture expert, Michael Williamson and get his thoughts on the evolution of cannabis cultivation.

Michael got his start in pharmaceuticals, working primarily with MS patients. Diagnosed with MS himself, he discovered that cannabis was a better way for patients to get symptom relief. He started a retail dispensary called Kind Love in Denver, which later became vertically-integrated and added a purpose-built cultivation facility under Michael’s leadership.

Michael is now the Director of Cultivation for Pipp Horticulture based in San Francisco. With a background in client care, retail and cultivation, Michael brings a unique perspective to the industry and is the perfect person to chat with about what lies ahead.

 

Cultivating based on the customer.

It’s clear that Michael gained valuable knowledge from his retail experience that relates to cultivation. “A lot of cultivators base decisions off grower feedback…but growers may not be the demographic.” Michael believes that what grows well shouldn’t be the only deciding factor. Instead, his company made the majority of cultivation decisions based on feedback from their retail customers.

“The end user is who’s driving your business.”

 

Going all out, indoors.

Michael is a major advocate for indoor growing and believes greenhouses play a key role, especially when it comes to extraction. Of course operating a greenhouse that produces consistent quality is easier said than done. As Michael says “With greenhouses, there doesn’t seem to be a secret sauce or a secret weapon.” So what are the key factors that determine success? The first has to do with choosing the right cultivar.

“A lot of people focus on greenhouse and environment and that’s a key element but (it’s) the cultivar. Let the genetics do the heavy lifting for you.”

The other critical factor for a greenhouse or any type of growing says Michael, is time. “To learn your environment, cultivars, your system, your team, it takes time. Especially in a greenhouse with that seasonality.”

 

Cultivation across borders.

Having worked in the US cannabis industry for many years, Michael has a clear view on what makes the Canadian market different from our southern neighbours. Some of the challenges he sees in Canada are the restriction of cultivar access and the requirements of going public. He also admits that cannabis in Canada is held to a higher standard which makes things more challenging operationally.

“The challenges are immense but I think that’s the opportunity as well.”

At the same time, he notes that some of the Canadian trends are now becoming apparent in the US. He says, “More people are talking about GMP facilities…It’s nice that some of that is spilling over from Canada.”

 

What’s growing next.

Michael touched on several innovations, while acknowledging that the future of cultivation starts with craft growers and LP’s coming together. He maintains that craft growers have plenty to offer a large LP. “(They have) genetics but also knowledge, and intimacy with those cultivars to help them get to a pristine product faster.”

“I think the future is some of the craft farmers are holding on to some really unique genetics and they need to find a partnership.”

Beyond collaboration, Michael sees the next stage including more automation, advancements in tissue culture, and the potential of drone-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Ultimately, he sees cannabis evolving through a combination of “humans and innovation, paired with science.”

 

Personal passion comes through.

While Michael’s professional path with cannabis is certainly unique, his personal journey explains why he’s so passionate about the plant. Before cannabis, Michael wasn’t sure if he’d ever walk again, or whether seizures would be part of his life forever. Working in the cannabis industry is not a nine-to-five job for Michael. It’s much more personal than that.

Listen to the full episode for more cultivation insights and stay tuned for more episodes live from Lift.