How Cannabis Production is Becoming More High-Tech

cannabis-planted-in-a-greenhouseCannabis production in commercial greenhouses was a hot discussion topic during the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association’s (NGMA) Spring Meeting in Savannah, GA, in April. One of the speakers at the event was Damian Solomon, Director of Cultivation at MedMen, which is nearing completion on a new cannabis production facility in Nevada. Solomon designs high-tech growing solutions for the production of cannabis, and he provided NGMA members with an update on the transition from low-tech cultivation to more advanced indoor production.

Here are nine takeaways from Solomon’s presentation.

1. Cannabis grows really well using typical plant inputs.

“It’s really not that difficult to grow; it’s not some mystical plant, it’s just like any other crop,” Solomon said.

2. Many of the new cannabis growers have no experience in horticulture production, and they have little or no technology experience.

“These small producers are overpaying for things like fertilizer, and will likely have very inefficient crop systems early in the process,” Solomon said.

3. “We are slowly starting to see a shift to cannabis growers using normal, basic horticulture technology,” Solomon said. “Moving forward, it is inevitable that we will have more efficient large indoor farms.”

4. Those growers that try to stretch old growing practices into a wider area are going to fail, Solomon said.

“The better ones are adding high-tech systems like rolling benches and automated irrigation.”

5. There is high energy use in cannabis indoor production, and it requires a significant investment in lighting and proper heating and ventilation.

6. Some of the “mid-tech” greenhouses that are emerging are using more glass or double poly plastic, with some automation and basic input control.

“We are seeing these more in Oregon and Washington,” Solomon said. “As the industry learns more and welcomes the crop, more suppliers will likely provide more high-tech products, and we will eventually see some vegetable growers shifting to cannabis.”

7. “The most high-tech growers are using specialized glass/glazing; precision input control; high levels of automation and sustainability; and lower use of pesticides, with a greater focus on IPM and biological control,” Solomon said.

8. Overall, cannabis production is more high-tech in Canada than in the U.S., although this is slowly changing, said Solomon, who offered the example of Copperstate Farms, which is in the process of building a 54-acre facility for production of medical cannabis in Arizona.

9. Properly designed greenhouses can be better for production than indoor systems, Solomon said.

“They offer higher efficiency and lower operating costs, allow for the sun as a primary light source, and are designed for better precision technology controls.”

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