Q&A with Toucan Farms
Toucan Farms is a high-tech Washington cannabis producer based in Shelton and has been a client of Dauntless Software using our TraceWeed system since April of 2016.
We had the chance to talk with Steven P. Fuhr, Managing Partner of Toucan Farms. The Shelton, Washington facility grows medical-grade marijuana and uses TraceWeed to meet its seed-to-sale traceability and compliance needs.
Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Why did you get into the cannabis industry?
My reasons are split into two very different worlds.
Professionally, my background was in education and career planning, of all things. In my student workshops I often discussed how the fastest growing careers frequently emerge within industries that are just being created. Cannabis is not just a product; it’s an entire industry with hundreds of specialized opportunities in construction, production, processing, and sales. It also involves more traditional careers like logistics, human resources, management, research and technology. The opportunity for explosive growth was obvious, and I wanted to be a part of that as it unfolded.
Personally, I’ve not only been a consumer of cannabis for years, but a medical grower and patient as well. Then three years ago, I had what doctors first thought was lung cancer, but it turned out to be a dead spot in my lung that was created from inhaling Mycotoxins – a metabolite of mold found in cannabis. The thought that I could die from smoking bad product changed my perspective, and I promised myself the products we grew would be the cleanest possible. It’s what led Toucan Farms to grow the first 246-70 medical-grade grade marijuana in the state.
You have a very advanced and technological facility. Why did you go high-tech? What are the high-tech components that you utilize?
When other growers tour our facility, they often comment on how high-tech it seems, but I feel like we’re utilizing mostly time-tested technology. Deep-water culture systems like Under Current and all our monitoring hardware look modern, but they have been around for decades. Putting that all in a brand-new building that’s painted hospital white and run like a clean room adds to the aura of high tech, but again, I feel that’s just good old-fashioned growing practices.
The real high-tech parts of Toucan Farms are actually hard to see. For instance, we have a completely sealed building with special foam behind our walls. The only air that comes in is pumped through HEPA filtered regenerative air pumps feeding bubblers inside each grow bucket. The super aerated water lets us use a fifth the fertilizer of dirt mediums, which gives consumers cleaner tasting product at a lower cost. Not to mention the plants are constantly watering and feeding themselves, which saves on labor costs and adds to the consistency of our product. The water drainage system running through our building to recover waste water is pretty advanced too, as are the hydronic cooling systems we designed, but most of that is hidden from sight. Our air cleaning systems employ similar technology used in the space station, which not only reduces smells, but prevents mold and mildew.
Computers also play a big role. We monitor 14 environmental data points in every grow room daily. Our reliance on computers and grow room technology is really what led us to adopting the traceability system from TraceWeed.
How has TraceWeed fit in with the rest of your technology? Has it made an impact to your business?
Building a new facility meant we had a blank slate, which allowed Toucan Farms to design modern methods for letting plants flow from one stage to the next smoothly. We also had clearly defined “grow-pods” to work in, so efficiently moving an entire pod at once was our goal at every stage.
We found TraceWeed’s phone scanning systems and software design helped us do that more easily than other systems could have. We also discovered growers were taking huge amounts of time entering plant data, and they often made mistakes that could result in big fines, so we wanted something that was easy to use and lowered the data entry needs.
More than anything, we found a large portion of employees lacked the skills to use PC based systems. TraceWeed phone scanners were much easier for everyone to learn, and the data was more reliable as a result. To me, that meant less errors and total compliance. When we’ve had LCB inspections, the officers are always fascinated with how accurate and informative this system is compared to the state system.
What is next for your business? More tech? More space? Branch out to other states?
Toucan Farms is planning to add two more production facilities and a range of processing capabilities in the next 24 months. This will include a state-of-the-art lab allowing us to do everything from tissue cultures to in-house quality control testing. Because our focus is on medical-grade products, we are in talks now with labs and research facilities to partner with as our industry seeks to validate the many benefits of our products.
We also plan to license our newly trademarked brand of Certified Clean Cannabis to other growers who share our passion for safer products not only here in Washington State, but nationally and globally.
What advice to you have for Producers that are just now getting their license?
The biggest piece of advice I could give a new grower about the act of growing is they cannot be over zealous about being clean at every stage. The new lab regulations that arrived this month [January 2017] will mean we’re all going to have to grow “Medical-Grade” product to some degree, or at the very least food grade, and that means sterilizing everything, all the time.
From a human resources standpoint, I would suggest not being so focused on looking for past cannabis-specific experience and more centered on the core values of integrity and reliability, along with basic academic skills like reading, writing and math. Moreover, look for employees that have demonstrated a willingness to learn new skills. In particular, if the person has spent the last 30 years hiding from using computers, they clearly do not have a willingness to learn new skills. Trust that you will not change them, and they will cost you dearly in this business.
And finally, cross-train everyone on the most critical point of all – traceability. Even my trimmers know how to do basic TraceWeed functions. If you have just one person doing it, and they get sick, are fired, or leave your company, it could be the beginning of the end, but this requires using a traceability system everyone can use.