Growing Medical Cannabis in Texas: Putting Patients’ Needs First
Compassionate Cultivation’s Agronomy Expert, Taylor Kirk, Talks About the Medical Cannabis Cultivation Process
In this occasional series, Compassionate Cultivation’s in-house experts offer a breakdown of the science behind cultivating, harvesting and processing medical cannabis, and share insights on Texas-regulated cannabidiol (CBD) medicine.
As Compassionate Cultivation’s Vice President of Operations, Taylor Kirk wears a lot of hats. He’s an experienced agronomist and manager who earned a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy from Texas A&M University. And, in addition to overseeing the daily operations of plant cultivation, processing and product manufacturing, he directs the in-house breeding program, which creates original medical cannabis cultivars (strains) designed to address patient needs and improve operational efficiency.
Here, he shares an exclusive look at the work that goes into caring for medical cannabis plants that are the basis for the most widely prescribed cannabis medicine produced in the state of Texas.
Q: How hard is it to grow medical cannabis plants?
As an agronomist, I would argue that cannabis is one of the most complex plants on the planet. People think it’s easy to grow, “it’s just a weed”, but when you are cultivating a plant that will provide the raw material for medicine, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The plants we grow must produce measurable targeted outcomes, over and over, so that the medicine we make is always consistent. Each cultivar has its likes and dislikes, catering cultural practices and nutrient management to specific cultivars at scale requires sound understanding of agronomy and horticulture.
We manage these plants from seeds or cuttings all the way through harvest, while maintaining a regimented schedule to ensure the post-harvest processing and manufacturing of the medicine stay on track. This requires staff oversight at our cultivation facility seven days a week.
Q: Why doesn’t Compassionate Cultivation use pesticides? What do you do to manage the health of the plants instead?
We use what’s called an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program which employs pest-control actions designed to ensure a balance of favorable economic, ecological and social consequences. As we are growing plants that will be ingested by people with serious health conditions, we feel strongly about keeping our facility as clean as possible, while also using pesticide free cultivation methods. Doctors and patients need to know exactly what’s in this medicine, so we need to create a product that can meet extensive lab-testing standards in terms of safety, purity and consistency.
A commitment to pesticide free plant production makes our work more complicated. We err on the side of extreme cleanliness and sanitation to avoid pests and mold. And we document everything we do meticulously, logging environmental and fertility data daily so that we can track the growth process on a granular level.
To grow consistently healthy, thriving medical cannabis plants we employ a dynamic nutrient management program. We use a combination of methods: foliar feeding, which allows nutrient delivery through the plants’ leaves, incorporating natural biostimulants, which act as vitamins for the plants, fertigation, which combines fertilizer with irrigation, and adding organic amendments through topdressing dry products and drenching with liquid organic products. We use different concentrations and mixtures of nutrients depending on the stages of the plant’s growth and cultivar specific needs.
Q: What’s the best part of cultivating medical cannabis in Texas so far?
I relish the challenge of applying what I’ve learned from years of working in mainstream agricultural settings to cultivating medical cannabis, there are some parallels but this is something special and by far the most rewarding career I’ve ever had. It’s exciting to be here in Texas at this moment, because we are evolving breeding and cultivation practices that are right on the cutting edge of science, and playing a role in the development of medicine that is changing lives.
With the recent changes to the Compassionate Use Program to expand the list of qualifying medical conditions, we look forward to providing this medicine to thousands of patients across Texas. It’s also important that we’re helping to contribute to the growing body of research about medical cannabis, and learning how the various cannabinoids and other components of the plant work together to provide therapeutic benefits for patients.
Get more insight about Texas CBD medicine from the Compassionate Cultivation team.
Vice President of Operations Taylor Kirk is an experienced agronomist. In addition to overseeing the daily operations of plant cultivation, processing and product manufacturing, he directs the in-house breeding program, which creates original medical cannabis cultivars. He holds a bachelor of science degree in agronomy from Texas A&M University.