Because marijuana has been illegal for decades, there are no published guides from credentialed experts or universities that have studied the most efficient ways to grow commercial quantities of the cash crop. Most participants in the cannabis industry have minimal experience in commercial agriculture, and there is little consensus in the marijuana world when it comes to best practices.
For the next few years, many growers will continue to experience a steep learning curve as they struggle with inefficient production methods based largely on anecdotal information and how-to books penned by authors with no formal education in plant sciences and agricultural production.
In simple terms, this means cannabis cultivation is prime for a rapid evolution of techniques and technology.
Mike and Matt Van Wingerden, the owners of Double Dutch Farms, are an exception to the general rule that most cannabis cultivators have minimal experience in commercial horticulture. Their family has been involved in greenhouse crop production since the 1950s, and both Mike and Matt learned about plant husbandry as youngsters.
“From a very early age, our dad gave us simple tasks like watering plants or transplanting cuttings,” Mike says. “It taught us about proper plant care and instilled in us a strong work ethic.”
As the brothers got older, they were required to learn about business operations, greenhouse technology and various paths to increase productivity and efficiency. After a break for college, the two brothers returned to the family greenhouse business and formed Outlook Growers, which primarily grows bedding plants. Mike assumed the role of head grower, and Matt took over operations and facilities management.
The glass greenhouses they own were originally designed and used for a variety of plants, including poinsettias, spring annuals, hop cuttings and vegetables. However, with the ideal climate of Washington’s Yakima Valley — the world’s leading producer of hops, which require similar conditions to marijuana — it made perfect sense for the brothers to expand into the commercial production of legal cannabis.
Using their background in agriculture and greenhouse management, the pair quickly established themselves as premiere producers of marijuana flower for the growing legal market in Washington. With an additional 300 acres producing crops for local dairies, the brothers experienced relatively little local opposition to their new business venture.
“We’ve not heard any opposition or complaints,” Mike says. “And even though we live in a relatively conservative area, we’ve seen public perception of the crop rapidly changing. We think that in the end, marijuana is going to be seen just like craft beer and wine, and will be welcomed as an economic asset to the community.”
The glass greenhouses used by Double Dutch Farms are becoming increasingly rare, as most cultivators today opt for the less expensive double-poly or rigid plastic film option.
However, Mike Van Wingerden says they’re very happy with the structures at Double Dutch.
“Poly is much cheaper to buy than glass, but poly needs to be replaced every three to five years,” he says. “Glass costs more, but doesn’t degrade, and only needs replacing if a pane breaks, and that’s uncommon.”
Mike also points out that glass has other advantages like better direct light transmission. He also says it tends to be drier than poly, leading to fewer problems with condensation and humidity.
Standard 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium fixtures supply the facility with supplemental lighting. The greenhouses are also equipped with light-deprivation curtains to provide complete darkness when needed. The current setup allows Double Dutch to produce four to five crops per year in perpetual two-week harvest cycles.
As for future structures, the Van Wingerdens aren’t sure which way they’d go if they had to build new greenhouses, but indicate that it would be a decision based on a thorough cost-benefit analysis.
While pests such as russet mites were a problem for many growers during the 2016 season, the Double Dutch facility managed to avoid any major outbreaks. Because the greenhouse is naturally vented, pests are able to enter easily, Mike explains. This, combined with the fact that there are many other crops grown in the area, necessitates an active, hands-on approach to pest management. The Double Dutch solution involves several proactive moves.
First, the company uses soil amendments that interrupt the breeding cycles of certain pests. Next, the growers aggressively introduce beneficial insects, and constantly apply new batches before pests can get established. The Van Wingerdens’ prior experience with other crops taught them about the advantages of beneficials, so they moved away from insecticides years ago, Mike says. If a flare up does occur, their final line of defense is all-natural oils and sprays.
Because the Van Wingerden brothers are familiar with commercial agricultural production, their philosophy toward cannabis cultivation tends to be more conventional than other marijuana producers. They understand that they can utilize many of the same protocols that were previously proven in their greenhouses and apply it to their new business.
The strains they grow are regularly evaluated for vigor and productivity, and the brothers have assembled a list of favorites, including Grape OG, Dutch Cookie Jar, Thunderbud, Sweet J, Strawberry Banana, Girls Scout Cookies, Thin Mint, Maui Wowie, Dutch Treat, Buddha Tahoe OG and Tangie.
Double Dutch uses a traditional soil medium, which is a custom blend of all-natural ingredients the company produces on-site. The mix is carefully and purposefully chosen to serve multiple facets of plant nutrition. Because the soil is so well balanced, the plants in the facility require no additional nutrients, and aside from pure water, nothing is added after planting. Mike, as one might suspect, is a big believer in the old saying, “Feed the soil, not the plants.”
In the final analysis, Double Dutch is a well-managed, modern cannabis operation that seamlessly blends old technologies and greenhouse design with modern production advances. The two brothers’ years of experience and sharp eye for detail has enabled them to build a business that has become a model that others will surely follow.[contextly_auto_sidebar]