Guide to reducing harvest-time stress

Trimming is one of the most important aspects of marijuana cultivation and production, but the time-consuming and labor-intensive nature of the process has led to the rise of professional trimming companies. Photo by Garrett Rudolph.

This story was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now. 

I know it, you know it, we all know it: Trimming sucks.

It’s dull, thankless, repetitive and time-consuming work, but it is also vitally important. Trimming is among the final steps before cannabis heads out to consumers and has the largest effect on exactly what the buyer sees in the package.

On top of that, trimming is labor-intensive and usually requires farms to bring on more personnel to finish the work, which can take away from other important jobs that need to be done. However, this has created an opportunity for enterprising business owners, leading to the rise of trimming companies, especially in Oregon, where farmers are entering their third harvest season since the legalization of adult-use cannabis.

“We provide recreational growers and medical growers with staff and services” for trimming, harvest help and any other on-site gardening maintenance projects, says Matt Sainsbury, CEO of the ReLeaf Society.

“Our focus is to create a solution to harvest more efficiently,” echoes Gavin Seaders, owner of Worthy Hands Trimming. “We’re basically the professional landscapers of cannabis.”

 

Businesses like Worthy Hands and ReLeaf Society, above, provide a full range of  harvest services that go beyond just trimming to help reduce the stress on farmers during the busiest part of their year.

Experience matters

Harvest is a busy time at farms, especially for those growing marijuana. Like any crop, the plants themselves need to be cut down and brought in, but with cannabis, that’s only the beginning of the work. There’s still curing and trimming to be done before the product gets to consumers. And when that’s finished, the fields have to be turned over and prepped for the next crop to be planted.

With most cultivators doing everything they can to keep costs down, many farms simply do not have the bodies to throw at every task.

“One of the biggest stresses for a grower is harvesting,” says Seaders. Worthy Hands’ slogan is “taking the weight off your shoulders.”

Seaders describes his team’s role as not only the physical work, but also to “reduce client headaches” and increase cost efficiency. Worthy Hands focuses on mid-size operations, targeting Oregon’s smaller Tier 2 growers, though it also trims for medical grows and hemp farmers. Seaders says most of his clients don’t want to buy the equipment or go through the process of hiring additional hands for part-time trimming work.

“People are in a situation where they don’t have enough manpower,” he says.

With so much to do during harvest time,  including cutting, curing and trimming, many cultivators are  protecting their bottom line by turning to specialists for seasonal help. Photos courtesy ReLeaf Society.

Details, details

Trimming can also be meticulous, demanding work and experience matters when handling thousands of dollars’ worth of product. The process must also be done to the client’s liking — some growers prefer to leave a little sugar leaf, for example, while others want tightly trimmed nugs and nugs only.

“It’s a crucial part of the process,” Sainsbury says. “It’s up to them to make sure that bud is worthy to make it to retail.”

It’s one of the reasons ReLeaf seeks out trimmers who have worked in the industry before.

“We really do all we can to make sure everyone has verifiable experience,” Sainsbury says, adding that most of ReLeaf’s employees are former medical or recreational industry employees.

Sainsbury has experience manning both machines and scissors, having grown himself and from helping out friends prior to starting the company last year.

Jessica Crouch, a team leader for ReLeaf, considers her crew a “specialized team of experts” and an “A-Team of ninjas” that swoop in when needed. She says she works to hire “seasoned, experienced people.”

“Almost everyone on my team had their own grow or has worked on prior farms or on the retail side of the business,” she says. “It’s about making sure we’re doing it how the client wants us to do it.”

Another ReLeaf team leader, Brady Moore, also has a lot of experience, being involved in cultivation of the plant for 40 years now. That experience also helps his team move quantity without sacrificing the finished quality of the finished product.

“They’re very good at what they do,” he says. “We can get a lot of product moved in a short time,”

Both Seaders and Sainsbury also stress the professionalism of their employees. Both companies do extensive training to make sure workers do not damage the product. Their companies also conduct the necessary worker background checks and ensure each hire has the proper licenses and documentation to work in the state’s cannabis industry, taking another worry out of the hands of producers. Both companies are also looking to hire additional employees.

All workers from ReLeaf Society, seen here hand-trimming marijuana buds at an Oregon farm, have prior industry experience and have passed all the necessary background checks and state requirements.

Machine vs. hand

Despite their many similarities, Worthy Hands and ReLeaf take different approaches to trimming: Worthy Hands is a machine-based service, while ReLeaf does all of its trimming by hand.

Worthy Hands brings its own machines to the job sites as a full-service business that trims both wet and dry buds. Seaders says he personally has between 200 and 300 hours of experience running the trimming machine.

“We have a lot of skill around the equipment we run,” he says.

Seaders says they can do final trim work by hand, if needed, but the company is mainly hired to come in for a single day to knock out as much as possible.

“We make sure we get it done and we’re out of your hair by the end of the day,” he says.

Worthy Hands charges $30 per pound. Seaders launched the company seven months ago, but September and October have been particularly busy, with his teams trimming between 30 pounds and 200 pounds each day.

ReLeaf, however, does all of its trimming by hand.

“Our team members come prepared with their own trim tools,” including gloves, tables, chairs and lights, Sainsbury says.

Moore says hand-trimming helps set his teams apart from others. He believes that trimming machines can bruise the product and miss leaves that will have to be hand-trimmed anyway.

The direction on how exactly to finish the buds, however, always comes from the client to make sure the final product looks like they want it to, which sometimes varies from strain to strain.

“We have to do exactly what our client wants with that strain,” Sainsbury says.

ReLeaf, which has been in operation since April 2016, sends out teams of up to 15 at a cost of $175 per day or $150 per pound, dependent on the material.

With more and more states moving into the marijuana economy, the need for supplemental services like trim teams, mobile extraction units and packaging specialists will only increase. Similar businesses have sprung up in Washington, Colorado and Nevada. California, despite not having a fully legal structure for cannabis implemented, has always had teams of trimmers available to hire during the fall.

In Oregon, both ReLeaf and Worthy Hands are keeping an eye on the future, ready to move with the industry.

“We’re adapting to the industry as it changes,” Seaders says.

Sainsbury hopes to take his company to other states, as every state with legal marijuana will need his service. His focus, in particular, is on California, where he grew up.

“We intend to be everywhere as soon as the opportunity arises,” he says.

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