Master grower, Alexandre Gauthier, advances the cannabis industry through passion and pride
Alexandre Gauthier, director of cultivation at Origine Nature, shares his love for growing and why teamwork in cannabis cultivation matters.
May 19, 2022 By Paul Grossinger
Grow Opportunity: How and when did you begin your career in the cannabis industry?
Alexandre Gauthier: I’ve been in the cannabis industry for about 16 years now. In the early days, I focused a lot of my time on the medical use of cannabis. I knew a lot of badly injured workers, mostly from the construction industry, that required cannabis as a treatment, so I helped them get their licence and showed them how to grow their own cannabis.
My passion for this industry comes from trying to truly help people be more knowledgeable about cannabis. I’ve always been a big supporter of cannabis because it is a natural product and natural plant.
GO: Why so much passion for cannabis?
AG: In 2017, I entered the fully regulated side of cannabis, and the passion just exploded. We were the first country in the world to be in a position to help others move the entire industry forward, so it was exciting to be part of this new adventure. Passion was a defining factor for the Canadian pioneers of the industry. A story I am fond of telling is that a lot of us, when we finally got the call that we were hired by a licensed producer, started crying and had to call our loved ones to share the news. We were so proud that we could finally help people with cannabis and be part of educating the world on this plant. I really want to try to help the industry evolve as I see the potential in the plant for both medical and recreational needs.
GO: Tell us about your time and current role at Origine Nature.
AG: I started with Origine Nature in March 2020. We’re lucky to have a true family and a team of passionate people. I was the master grower at Origine Nature, but now I am the director of cultivation, so I’m heavily involved in our entire operation. In this role, I conduct research and development, oversee the entire cultivation process, from seed to sell, and the post-harvest processing. My role also includes growing a healthy industry, and not just an industry that is simply based on profit. Driving our business is our four core values: passion, family, social conscience, and street smarts. Everything we do revolves around these values. All business decisions and all R&D projects focus on moving our business and the cannabis industry itself forward.
Editor’s Note: Origine Nature was founded in 2017 and is located in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in the heart of the Laurentians. The company is one of the founding members of the Association québécoise de l’Industrie du cannabis. Origine Nature was granted a standard cultivation license in March 2020 and a standard processing license in July 2020. The LPs first product was sold at the SQDC in October 2020.
GO: How has growing cannabis changed over the past several years?
AG: When legalization began, there was a false idea that growing cannabis was very easy, and that people were just going to throw their money at license producers without regards of what is in the jar — as long as it had THC. There was a lack of understanding of the pre-established cannabis culture, and I would say for a product that was considered illegal, it had the strongest culture in the world. A lot of producers started as fast as possible without having a true regard for the quality of cannabis they were producing, so the first years were hard. Also, the black market was very well established, and the fact of the matter is that there are some excellent growers in the legacy market.
Now we’re seeing a true shift from the black market to the legal market. Also, in the first year of legalization, the industry wasn’t really working properly because we didn’t understand what the true demand of cannabis was. There was no historical data on what cannabis consumers truly wanted. But over the years, we have evolved, and as recent as 2020, we truly saw good quality cannabis come to market at a scale that was unprecedented.
GO: Looking back, what are your thoughts on how legalization was handled in the early months and years?
AG: A lot of people were complaining about regulation and how it was established, but we need to understand that we were the first country to truly do this. Canada was the first one, so all eyes of the world were on us. When you are doing something like that, of course you need to start with harsher regulations to ensure that everybody is safe and that the industry is controlled in some way. Once we are more established, then we can relax our laws and move forward. I think we did it the right way and that the Canadian government did an amazing job. We need to crawl before we can walk and run, and it was wise to take that time to do things properly. Today, we are really at that threshold where there’s amazing quality cannabis in all the provinces at very good prices. To quote my good friend Jose Dominguez from Neptune, “There is no bad cannabis, only badly priced cannabis.”
GO: How important is it for growers to understand the entire LP operation, and not just the cultivation aspect of it?
AG: When you are simply growing, there are a lot of operational, market trends and industry issues that you might not understand. A lot of master growers are very well versed in cannabis, but they don’t understand that when they’re creating a product, they’re not making it or marketing it for themselves. They’re making it for whoever’s buying it, which is not them, so being able to trace the entire chain, and fully understand the entire production and business is important. Knowing about the technology used, what goes into the costs of operation, how one action can produce something and how another action can cost too much are all vital to growers. In the end, there are certain ways of growing depending on what price segment you are growing for.
GO: What factors should LPs keep in mind before thinking of taking a product to market?
AG: When you are growing inside, you need to understand climatization, humidification and dehumidification systems, air movement, lighting, energy management and how plants react to all of this. Every single parameter is critical. Every time there is something out of whack, whether it’s pH, nutrients or climate, there is going to be an effect on the crop down the road. When it comes to growing, there is a lot of precision needed. There is also a real need to quantify and collect data to truly know what’s going on with the cannabis plant itself. A lot of us basically did our education on our own, in a different context, but when producing on mass for the legal markets, there are so many variables to consider we’re growing cannabis.
GO: If we separate the markets now, recreational vs. medicinal, what is the difference from a cultivation perspective?
AG: To understand the difference you actually need to talk about marketing and sales. When growing for recreational markets, we are thinking of an entire country, but when you are growing for the medicinal markets, clients have their own prescriptions, so you have to grow to their personal and unique needs. On the recreational side of things, you can just mass produce one strain and release that strain in stores, while for medicinal, you need to have multiple strain offerings and multiple product offerings to be sure that you can meet the demands of your client base. For medicinal grows, the production layout is different too as you are going to want more small flower rooms rather than big flower rooms. You’re not going to want to do rooms that produce 200 kilos of the same strain; you’re probably going to want rooms that create 30 to 40 kilos of the same strain, but with multiple rooms.
GO: How important is teamwork within a cannabis LP?
AG: It’s absolutely everything. First off, when talking about master growers, your success is your team; you are only as good as your team, so having good unity is important. Passion is just as important. When you have the right team of people with true passion, you can overcome anything. At Origine Nature I’m part of the leadership team. They included me in this circle because they saw the value of having me in it. One of the assets I bring to this team is my understanding of the entire chain within the cannabis market. There are no silos within our company. We have excellent communication, so when we do product launches or market studies, everyone shares their knowledge and we take everybody’s expertise into mind. The key is not focusing on one thing and being an expert on one thing; it’s being able to draw expertise from multiple people and make connections to be able to create something even bigger, and that’s what we do at Origine Nature.
GO: What skills and knowledge does a master grower need to possess to be successful?
AG: You need a deep understanding of all the different factors that can impact cannabis. Whether it’s lighting, climate variations, or humidity, just to name a few, you need to start collecting data. What takes master growers to another level is being able to make sound decisions based on data, and based on your experience as a grower. Definitely having your own growing experiencing is a good first step, but then it’s about letting passion drive what you do. You need to find the right fit at the company you are working for, including finding a company that fits your values. You also need to understand that there are a lot of regulations involved within Canada’s cannabis market, plus you have to be patient in that most master growers normally start off in entry level positions. In the end, it takes dedication, it takes passion and it takes knowledge. I would advise people to read true agricultural books that are done by scientists in order to truly master the craft. You need to start understanding the full chain of production of cannabis, and that every action a grower takes resonates throughout the entire company and all of its departments.
GO: Looking ahead, what is the short-term future of Canada’s cannabis industry?
AG: We’re so early in the industry that at his point, I just want people to produce good cannabis for a good price. There is a need to stabilize our offerings and stabilize the level of quality per price segment before we can then move on to a more refined product where consumers can truly learn and respect what growers, including craft growers, are doing right now. I feel there is a lack of respect for craft growers today, but there’s also no platform for them to tell their story and justify why, let’s say, their product has a higher price point than another one. The consumer is pretty much just left with two products in front of him/her with two different price points without really truly understanding what goes behind one or the other.
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