Fertility! Where would we be without it? Out and about looking for it most likely. As a species it’s fair to say we can’t get enough of fertility. To seek fair and fertile land in which to grow is hard-wired into the people of the world. Liked since way before Facebook, fertility has been the driving force behind folk toddling off to some wondrous places.
Recently two folk toddled off from AutoPot HQ in search of fecund and luscious parts. In order to do so they voyaged far from our native Farnborough to Colombia, to explore new possibilities in cultivation and future relationships with growers there. Those two folk were, and remain, Jason Ralph-Smith and Elena Perez, our MD and Spain/Latin America Sales Manager respectively. The story unfolds.
Those with an ounce of growing gumption know that Colombia is home to a spectacular and crucially important (think 4.2% of GDP) floriculture industry, second only to that of the Dutch. The Dutch! In case you hadn’t noticed Colombian bananas, coffee and sugar are all massively significant, both domestically and to world trade. The country is a bona-fide “powerhouse for agronomic businesses”. And now, banging its cutlery on the table and demanding its din-dins in the powerhouse, is cannabis cultivation.
Colombia moved relatively early to decriminalise and legislate for personal and commercial cannabis production. Cannabis cultivation is now permitted up to nineteen plants, indoors or outdoors without a licence and on any scale if government approved.
With beautiful soil and plentiful sunlight, the requirement for controlled growing, such as that associated with watering systems, might seem superfluous. What on earth do you need a watering system for in Colombia? Bear with us. Though we would clearly never hear a bad word said about fertility, the elements that drive fertility can be ‘testing’ to say the least. Climatic conditions in Colombia mean that, for commercial producers of all sizes, in-earth cultivation of certain plants to a consistent standard either requires expert crop management or is simply an untenable proposition. Yes, sudden and copious rainfall, massive temperature fluctuations and huge shifts in humidity levels are relatively okay for bananas, sugar or coffee. Less so for crops that need to meet stringent pharmaceutical requirements.
As elsewhere in the world, pharmaceutical grade cannabis must be recognised as such by licensing bodies, processors and dispensaries. To grow outside of a controlled environment might risk the saleability of an entire harvest. Security criteria and risks of theft associated with outdoor growing have also served to drive cultivation indoors or under the cover of greenhouses.
In our quest to better appreciate the nature and needs of Colombian cultivation we called on a couple of outstanding facilities. Each of them enormous and enormously impressive in their own way.
Unique philosophies and impeccable credentials led us inexorably to Colombian Organics. Our great friend and guide, Nathan of Web Hydroponics , had arranged a visit to the aforementioned family-run farm just two hours from Bogota. Roses and chrysanthemums had been Colombian Organics’ stock-in-trade for many moons until they recently diversified with cannabis cultivation. Now as before they produce organically and are, to-date, the only organic medical cannabis producer in the country. With licences for growing and oil export in hand, they’ve already got thousands of plants underway, at differing stages, using 22 of the 130 government-permitted strains. A first crop is slated for April 2020.
Working with nature has always been second-nature to Colombian Organics. Their expert technique in ventilation and channeling airflow through the greenhouses is something to behold. At 2700 metres above sea level their farm is certainly subject to extremes of weather. Cold starts to the day are quickly overtaken by sun-drenched, super-heated mornings, often subsumed by tropical rain in late afternoon. This does not phase owners Miguel and Pablo. Their skills in managing the greenhouses and openness to new, innovative ideas mean that the thousands of large plants that Jason and Elena saw were exemplary.
Defying the challenging elements also depends on the retention of an experienced and well-cared-for workforce. Despite the prominent role of agro-businesses in Colombia’s economy the treatment of agricultural workers remains a serious cause for concern. At Colombian Organics racks and shelving are positioned ergonomically around the needs of the female workers, helping to alleviate the endemic risk of back injuries. Just one of their many, socially-orientated initiatives. We left mightily impressed with Miguel and Pablo’s expertise and with the groundwork laid for testing of AutoPot Watering Systems at Colombian Organics.
Elsewhere Nathan arranged for us to meet Pideka, the sheer scale of whose operations is mind-boggling. Their growing encompasses twelve separate warehouses, each home to tens of thousands of plants a year. A total of 130,000 plants are harvested annually by the company, an output that requires a weekly production of 8000 clones. Pideka may be a fully-evolved, large-scale producer but they continue to employ growing techniques that result in the finest of end products. This is due in no small part to their ability to draw on some of the best minds in cultivation internationally.
Dennis, Pideka’s Head of Cultivation for Colombia, is a longstanding AutoPot grower in his spare time and it was great to meet him and his colleagues – each a specialist in their field. As ever we were delighted to be able to demonstrate the savings math of using AutoPot. The importance of keeping overheads down for big Colombian producers is as essential for profit margins as it is for the very existence of smaller scale counterparts. Whilst the larger players may have unlimited access to utilities, the profound impact a zero-waste, power-free system, such as ours, has on profitability is proven. Likewise the reduction in labour costs from hand watering. Smaller growers, especially in remote areas, are often impeded by unreliable or expensive electric and water supplies. Once again, this makes AutoPot an ideal solution.
Who could rightly refuse a trip to ExpoMedeWeed in Medellin as a beautiful, bountiful business bookend to this tour? Not our team, who marvelled at the botanical gardens in which the trade show was set. An intriguing selection of South American businesses made up the mainstay of this bustling show. We learnt a lot about the potential local applications of AutoPot. Of special interest were initiatives in the Cauca Valley where indigenous people, whose access to electricity is poor, are being introduced to the systems.
The expo was certainly none the worse for the relative lack of overseas companies. On the contrary it gave a clearer and more intense flavour of the Colombian marketplace, the prospect of entering which is tantalising. With that in mind we met some highly esteemed national distributors and went away with a spring in our step, chuffed to bits that AutoPots will surely be cropping up more prominently on these shores in the very near future.