NC helps Quick Plug find best product for Canadian cannabis growers


It seemed like a straightforward operation when Quick Plug recently moved production of some of its growing media to St. Catharines from a facility in Portland, Maine.

Bill Maartense and his team in the Garden City followed the recipe to a ‘T’ to create a private label plug – a product used to propagate cannabis cuttings. They added the same ingredients at the same ratios and then incorporated the same binding agent.

But the growing plugs that came off the new production line in St. Catharines were “subtly different” and it didn’t go unnoticed by growers who relied on them to start and sustain new crops.

The growing plugs were denser than usual. There were also issues with how they held moisture and allowed air to move around plant roots.

Stable growing media is essential for plants to thrive, so the changes to a product that had been an industry staple for 10 years were a conundrum for the Quick Plug team.

“Our customers noticed it was slightly different so that inspired us to look at what we were doing,” Maartense said. “How do you maintain continuity for customers with a big SKU in our world? And how do you guarantee the same results with the same products? All the ingredients are the same but the cookie sheet is a little different and the cookies are a little different.”

To solve the issue, Maartense and Quick Plug, which also produces growing media for plant propagation in floriculture, greenhouse vegetable production and hydroponics, turned to Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC).

The HESIC team had been on Maartense’s radar after crossing paths over the years at industry conferences. He knew its dedicated CannaResearchBunker was the right setting for his problem to be solved.

A team of researchers, including students led by Research Program Manager Kimberley Cathline, set about testing a few different styles of Quick Plug growing plugs starting last October. They looked at moisture content and how the growing media held moisture and air.

By January, they had results to offer Maartense and Quick Plug. The way in which the growing media was produced in St. Catharines was adding humidity to it.

That information enabled Quick Plug to make the changes needed to get production back on track.

“It guided us to know that if we go in this direction, it’s going to be good. If we go in this direction, it’s not going to be good,” Maartense said. “It pointed us to the light at the end of the tunnel because we were told there was a better product out there. That’s the way this company rolls. We’re always in search of the next best product.”

That didn’t go unnoticed by Quick Plug customers, either.

“The customers are now smiling again and the orders are coming in again,” Maartense said.

For that reason, Maartense would recommend others in the industry connect with Niagara College for help with production and other business solutions.

“The college has the resources for that, depending what the needs are,” he said. “They’re good people. They’re smart. They were professional. They were organized. They absolutely did what they said they would, so how can you complain?”