Solaris Farms in Nevada
Photo by Ryan Paton

Finding efficiencies that will reduce labor costs and human error is an everyday consideration for any crop, but especially cannabis. One of the most challenging aspects of cannabis cultivation is the post-harvest process of trimming, where maintaining efficiency and minimizing human error and contamination are difficult.

Hand trimming and processing is also one of the most time-consuming aspects of operating a cultivation business, with one person typically finishing a pound or two a day. Trimming by hand is also tedious and repetitive work that is prone to human error, especially when done over a long shift. As an operation that produces more than 500 pounds of product per month, Solaris Farms considers automating this step a necessity.

The demand for fast and safe machinery to address this niche has boomed. Commercially available trimming machines vary in size, efficiency, cost, and quality, but many can process several pounds in an hour. Here are some considerations for growers interested in machine trimming.

 

1. Find a machine that can sort by flower grade.

Once the buds are picked and dried, the post-harvest process starts with a good sorting: separate “A-grade” buds from less-desirable buds like popcorn and trim to carefully remove leafy matter from the “A buds” and preserve their trichomes. Most machine models today function simultaneously as both separators and trimmers, which can help growers increase efficiency.

 

2. Use non-stick tumblers and adjust blades to cut waste.

Efficient trimmers include those that tumble the product and snip the extra leaves as they tumble through machine-like rollers; others include trimmers that lay the product horizontally and gently snip the extra leaves through gravitational force.

Growers can minimize trichome loss and/or wasted product by using machines with non-stick tumblers. Readjusting the blades so they aren't too close may also mitigate slicing off chunks of bud by accident. The models are designed based on volume, with smaller-volume trimmers utilizing slow, fine-cut blades, and bulk-sized trimmers utilizing faster, larger blades.

3. Attach extensions for popcorn and trim.

Trimming machines generally include some sort of tumbler or drum with a grate that the full flower is added to. The buds then are tumbled apart from leaves and shake, and the buds get trimmed by a blade or blades. Although “A buds” should have a subsequent hand finish, it is not always possible in industrial settings.

A gentle machine with a slow rotation, fine-cut blades and no extensions works great for your “A-grade” buds destined to be sold as flower, whereas machine extensions can allow growers to more quickly, and using less labor, tumble out popcorn for bagged flower and pre-roll sales and trim for processing. This will allow your post-harvest staff to concentrate their time and energy on finishing higher-end buds to make sure they have bag appeal while moving through your harvest cycles in an efficient manner.

4. Regularly clean and maintain trimming machines.

While automation is safer than trimming by hand when it comes to the potential for introducing pathogens, trimming machines should generally be cleaned and maintained between each batch to avoid excess build-up on the blades. This is necessary to maintain cleanliness and efficiency. Every model will have its own unique cleaning process, but in most cases, resin can be removed using soap and hot water, alcohol, or other organic cleaners.

Michael Sassano is the founder and CEO of Solaris Farms and head of the board at Somai Pharmaceuticals.