Mike McAnlis of Native Roots, one of Colorado’s preeminent cannabis retailers, joins the GrowerIQ Podcast to give the rundown on his business’s operations in one of America’s legal marijuana epicentres.
Similar to the Starting up in the Industry (with Chris Jones of Cannabis Xpress), this episode was a hit amongst our listeners. He has come a long way – from an entry-level position to becoming a lead grower. You’ll be buzzed after hearing Mike’s story!
Steve Looi 0:07
Hey, everybody, this is Steven Looi. And we have another edition of the GrowerIQ Podcast for you today we have Mike McAnlis from Native Roots on the show. Hey, how are you doing?
Mike McAnlis 0:17
Doing well, how are you?
Steve Looi 0:20
Not too bad. Mike is one of the lead growers at Native Roots. Mike, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the operation at native roots?
Mike McAnlis 0:28
Yeah. So I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, um, you know, just really want to explore the marijuana industry. So I moved out to Colorado in 2015, I was hired with Native, pretty much right off the bat, started kind of in the lower ranks and just work my way up through the ranks of the grow. And now I’m one of the head growers.
Steve Looi 0:52
Nice. And did you have background in cannabis before that?
Mike McAnlis 0:55
Or a little bit here and there, but nothing formal.
Steve Looi 1:00
Gotcha. Gotcha. And then what year? Did you join Native Roots?
Mike McAnlis 1:02
I started in August of 2015.
Steve Looi 1:06
Of 2015. And at what position did you start?
Mike McAnlis 1:10
I started on what’s called our transition team, which is really the entry level team in our grow, they do a lot of cleaning, transplanting, harvesting, just kind of miscellaneous grow related tasks, but not directly affecting living plants.
Steve Looi 1:28
Okay, gotcha. And, and now you’ve worked your way up to one of the lead growers, is that right?
Mike McAnlis 1:32
Correct. Yeah, my title is head grower.
Steve Looi 1:36
At grower and he tell us a little bit about the operation that Native Roots? What kind of growth methodology the genetics etc.
Mike McAnlis 1:45
Um, so we are large facility probably has 70,000 plants we grow in cocoa. We use in house made synthetic nutrients. We grow about 50 cultivars in like a large production scale. And then we have some smaller scale things where we’re testing out new genetics, to try and keep things refreshed and current.
Steve Looi 2:13
Gotcha. Well, I’m talking about current, how are you guys staying up to date with new information on cannabis? And new growing slps? etc? Or are you developing those yourselves?
Mike McAnlis 2:25
I think for the most part, we’re developing ourselves, you know, I think pretty much anything you find, like you need to try and make sure that it works for you and your space. Um, you know, so we might, we might, you know, hear tidbits of Hey, what if we try this and then, you know, we always kind of keep like, a small portion of the grow, like maybe 5%, that’s for r&d, and just trying new things, you know, and so let’s do some trials here. And let’s try to eliminate it down to just one variable trial. And, you know, what does this change? How does that affect yield potency? terpenes, and you know, your overall outcome?
Steve Looi 3:06
Right, and have you had any interesting successes out of that, or even interesting failures out of that?
Mike McAnlis 3:13
um, I can’t think of any, like profound failures, you know, sometimes you might think that you’re gonna see an outcome, and then he realized that maybe it wasn’t worth it. Um, right. One thing I noticed, like, you know, I started doing a mid bloom flush, just to kind of, like, reset the salts that are in the pot. And, you know, I actually found that to be very helpful. Um, there was a section of plants where I had two strains, um, one section that did not get that flush, and one section a big at the flush, and across both strains. So out of 10% yield increase, I saw a slight potency increase and slight terpene increase. Um, wow, that was pretty interesting. Like, you know, that flash is just really just kind of hitting the media with a high volume of a very low strength feed. And, you know, it’s interesting to see that just what happens this one day has such a profound impact on the outcome. Yeah,
Steve Looi 4:12
what so you’ve been getting consistent results, improvements with feathering that mid bloom flush?
Mike McAnlis 4:18
Yeah, I haven’t really found any areas where it’s been detrimental, you know, some strains seem to take to it better than others, you know, some you’re gonna get, you know, kind of a larger beneficial reaction, but I haven’t found anything where it’s, like, impacted negatively.
Steve Looi 4:36
So, but across the board, it’s it’s improved things no matter the genetics.
Mike McAnlis 4:40
Yeah, pretty much.
Steve Looi 4:42
Yeah, that’s amazing. And what, what sort of clued you into trying that?
Mike McAnlis 4:46
I’m really is just following the EC of the pot. You know, like we have an EC meter. That’s electric conductivity, which is a measure of the salts that are in the pot, and realizing that around like week three of blooms I was kind of getting to the higher range of what I wanted it to be. And so I figured, you know, like, Okay, what if I give it a really low feed, kind of flush a lot of bad, immobilized salts out and just kind of allow things to build back up from there? And was that actually surprised with, you know, how beneficial that was?
Steve Looi 5:23
Yeah, no, that’s amazing. And then once you figured that out, is that now standard SRP across the entire row?
Mike McAnlis 5:28
Right. So normally, I’ll try stuff on a very small scale First, if it works there, I’ll do it a little bit bigger works there, maybe a little bit bigger. And if he continues to show, you know, the same improvement through all trials, that’ll make it a new sob.
Steve Looi 5:43
Okay, very cool. Very cool. And so over the years, I guess you’ve developed a few of these new recipes.
Mike McAnlis 5:50
Steve Looi 5:51
Yeah, no, that’s amazing. And then So was this need to experiment yourself? born out of like, dissatisfaction for what in grow information is out there, you know, for tomatoes. I mean, they’ve been studied, from here to infinity and back, and you know, to grow tomato, there’s probably a very, very thick training manual, but for cannabis, not so much. Right? And so have you have you been able to find quality information? Or was this experimentation sort of born out of the, the need for it,
Mike McAnlis 6:24
Um, you know, I think the experimentation was born out of just a desire to keep improving. And, also, just to keep things from getting stagnant. You know, um, I think that if you just keep repeating the same thing over and over again, it’s kind of easy to get checked out. So I like to do experiments, just for that sake, just to keep things interesting. But also, I think that, you know, the more new methods of things that you try, like, the more you’re gonna find, hey, this works, or Hey, this doesn’t work. And like you said, like, you know, cannabis is a pretty new industry. So there’s not a whole, you know, there’s not a whole lot of reliable information that has existed for a long time. And I think that, you know, we’re kind of discovering that alongside everybody else in the industry. You know, since we grew up cocoa, like one thing that was said a long time ago, is you can’t overwater cocoa, I get a lot of people that come into the ground, and like kind of think that but at least Personally, I found that not to be true. If we can definitely overwater it.
Steve Looi 7:33
Yeah, tell us about that. So people I guess are thinking that, you know, the the cocoa will there’s a point of saturation and that’s way below that saturation doesn’t knock out completely all the air that’s in the in the in the root system, but I guess that’s that’s not true, or at least that water flows and can dissipate, but I guess that’s not true.
Mike McAnlis 7:56
Um, yeah, you know, I think that the the cocoa itself, you know, is only going to hold on to so much moisture, but it’s, I think, a space that’s in between, yeah, little molecules a cocoa that is important. Yeah, if that space has enough oxygen, then your plants going to do well. If that space is just totally saturated with water and your your roots can’t get enough oxygen, you’re gonna start getting negative things that start building up in the pot, you know, different root rot fungus, like Pantheon, or if you cerium or, you know, anaerobic areas or something.
Steve Looi 8:31
And then so how do you guys guard against overwatering? Coco like, it sounds like you found out that it’s possible. So how do you guard against stopping that?
Mike McAnlis 8:40
Um, well, so we, we use an automated irrigation system, but I still have my employees go through and like, kind of check each plant every day, you know, like, kind of lift the pot, make sure it’s not too saturated. If it is too saturated, then pull the emitter and allow that plant to work through what it already has before you just keep dumping water on it.
Steve Looi 9:04
Right, right. So that’s a bit of a manual process, but you have to you maintain it every day, I guess. Yeah. It’s right. And how did you guys come to decide to do Coco and hydro newts?
Mike McAnlis 9:21
Um, you know, I, I think that in the beginning, it starts with you know, a lot of people think that you’re gonna get a little bit faster growth out of Hydra, and you are out of soil. So I imagined that that’s where it started with our initial like head growers. And I think that we kind of landed on cocoa instead of a fully automated hydro system, just kind of as a safeguard, you know, like I said, we have a very large facility and there’s like 70,000 plants. So, you know, like, it takes a tremendous amount of power to keep All systems running, you know, and if in the event of a power outage, if you have a hydro system that’s dependent on getting water, you know, like, every couple hours and you have a power outage, it’s several hours long, like your plants are gonna be in trouble. Now for the Cobra, right, you know, you can kind of give it the amount of water that it means for a day or, you know, more if you need to. And you know, that power does go out like, well, it’s a bummer, they’re not gonna get light, but at least they’re not gonna wilt to death.
Steve Looi 10:33
Right, right. So Coco, you’re saying more stable than a straight up hydro situation?
Mike McAnlis 10:39
I think so.
Steve Looi 10:41
Yeah, and I think most people would agree with that. And how did you guys what informs the selection of the cultivars that you guys are growing?
Mike McAnlis 10:50
Um, you know, I think that there’s a couple different categories that, you know, it’s called fire kind of needs to hit, you know, it seems like what drives the sales in the market is potency. So if stuffs not, you know, over a certain potency, doesn’t really matter how well it grows, if you’re not going to be able to sell it. You know, so that’s one, um, you know, for me, and I would think a lot of other people smell is pretty important. So, you know, right, we want stuff that kind of has like a unique terpene profile, or at least a pleasant one. And then, you know, it kind of has to fit into our growth cycle. Um, you know, we have a eight week cycle and blim, you know, so if it’s something that means 12 weeks to mature, that doesn’t really do anything for us. Yeah. So Ryan fit into the, you know, into the program, and then yield to, you know, we’re not strictly focused on yield, but I mean, you can have, you can have, like, a best plant in the world, but if it hardly yields anything, like, it’s gonna make it very hard to be profitable.
Steve Looi 12:05
Yeah, it makes the economics really drive. Yeah, and so, uh, do you, with those genetics? Are you guys also breeding your own strains, we
Mike McAnlis 12:18
do not breed our own strains, um, you know, we have kind of a network of people that we can reach out to, for new genetics. We’re developing a project right now to, you know, do some fino hunting to find new strains.
Steve Looi 12:36
Oh, tell us about the seed project.
Mike McAnlis 12:39
Um, you know, the idea being it, you know, we’ll talk to a breeder, we’ll get, you know, several seeds, and we’ll pop, you know, a whole number of seeds of one strain. And, you know, just kind of search for the traits within that strain that we want. You know, which one which one of those phenotypes the most potent? which one has the best yield? which one has a best smell? Yeah, and, and we’ll do a few different fino hunts alongside each other at a time, you know, normally a handful of strains at a time.
Steve Looi 13:13
Gotcha. But not you guys doing it. you outsource this to somebody, this
Mike McAnlis 13:17
is something that we’ll do in house, but we’re not actually breeding strains, you know, we’ll reach out to a breeder to get seeds, and then we’ll pop the seeds ourselves. Oh, I
Steve Looi 13:27
see. Gotcha, gotcha. This podcast is brought to you by grower IQ, a compliant cannabis seed to sale and cultivation management platform. The first platform to integrate all facility systems like sensors, controls to m s and E RP, all into a single interface. grower IQ changes the way cultivators use software, transforming a regulatory requirement into a platform to learn, analyze, and improve performance. Very cool. Very cool. Um, so that’s really interesting about the grow. I wanted to ask you to a very popular question right now. You know, COVID come along, how has that changed your ops in the last eight months, and made things different for you?
Mike McAnlis 14:11
Um, well, I first I think it was pretty unclear, you know, what the pandemic was going to do to the market? I know, right? I know, at least here in Colorado, like on day one, when they went to the stay at home order. It said that dispensary is we’re going to close to the liquor stores, we’re going to close Oh, and that lasted a total of maybe eight hours. And then they, you know, step back and they were like, Okay, this is gonna be, you know, an essential business. Um, but we did have to kind of trim costs. And, you know, that that entailed automating a few more things so that we didn’t rely as heavily on labor. Mmm, gotcha. Which you know, kind of also helps being able to spread out Rama garden in a socially distant fashion.
Steve Looi 15:06
Was that a was that a pain to? to transition to?
Mike McAnlis 15:11
Yeah, I don’t, I don’t know if pain is the right word. Um, it was definitely an adjustment. You know, so one of the big things was that transition team, which is that, you know, kind of exhilarating that I was initially hired on to got eliminated, and a lot more of that work just kind of fell to the growers. We used to grow in larger pots, and we used to do a couple of transplants throughout the process. Now we’re growing in these cocoa cubes, which is a small, like six by six cube, that the plant can stay in its whole life, you know, and you just hook it up with an automatic irrigation system, and you lose a little bit of that safeguard that we had talked about, you know, with a larger pot being able to water it heavily. But right, as far as automation goes, like it was, you know, kind of a necessary step that we had to take. And so far, it’s worked out well.
Steve Looi 16:11
And, I mean, so that’s just a step towards efficiency. Do you think you’re gonna keep those changes then? Or will you rehire those teams?
Mike McAnlis 16:17
I think it will probably stick with the changes.
Steve Looi 16:21
Yeah, I mean, that just makes more more business sense. unfortunate for it for for the teams, though. Have and now that you guys are back open and open along with the dispensaries Have you guys noticed a change in sales?
Mike McAnlis 16:36
You know, I think that there is an initial dip. Probably like March or April, but to the best of my knowledge, like sales are doing as well as they ever had. You know, and I think it’s just kind of bed. Cannabis, you know, is recession proof? Yeah, no kidding. People are always going to need some sort of escape from especially like such a bleak reality that 2020 has been for a lot of people.
Steve Looi 17:07
Yeah. And with your entertainment and sort of options limited. There’s not a whole heck of a lot to do. People are nesting, I guess. And that’s one of the things you do when you nest.
Mike McAnlis 17:17
Yeah, definitely. That was one thing that I always said, like, you know, I don’t think that cannabis makes you lazy, but I do think it makes you okay with being bored. Yeah,
Steve Looi 17:26
Yeah. So interesting. I actually saw a post about that this morning. Yeah, I definitely would agree with that. Did you have to change any of your slps? Or infrastructure in terms of, like keeping things clean? In terms of COVID? Or were those already in place? Because, you know,
Mike McAnlis 17:47
Not really, I mean –
Steve Looi 17:48
You’re already on guard for that.
Mike McAnlis 17:49
Yeah. Like, I think that we are already trying to keep everything as clean as possible. Right now, the big grow is this probably 250 people that work in that building, you know, so having a janitorial staff having to keep things clean. was already important? Yeah. I’m sure that they started, you know, sanitizing doorknobs. More, right? Like large changes? I don’t really think so.
Steve Looi 18:22
But small spot, things like that, that you may not have done before. Yeah.
Mike McAnlis 18:25
And I guess, like the one change they’d like I had made was just kind of spreading teams out, you know. So, like, in a post harvest area, where previously you’d have, you know, half a dozen people just kind of working all alongside each other, you know, just kind of change that. So they could at least be six feet apart. And we could be conscious of social distancing, and doing our best to slow the spread of the virus.
Steve Looi 18:53
So are your trim teams now just really spread apart?
Mike McAnlis 18:57
Um, yeah, I think we’ve done that wherever possible, you know, kind of spread things into different rooms, and maybe taking up a little more space than we were doing before. But, you know, I think it’s all just being conscious of trying to slow the spread of the virus. You know, doing our part. Yeah. Yeah.
Steve Looi 19:17
Fair enough. Yeah, one. So one thing I need to ask you about is gross software. So this is a GrowerIQ podcast, wondering what kind of growth software you’re using right now and what you like and what you don’t like about it? Um, so we have a, or maybe spectrum in general,
Mike McAnlis 19:41
right. We have a building management system that was developed for us by a local company out of Denver, that you know, controls, irrigation controls co2 levels. Temperature And humidity. Yeah, just kind of like the main automated parts of the building. And I think it does a good job for the most part. Um, there’s probably improvements in any system that could be made. Right. But I think when you’re looking at, you know, any sort of like software like that, that’s going to run your facility, I think, for me, like having versatility built into it is pretty key. You know,
Steve Looi 20:29
Anybody tell me about the versatility?
Mike McAnlis 20:31
Well, I just think it’s a bad idea to get so locked into doing things one way that yeah, it just becomes like a nightmare to try and change anything. You know, but I already kind of having a versatile software that can adapt as your procedures adapt, you know, I think it’s pretty key.
Steve Looi 20:54
Right, right. So you mentioned that software is running is controlling the environment and stuff like that, what are you using for inventory, and, and track and trace, um, you know,
Mike McAnlis 21:08
as far as like plant inventory, we have to go through metric, which is a state regulated thing. And that’s like, really about MTD, that’s a seed to sale system that exists in Colorado, and, and in a lot of other states. But we also have, um, an ER p set up through Microsoft Dynamics, that kind of helps control, like, supply inventory, and you know, different things like that just streamlines everything, where all the data is kind of held in one spot.
Steve Looi 21:41
Right, that’s good. And then so I guess all these pieces of software integrate to each other and talk to each other. Right. So what are your biggest headaches at this at the at the grow?
Mike McAnlis 21:50
Um, as far as like, IPM goes, you know, like, occasionally, we’ll see. powdery mildew? Um, you know, and I think that that’s something that’s very prevalent throughout the industry in Colorado, and probably a lot of other places, too. Um, right, you know, I, we don’t really see him here, but you know, I have a number of friends that work in the industry for other companies that, you know, have a hard time dealing with thrips, or spider mites, or root aphids. For us, you know, like, prevention is key. Um, what pesticides you’re allowed to use, is pretty strictly regulated by the Department of Agriculture. And, you know, it kind of seems like you get to a point where there’s not a whole lot left on that approved list, it will really help you eradicate a population of something that’s already well established. You know, so just being vigilant and doing your best to prevent, you know, big outbreaks from happening is key. So for like, powdery mildew, you know, we’ll use like some oxidizers, like zero tall, which is peroxide and parasitic acid, or we’ll use some beneficial bacteria sprays, like, you know, Bacillus subtilis. Spray. And then, like –
Steve Looi 23:23
Are you buying that or are you making those?
Mike McAnlis 23:25
Um, we’re buying it, we did, you know, kind of do some experiments with making it in house and just found it not to really be too much about cost savings. And like, when we were making in-house, like, you know, we would get, you know, we would get microphones from somebody and then just kind of brew it in house and apply it as like, beneficial foliar. Spray?
Steve Looi 23:54
And how can we just stop doing that?
Mike McAnlis 23:56
I think it was just kind of easier to go out of the bottle. And it really wasn’t, there wasn’t a whole lot of cost savings by doing it in house. Right. And the nice thing about you know, getting something from a company that’s bottling it is you’re getting the same thing every time. You know, they go through their own quality control to make sure that their product is what it says it’s supposed to be every single time.
Steve Looi 24:21
Right, and then they become pros at that process. And so why, you know, bring in another process that you guys have to manage, right? Yeah,
Mike McAnlis 24:28
exactly. We’re not bacteria growers.
Steve Looi 24:33
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Um, one more thing I want to ask you about. So I’ve seen some of these RFID tags out there. And I was wondering how helpful that would be to grow especially to grow your size. So instead of the barcodes, you can RFID tag them and then they just, you know if they pass a door, you can have a sensor there that can track and knows where the plants went. Is that something that’s helpful to you?
Mike McAnlis 25:01
Definitely think that that would be something helpful.
Steve Looi 25:05
I guess you’re using a lot of time. Scanning trees?
Mike McAnlis 25:10
plant, right. Yeah. Um, yeah. See, each one of the metric tags has a barcode, it does have an RFID antenna in it. Oh, does it? Yeah, we currently don’t have something that’s reading all those, you know, but you know, something like you’re describing, like, you know, having an RFID scanner at every door, and just following exactly where those tags go. And having that automated, yeah, I think that’d be very beneficial.
Steve Looi 25:42
Any, any other things like that, that would, that you’re hoping for looking forward to bringing into the grow? Um, you know, I, or maybe it’s on a wish list,
Mike McAnlis 25:54
I think that, you know, it’s important to just kind of keep your eye on what technology is developing like it, it is rice floating industry, and just kind of seeing what new technology develops and what might be beneficial for you. Um, I saw a program that was made by Luna that kind of uses these cameras that scan over the canopy every single day, you know, multiple times a day. And it’s kind of like a smart software and can develop as, as you develop, and, you know, you’ve kind of program it in specific ways, but it helps with scouting, you know, like, might notice a plant that’s wilting or might notice a plant that beginning to show signs of, you know, some sort of infestation, and then can send an alert to a grower who’s in the area, like, hey, go check out this specific section of the room. Yeah, so I think software like that, like, it’s definitely gonna play a big part in the future of the industry.
Steve Looi 26:57
Yeah, yeah. The predictive analytics piece, I think, is really interesting. I was working with a group that they would they had sensors and didn’t algos that calculated something called vapor pressure deficit. And that could, that was one of the leading signs to tell you if a plant was going to get too moist, or, or was too dry. And it could tell you much, much earlier on and then show you can come and do your intervention earlier and potentially save the plan. So those things are really, really interesting. And all coming down the pike if not out already. Yeah, definitely. Um, finally, Mike, are you headed to any of the conventions? Well, I guess we’re not doing any conventions. But are you doing any of the online conventions? Like today is December 1, and I think tomorrow or today is the first day for MjBizCon2020.
Mike McAnlis 27:49
Um, I personally don’t attend very many of them. But you know, there are people within our company, they’re attending those.
Steve Looi 27:58
Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah. And I guess it’s a big shift. Everybody’s going to do it virtually instead of going to the actual convention. But right. Okay, well, that’s awesome. Mike, thank you so much for the time and the information. We really appreciate you being here. And best of luck. Yeah, hopefully we get to chat again.
Mike McAnlis 28:17
It was a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for having me.
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