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Becoming a Master Cannabis Grower

June 21, 2016

Large-scale professional cannabis cultivation isn’t for everyone. Just as with running any business, the master grower must be ready to dig in and work hard. One grower we spoke with estimates a 60-hour minimum work week at a 50,000 square-foot warehouse.


Master grower: Nathan Ell
Nathan Ell manages Soma Cannabis in Pueblo, Colo., which is in the top 1 percent in the state for large cannabis warehouses. Soma is a recreational grow using hydroponics.

Ell entered into the field of master grower after seven years as a head grower in a 15,000 square-foot warehouse during the not-so-distant Colorado medicinal-only grow days. “It’s hard work and it’s nonstop,” he said. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job where I have to be willing to learn all the time.” Ell’s growing philosophy is to “make everything as absolutely simple as I can possibly make it. Then there is so much less chance of screwing things up.”

Managing employees is a big part of being a master grower. “I almost tend to look for people who don’t have a marijuana background,” Ell said. “Some of the best employees come from the traditional nursery trade.” In his experience, these employees tend to have ample cross-over skills with “a nice foundation, and are more open to learning.” Ell staffs the Soma grow room with six full-time employees, with six workers in the trim room.

He offered this advice to be successful as a master grower: “When you know what you should be adding, the key to growing a very good crop from beginning to end, over and over again, is to be consistent, not to have variations.”


Master grower: Thomas Wild
Another master grower is Thomas Wild, who has been growing cannabis since the 1980s and currently works as a consultant. He’s had a long history of breeding seeds and helping develop new genetics. In 2000, he began growing indoor cannabis in soil. Wild was a grower in California and Arizona, where he had his license for 3½ years before delving into consulting.

He cautioned that master growers must train their employees to spot problems and have a system for reporting them, followed by quick and appropriate action.

Master growers need to be ever-vigilant about unhealthy plants and bad clones. He said that one of today’s challenges in large-scale cannabis cultivation is that “there are a lot of clones being infected by the tobacco mosaic virus. People do not quarantine these plants and are passing them around, getting diluted with problem plants.” The virus, which originated 50 years ago in tobacco, is one to watch. He recommended that master growers quarantine certain plants for at least two weeks in order to see how they’re going to grow.

On a more positive note, Wild was happy to report that “master growers and others are now doing tissue cultures, which takes out a lot of the problems that would come with the clones, bugs and molds.”

To the future master grower, Wild had the following advice: “Check every plant every day. Be patient and be diligent.”


A master grower’s duties
Owners of cannabis warehouses typically look for master growers who have two to seven years of experience growing professional recreational or medical cannabis. They also expect a fair amount of knowledge about how to spot diseases and pests and how to treat them. Employers will seek a grower with a horticulture background.

Among other things, a master grower is typically responsible for:

  • Hiring, training and firing employees
  • Possessing a vast knowledge about grow rooms and trim rooms, including garden maintenance
  • Collaborating with (and possibly hiring) a partner who has a strong familiarity with growing regulations, regulatory compliance and documentation. This partner must be able to be the liaison for state marijuana enforcement division audits, as well as manage maintenance for the facility.
  • Having expertise with plant biology, soil science and/or hydroponics, including plant nutrients, pH levels, etc.
  • Employing pest (spider mites, thrips, gnats, worms, etc.) and disease (mold, powdery mildew, Pythium wilt, root rot, mosaic virus, etc.) management and prevention programs
  • Having a thorough understanding of lighting requirements for growing cannabis, including natural light (for greenhouses) and/or artificial lights (high-intensity discharge, LED, fluorescents), as well as ensuring proper temperature, humidity and ventilation


For salary, master growers can at times earn six figures in the pay-for-performance cannabis industry, where salaries are often production-dependent. Annual average earnings for a master grower are between $50,000 and $60,000, with the larger warehouses paying more.



For more information about what it takes to become a master grower, here are some useful links:





By Mary Kaye Eisele

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