Growing the Industry: Q&A with Erik Lerma of Agri-Genesis

Growing the Industry: Q&A with Erik Lerma of Agri-Genesis


Missouri’s medical marijuana market continues to bloom. Bringing in over $30 million in revenue at retail in March, the state is estimated to exceed $300 million in revenue for 2022. Statewide, the medical marijuana industry now boasts over 7,000 employees credentialed for plant-touching businesses. Growing the Industry looks to highlight and introduce the individuals behind the plants that Missouri’s market is built on.
Agri-Genesis, one of the state’s top-scoring applicants and a vertical operation winning dispensary, cultivation, and manufacturing licenses, was largely quiet in the state’s first year as the ground-up facility faced obstacles with construction and resourcing amid the pandemic. But over the last half of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, the company has made a splash, opening five of it’s Sunrise dispensaries across the state and launching two new brands, Farmer G and Notorious, from their Macon cultivation facility.
In this edition of Growing the Industry, we speak to Agri-Genesis’ Director of Cultivation, Erik Lerma, the driving force behind the plants that have Missouri’s patients, and dispensaries, buzzing.
Phase one of the Agri-Genesis buildout in Macon saw the completion of a state-of-the-art 58,000 sq. ft. indoor cultivation facility. “30,000 sq. ft. is allocated solely for flowering canopy,” Lerma explains, “We generally have a footprint of 1 plant per sq. ft., depending on the cultivar.”
Born in Mexicali, Mexico, where his grandfather owned and operated a plant nursery, Lerma was raised in Los Angeles, California. But a love for plants was always deeply rooted in him, “I can say that I always had a passion for agronomy before my passion for cannabis happened. I attribute that to the bloodline that I represent, all stemming from my grandfather’s passion for keeping his plants alive in less than favorable conditions.”
A seasoned professional, Lerma has been directing cannabis cultivation operations for nearly a decade. “From 2013-2021 my team and I operated and cultivated, five of a very limited amount of commercial cannabis cultivation licenses in Los Angeles. We were also sponsored by a major fertilizer company to lead their Global Cultivation Management Team; this was where we were able to really focus on our skillsets and elevate our cultivation practices. Along the way, we were able to build up a network of breeding projects and focus on finding special cultivars that we would label “Breeder’s Cuts.”

What does medical marijuana mean to you? Medical Marijuana means a quality and level of cannabis product that holds the highest manufacturing practice to serve for medicinal comfort.

What information can you give me about your grow method? Our growing method focus is mainly based on proper good manufacturing and agricultural practices. We take pride in all of our SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and make sure we give our team the best chance for success. We work closely with agronomist graduates from Cornell University to design the best fertilizer recipes, integrated pest management solutions and practices for our facility. We make sure that we have lab analysis for everything that touches our plants to ensure that we have the safest and highest quality product available to the Missouri Medical Marijuana Market.

Tell me about your genetics. Our Genetics selection is something that we take pride in. We are a part of a very elite “super-secret” breeders circuit back in Los Angeles where we breed our best cultivars with another well-known grower’s cultivars. This is where we would pheno-hunt for the next flavor profile we’re looking to use for hyper indoor production.

Are you doing any pheno hunting or R&D? We are always looking for the next best thing. One of the benefits that Agri-genesis has provided me with is the ability to have a significant amount of space to have creative control over pheno-hunting. Finding that special cultivar takes a significant amount of resources and fortunately, I have that ability here at Agri-Genesis. I say the term Cultivar and not strain. Michael Jordan can have 100 children and only 1 will be great at basketball like his father. A cultivar is that special one out of all those phenotypes.

What is the biggest challenge in growing commercial cannabis? One of the biggest challenges that I’m currently experiencing is the impact the pandemic has had on me as an operator.


What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about growing? That you cannot do this alone and that the term “Master Grower” should not exist. None of us are masters at anything and still have the thirst for new knowledge in our field. I have an exceptional group of employees that are led by Ryan Shoffeitt and my brother Andres Lerma who have also relocated here from California.

What’s your favorite cannabis cultivar and why? My favorite Cultivar right now is called “The Waiting Game.” It’s a cross between M.A.C. (Miracle Alien Cookies) and Frutti Pebbles. It very commonly tests at over 30% THC.

What makes good flower? Most people tend to go for higher THC values but for me I’ve always found that the full spectrum is always best. High terpene values have always been where I look for good flower. Terpene content is harder to achieve than THC values. I like to go for products that have been grown, sourced, and cured properly.

What do you consider when deciding what to grow? Where it’s coming from. I want to make sure that it’s coming from a reputable source and that the genetic lineage is true.

What’s the most important thing to making quality cannabis? Holding a passion for what we do. Without passion for cannabis, we would just get comfortable and be stagnant. I’m very blessed to be in a unique position to do what I feel that has always been my destiny.