Corey Buffkin isn’t a fan of being called a “master grower.” It’s a loosely defined title within cannabis cultivation that often gets misrepresented. The Chief Cultivation Officer at ONE Cannabis believes the term gained popularity during an embryonic time in the legal cannabis world. Today’s industry, and the level of oversight necessary to succeed within it, is more sophisticated. Since diving into cannabis as a cultivator, Buffkin has started his own successful business, mastered a vertically integrated business model, and won several cannabis cups with ONE Cannabis CEO, Christian Hageseth. After nearly a decade, the Georgia native has learned what many have not: cannabis cultivation runs like any other business. Striking the optimal balance between efficiency and quality is of the utmost importance, and finding the right people to achieve that goal is vital.
“It’s a turnstile industry across the board,” Buffkin said. “It’s hard to find skilled labor that sticks around.”
Cultivation has been a labor-intensive service since its legal inception, but technological leaps and bounds are affording companies innovative opportunities that solve multiple problems at once. There are no shortages of new grow developments that aim to improve an integral part of the industry. The issue of labor is being addressed with technology such as cutting-edge PLC systems, or a programmable logic controller. The intuitive software helps oversee the daily operations that produce a consistently superior product.
“A PLC system is a smart computer that is able to learn trends and alerts us of any issues by collecting data, taking the diagnosing of trends out of human hands,” Buffkin said.
The expensive system has long-term benefits— Buffkin said they can cut labor costs by 30% with innovations of this kind. Trimming the fat in one sector allows for improvement in others. As the cost of cultivation decreases, cannabis companies can bring on employees in other fields and expand in addition to optimizing other facets of their business. Like other major industries before it, cultivation is shifting away from an emphasis on labor. It’s a different industry now than the one that came up with “master grower.” Nine years ago, anyone could get into the business with a little bit of capital and some grit. A lot of factors come into play for those hoping to attain the longevity and consistency that Buffkin prides himself on. For him, a lot of it comes down to good business practices, a niche for a product he believes in, educating customers, and a little bit of luck.
“It’s all much bigger now. The scale has gone up heavily, but we’re proud of our hands-on approach. Every day, seven days a week, the plants always have to be caressed,” Buffkin said. “Regulations have also increased tenfold and most of the people involved at the beginning aren’t involved anymore. ”
Adaptability is key now that cultivation operates on a factory-level scale. Businesses must maintain what Buffkin calls a “boutique quality product” within that factory. Tools like the PLC system, and the advancement it signifies, help make it possible.