bud trimming

Man Vs. Machine: Are Human Trimmers Still Worth The Time And Effort?

For thousands of cannabis growers throughout the USA, the months of October and November represent more than just fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving. These months also represent trim season. In the leadup to this period, some growers and budding cultivators relocate to California and Oregon to make money that they’ll live off for the rest of the year. The lucrative by-the-pound pay grades make it an attractive seasonal opportunity, and growers will pay more for reliable trimmers who quickly and carefully manicure each bud.

But when you’ve got hundreds of branches drying in front of you, sometimes it doesn’t look like any amount of hands could trim that much cannabis before the festive season.

For that reason, more and more farms are implementing a machine (or two, or five) that can speedily mow through higher quantities without a smoke break. Efficiency aside, there is a deep tradition around trimming and curing cannabis with care, and quite a bit to be said for the look of hand-trimmed versus machine-trimmed buds. So the question is: Will the trimmigrant culture of harvest-by-hand remain important to growers and consumers, or will cost-efficiency force growers to go electric regardless?

Trimmigrants Provide An Artform, While Machines Provide Convenience

A skillful human trimmer not only means good-looking buds, with the sugar leaves cut down to the most glittery bits, but they also work as a mold and mildew detector. It means a second pair of eyes across a bud before it’s packaged and sent off to a dispensary.

“From a high-yield perspective, the machine trimmers work but they smash the buds around and take off most of the leaves,” said Gus Vosett, who for the past two years has trimmed at Rosebud Farms, an outdoor medical grow in Southern Oregon.

“I liked learning how to get into the flow of it, how to use both hands to work around the branch of buds, seeing how I could trim better and faster as I got more experience.”

Apparatus with a washing-machine-style function that toss buds around can destroy them, compromising big buds by chopping them in half. This results in a uniform trim job that breaks down the larger, more desirable buds and knocks off the kiefy powder.

On the other hand, there are better and smarter machines being released to market every year. The Ultra Trimmer is a conveyor-belt-like machine with two large blades that lay flat and move back and forth (like massive scissors), agitating the buds enough to move them past the multiple serrated edges as they move down the length of the machine.

Check out the below video of the Ultra Trimmer in action:

There are some machines that target one part of the trim process rather than trying and failing to do it all at once. The Trimpro, for example, is a popular choice for wet branches right off the stem, cutting away the large fan leaves before hanging the primo buds to dry.

Watch how the Trimpro works in the video below:

Machines are being designed with the market in mind as customer trends and bigger farms develop due to sweeping cannabis legalization. These machines are specifically designed to preserve the sparkly trichomes on each bud. The use of such machines comes down to math, and to what type of grower you want to be. If your grow op is of a commercial size, then having a machine or two to help with the grunt work of clearing fan leaves will be worth the investment, with the life of the machine likely to last through multiple seasons. At a moderate-sized farm, a machine like the Ultra Trimmer can trim 7–10 lbs a day, compared to 2–3 lbs with a very experienced trimmer at their best.

Oftentimes if the buds don’t look well-trimmed, the same pounds are going to have to go back through a human trimmer to clean them up, making for one expensive batch to get shelf-ready. So it’s vital to shop wisely if going electric, and pay attention to how cured the buds may need to be for that particular trim machine to work correctly.

bud trimming

Trimming buds is an artform that convenient machines can’t match.

What Does The Customer Want?

When asked if customers ever inquire whether buds are hand-trimmed, a budtender at prominent Portland dispensary Oregon’s Finest said people typically buy by their nose.

“If it smells good and looks decent, that’s the biggest selling point. Sometimes people from within the industry ask about that kind of stuff, but the majority of customers don’t.”

With the increase in production and real accounting happening on cannabis farms, it’s no surprise businesses are streamlining their operations to do more with less. But if they really care about the integrity of their product, they’re going to keep a few humans around to quality check with senses that machines don’t have.

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