Being flower purists at Big Rock, we adore the smell, taste, effect, and color-rich beauty of a fresh, premium cannabis flower. As we discuss in our State of Flower, 2020, flower continues to be the cannabis market leader in California, and will continue to be the bedrock of the cannabis industry and input source for most cannabis products for the foreseeable future. Without flower, there is no industry and as of July 2020, there are 4125 licensed adult-use cultivators in California.
Perhaps the biggest differentiator in building a flower brand is having a breadth of stable, consistent, and unique strains. Joyce Cenali recently talked with Daniel Adler-Golden, a founder and the CEO of Node Labs, the most recent addition to the Big Rock Partners portfolio, about their tissue culture micropropagation process that ensures a clean, consistent crop output for their clients. Node Labs also has a collection of ultra-premium genetics through their work with geneticists/breeders like Compound Genetics, which recently partnered with Node Labs and helps them to further develop an expansive menu of 🔥🔥🔥for brands like Cookies, Runtz, Norcal Cannabis, and Tikun Olam, among others. Ultimately, Node Labs provides a suite of services backed by their unique IP to help their customers (brands, nurseries, and cultivators/geneticists) differentiate themselves in the flooded and fragmented market–something that we believe to be crucial to the success of new brands. We are ready for Node Labs and Compound Genetics to usher in the age of designer weed that cannabis connoisseurs deserve.
Big Rock Partners:
Big Rock is excited to welcome Node Labs into our family. Many folks don’t realize that certain sectors of our industry that are highly scientific and critical to the success of different facets of the supply chain. The work that you do at Node Labs is fascinating, and we’re having a great time geeking out on the possibilities, thanks so much for taking the time to share your perspective with us and our readers!
Let’s first talk about the origin of developing tissue culture libraries of cannabis DNA and how it plays into cloning and plant propagation. Typically as I saw it in the Proposition 215 days, most growers would experiment with new strains that they would source from seed shows, tight networks, or local nurseries, of which there were just a couple in each region. As they saw their climates and sales channels responding to certain strain profiles, they held onto their mother plants and propagated clones off of those, and then not so simply, wash-and-repeat each year.
The onset of tissue culture as a means of propagation is really a new business model. Protecting genetics with heightened scientific practices wasn’t so much of a model in the past, but a part of a holistic routine that growers simply did out of necessity and standard farming practice. I think that some growers are potentially threatened by the concept – how do you see that playing into Node’s path in offering a non-offensive proposition and a supportive medium for growers and breeders?
So much of the work we do is informed by the very practices and lessons we and our partners learned during the Prop 215 days. I believe that all of us running cannabis businesses today owe a huge debt of gratitude to these Cannabis pioneers, and we’ve instilled that belief into the ethos of Node.
While it’s true that some of the methods we use, such as tissue culture micropropagation, were not being used by many farmers up in the hills – the fact is that our company’s core offering of clean, pure, differentiated genetics is something all growers can appreciate and many are looking for. In fact, one of the most common ways we work with cultivators is by helping clean, stabilize, and safely store their proprietary genetics.
When folks meet our team, read the protections we offer them in our contracts, and see examples of our services, they quickly understand that we aren’t here to disrupt their business or tradition – but rather to grow and support it.
Big Rock Partners:
Tissue culture practices are very new to cannabis, but fortunately most growers see the benefit of being able to have genetics not only cleaned, but stored long-term. Most cultivators and breeders have lost one of their favorite prized varieties of cannabis to powdery mildew or pests, so the ability to ensure production of clean, consistent cannabis is a huge tool in the arsenal for growers.
We tend to believe that it is important for companies to balance their hiring of both cannabis veterans and folks from other industries, and I don’t think that there is any more important business segment to lean on the cannabis veterans than propagation. Node has a diverse team from varying industries – how do you look to strike balance in your hiring practices, and what are some of the more important things that you’ve learned from your cannabis veteran team members?
I couldn’t agree more. While we do have a diverse team from a broad set of backgrounds, almost half of us are industry veterans – including our founding team. We believe one of our keys to success has been our ability to combine this deep historical knowledge with our cutting-edge scientific R&D efforts. The amazing thing we’ve discovered is that while they may have used different vocabularies, most of the ‘veterans’ have been using the standard scientific method for decades – and its been a blast incredible to watch individuals from such varied backgrounds discover so much common ground and shared passions.
Finding the balance between cannabis veterans and outside agricultural experience is incredibly important. For many years, those cultivating cannabis kept notes in code, if at all. The most knowledgeable growers trained themselves and kept tips in their tight networks rather than leaving any paper trail. This practice led to an incredible amount of information being shared first-hand, without a lot of documentation validating the various trials and experiments that growers went through.
Because of this, it has been incredibly important to build a team that is not only knowledgeable but can teach and explain how they arrived at their best practices. We have learned an incredible amount from the cannabis veterans on our team, and their ability to share not only what works for them but how they arrived at that conclusion allows our scientific team to learn about what is happening inside the plant.
Big Rock Partners:
Through your partnership with Compound and some of the other great breeders that you work with, your team has access to some of the most coveted genetics on the market. I was excited at your success at the Emerald Cup, where Compound saw deep lines and sold out of so many seeds from your menu over the weekend. Who is the main audience for Node? And who is the main audience for Compound? Are they aligned?
We are incredibly fortunate to be able to work with Compound Genetics to bring their insane flavors and varieties to market. And while there’s crossover, Node and Compound do appeal to different segments of the industry, Node acts as the business-facing brand while Compound is consumer-facing – which is part of why our partnership has been so much fun!
Node offers a suite of services to help our customers and partners; this may include cleaning and storing a partner’s prized in-house genetics, providing them with cuts of a pure industry-standard flavor, or offering them some of the exclusive genetics only we supply. In each case, all of the material Node provides to cultivators is derived from tissue culture, which inherently increases yield and quality of flower. By helping our partners pull down more in each harvest and differentiate their product via quality and flavor, our services help increase our customers’ revenue and grow their margin.
Compound Genetics has been providing elite genetics to growers for several years, but never focused much on commercial producers. Through our partnership, Compound is able to deliver their material to growers of all types and reach a larger audience, without sacrificing quality or authenticity. Our partnership has also allowed Compound to expand into some super exciting partnerships and collabs which will be rolling out in the coming months – including bringing some Compound Genetics flower to market in California.
Node’s main audience is cannabis cultivators who are interested in producing clean, high-quality cannabis. Similar to how Spotify is a platform for all musicians to reach a wide audience, we consider Node a way to support brands and breeders to reach their audience. Often cultivators want to grow the same type of cannabis they have been producing for years, so our cleaning and storage services ensure that they can consistently produce their proprietary/coveted strains.
We think of the relationship between Node and Compound as a way to support each other getting the best genetics into the hands of growers throughout CA, and ultimately getting cannabis consumers the highest quality flower possible, in taste, smell, and appearance. In short, Compound provides consistent quality while Node provides consistent production.
Big Rock Partners:
While it is early days for the company (Node was founded in 2018), and as we’ve touched on, your staff includes many cannabis veterans, how do you see the market evolution in terms of craft cannabis versus more corporate cannabis coming online? What are the most important things that growers should be doing to ensure that the craft growers continue to have success?
I look to the wine/craft beer industry for models of how the cannabis industry of the future will be. Despite being a more expensive product, the craft beer market is able to thrive and grow by continuing to produce interesting, flavorful beers.
Cannabis consumers have made it clear that they are not content to smoke just one variety of cannabis, which favors craft cultivators who are seeking to produce the latest unique varieties.
Some nurseries have focused on mainstream work horse strains that are well known with consumers. Similarly, large cultivators who are focused on putting out consistent products on shelves (with an eventual thought towards national and even international distribution) have less time to test new strains and methods.
Through our storage and propagation of both mainstream and more unique genetics, we provide both craft farmers and large farms with the ability to ensure the (diversity of cannabis). We see ourselves as a compliment to existing larger nursery facilities and the craft farmer network in California. We certainly hope to create a foundation that allows all farmers and breeders to thrive.
Big Rock Partners:
Nature, which brought us the rich agriculture that we all feed off of, is wild and untamed, and yet your world in bringing forward the cleanest offering, is somewhat sterile and repetitive (precise!). Compound’s statement is “we serve the plant”. It begs the question – how can we best serve the plant in a sterile and controlled environment? How can you responsibly incorporate big ag’s technology into the cannabis world?
Many of the agricultural products that we take for granted today have been shaped by years of human selection and intervention.
Brussel sprouts is one of the latest examples of plants that became enjoyed by a larger audience due to human intervention. In the 1990s, the Dutch figured out exactly which chemical compounds made them bitter, and a few companies that sold Brussels sprouts seeds started searching their collections for old varieties that had low levels of these chemicals, and starting breeding with them with modern high-yielding varieties. Today, Brussel Sprout farmers are getting four or five times more money than they did a decade ago for their crop.**
We see our offering as a natural evolution of these same practices.
While cleanliness and replicability are critical components of what we do, we do what we do because we love cannabis and believe there is so much left to be discovered about this magical plant. It’s constantly surprising us, humbling us, and inspiring us – and ultimately that’s why we absolutely love what we do.
Welcome to the Big Rock family, Node Labs and Compound Genetics!