Joe Rammell has been learning the skills needed to grow great cannabis all of his life – he just didn’t know it until a few years ago.
He grew up on a farm in southeast Idaho, where he and his family planted and harvested tons of potatoes, grain and alfalfa. He worked at a nursery in high school and then as a production manager for various Fortune 500 companies for decades. He also learned a few things here and there about lighting and electricity. And then he thought he was done working.
“I retired and I was miserable,” said the owner of New Day Cannabis, an indoor farm in Newport. “I did all the fishing and golfing I wanted. I was also taking pills for pain.”
Four years ago, he tried medical cannabis and found it not only improved his health but inspired him to see what creative things he could accomplish if he started growing it himself.
Rammell found a perfect location north of Spokane in Pend Oreille County. He broke ground on an innovative underground growing area where he and the New Day staff grow high-quality hand-trimmed cannabis products. The 7,000-square-foot building stays naturally cool, which keeps energy costs low.
New Day products are available statewide, including about 10 locations in the Spokane area.
This fall, the business is expanding. One new building will be dedicated to edibles, including infused chocolate bars intended for medical customers. New Day will also be adding four greenhouses for plants to use in high-THC pesticide-free concentrates.
Rammell has been working with local labs and a European company on an innovative way to remove any traces of pesticides from concentrates. Currently, the State of Washington has standards for acceptable pesticide levels in plants but not concentrates.
“The problem is even if you use clean flower, you’re still going to have some pesticides that are too small to measure,” he said. “These amounts become larger when you concentrate the plants.”
Rammell said medical cannabis patients, especially those with weak immune systems, want quality products that don’t include any harmful contaminants.
He also wants to create new ways to grow and process cannabis as sustainably as possible, from the planting to packaging. He mixes his own soil and uses mite-eating ladybugs selectively as the only pesticide and stresses regular cleaning throughout the day.
“When budtenders come through here, I tell them if anyone finds a mite, you get $100,” he said. “I haven’t had to pay anyone.”
New Day uses multi-spectrum lights to boost plant growth while using a small amount of power. The same type of lighting is also used for Asian fish farms.
Rammell believes New Day may have the smallest carbon footprint of any grower in the state. Water, power, plant waste and air are all re-circulated.
“It took us 2 ½ years just to get all of this figured out,” he said. “I’ve learned that pot is really easy to grow, but good pot is tough to grow.”
Rammell also brings an analytical approach to growing, and keeps careful track of how much time, nutrients, water and other ingredients are in every strain. This data provides useful info about what to grow next, based on total costs vs. anticipated revenue. It also helps him and the staff identify areas where efficiency can improve.
“I’m a data guy, a spreadsheet guy, and I’ll start planning as early as four months before we actually plant,” he said. “I can tell you exactly how much we’ll need to plant to make a certain amount of money, and what all the costs will be.”
Beyond the data, environment, and product, another important ingredient is labor.
“It took a while to get things just right,” he said. “There are a lot of what I call hotheads or potheads in this industry, and we don’t want either.”
He went through six growers in the first year as he brought the company up to speed, but has a great team in place now, something he can’t say enough about.
In the future, he thinks consumers are going want more access to cannabis for medical needs. New Day is planning to create a pharmacy-grade building, which means, if laws change, plants can be grown to medical standards.
Rammell envisions that different strains of cannabis can be marketed especially for their therapeutic value and developed for specific needs, like anxiety, insomnia or pain relief.
As more people learn about the benefits of cannabis, they’ll want more choices.
“A lot of customers are my age and have money, but we also have aches and pains,” said Joe Rammell. “But not everyone wants to smoke. Some people just want pain relief or a way to avoid back surgery, but are afraid they’ll get stoned.”
Currently, all flower and concentrates must be tested at an independent lab before they can be sold to a retailer. Growers pay hundreds of dollars per sample to have a state-certified lab search for certain pesticides or chemicals, plus calculate metrics like THC, a natural compound that causes the mental and physical “high.”
If a batch fails, the grower is expected to destroy that product, which is where New Day Cannabis wants to help.
Owner Joe Rammell has been working with Confidence Analytics, a lab in Redmond, to freeze the failed sample and strip out solvents and terpenes. The grower then can have the same strain retested, and hopefully it should come back clean.
He’s also working with the Cannabis Alliance, an statewide industry group, to encourage the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board to modify its testing methods.
“Instead of testing individual strains, how about the whole building be tested?” he said.
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