Crop steering, switching to LEDs and implementing lean principles and practices will increase cost efficiency for cannabis cultivation operations
Like the cannabis industry itself, the art and science of cannabis cultivation is maturing. Consumer demand, increasing competition and a growing acknowledgement of wasteful practices are driving cultivation improvements that can help decrease costs, maximize yields, enhance quality and reduce environmental impact. New technologies combined with proven cultivation practices are modernizing cannabis grows to help fuel the need for new products as the industry continues to grow.
Here are three of the top trends cannabis cultivators should consider implementing.
1. Utilizing crop steering sensors and software platforms
Crop steering is the manipulation of the cultivation process to increase quality and yields and achieve desired cultivar expressions. The practice has been used in food production for decades and is now gaining traction in the cannabis industry.
Typically, crop steering is accomplished by altering a facility’s climate, irrigation/fertigation strategy, root zone conditions and light quality. Cultivar expressions — which are hormonal responses to biotic and abiotic stress factors — can increase production of various sought-after compounds produced by cannabis plants (cannabinoids, terpenes), as well as increase flower quality and yields.
Utilizing sensors in cultivation rooms and in the substrate, cultivators can collect critical data to help manipulate root zone and climate conditions to optimize either vegetative or generative growth. Sophisticated software programs can help capture and organize the data to help identify best practices over time.
2. Switching to LEDs
In recent years there has been a tremendous focus on technological advancements in cannabis due to the plant’s status as a high-value crop. Indoor grow lighting has been at the forefront of these efforts.
Though a popular choice for many years, high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting is highly inefficient. The bulbs use large amounts of electricity and produce significant heat, overworking HVAC systems to maintain a facility’s climate. In the long term, the high costs for electricity and bulb replacement take a toll with reduced margins.
With the introduction and improvement of LED lighting, cannabis cultivators can experience significant cost decreases while increasing efficiency, quality and yields. LEDs are highly energy efficient and produce significantly less ambient heat, helping reduce the stress on the HVAC system and dramatically cut energy consumption. Unlike traditional lights, which produce light in a limited spectrum, LED lights can be spectrum “tunable,” enabling cultivators to manipulate the light spectrum/intensity produced to trigger specific hormonal responses to minimize stretch, maximize flower sites and/or induce flower production. LEDs produce a higher intensity, more consistent, even lighting over canopy.
While LED lights require an upfront investment, many states offer rebates that can significantly decrease these costs.
3. Implementing lean principles
Identifying systems and procedures to reduce waste and increase efficiencies is critical in today’s competitive cannabis business landscape. Conducting an audit of current processes in every department will help identify where tweaks can be made to effect positive changes.
Here are a few areas where inefficiencies are commonly found:
– Buffer plant strategy and finding the sweet spot for the number of “buffer” plants;
– Time and labor spent on the transplanting process, as well as drying and trimming; and
– Supply chain inefficiencies.
Examining these areas and others can help identify improvements that can dramatically reduce waste and expenses, resulting in greater yields, higher quality and increased profits.