Cannabis Cultivators Must Find Efficiences to Survive, Expert Ed Rosenthal Says

Horticulturalist Ed Rosenthal believes glaring inefficiencies exist within most steps of the marijuana cultivation process, and that cannabis business owners must identify and then fix these problems in order to survive as the industry becomes more competitive.

Rosenthal – who has written more than a dozen books on cannabis cultivation, including the 2010 Marijuana Grower’s Handbook –  spoke with Marijuana Business Daily about what the cannabis industry will look like several years down the road. (See more of his views on the future of the marijuana business in the upcoming issue of CannaBusiness Magazine.)

He envisions a world of automated watering and trimming systems, large-scale greenhouses and university-educated cultivators.

Rosenthal said the industry has a long way to go to get to that point, but current business owners can still learn something from his vision.

“There is no such thing in the United States as a marijuana farm – I haven’t seen anything that you would call ‘industrialized,’” Rosenthal said. “The difference between farming and market gardening is the amount of labor that is put into it. [Cannabis] is still relying on lots of labor.”

In Rosenthal’s image of a future marijuana farm, soil is mixed and then poured into pots by a mechanized system. The plants are hooked up to irrigation systems and CO2 systems controlled by machines.

Machines also accomplish the trimming and bagging, cutting down on the need for labor. A tiny staff of horticulturalists spend their time overseeing the mechanized processes and then examining plants for fungus or parasites.

Rosenthal believes that marijuana farms of the future will need to utilize partial or full greenhouse space to cut down on electricity bills.

Owners will also need to expand into larger growing rooms. Currently, most large grow houses are segmented off into smaller rooms, where plants mature along various steps of the cannabis life cycle.

“Most people are doing cookie-cutter operations. I don’t think they realize the economies of scale that are available,” Rosenthal said. “I would tell them to tear down the rooms and get the full space of the warehouse going for each crop. You can’t have economies of scale with smaller rooms.”

Finally, Rosenthal believes that future marijuana operations could shift their hiring practices away from “industry” growers who have only cultivated marijuana throughout their careers.

Instead, business owners will start choosing their employees from agribusiness universities and horticulture schools. These students will be better equipped to employ cost-cutting practices that are tried and true in more advanced agriculture markets.

Rosenthal views this in a positive light.

“One of the big problems, and it’s a sociological problem, is that if someone has been growing [cannabis] for three years, they consider themselves an expert, and they do not want to take advice from anyone,” Rosenthal said. “That’s why you have a system that is so traditional. There’s going to be a whole crop of gardeners coming out of the universities, and they are going to replace the gardeners who learned by experience.”

6 comments on “Cannabis Cultivators Must Find Efficiences to Survive, Expert Ed Rosenthal Says
  1. Saul meshach on

    The only wrong thing I see about his plan is upscalling
    The grow room. The reason is all it takes is one hermi to pollinate the entire crop not to mention problems with mold spider mites and other infestations. By having smaller rooms you ensure that your entire crops is not destroyed by one mistake. James b http://dispensaryechange.com

    Reply
  2. Dan on

    I read the reason for having many small grow rooms was established because a mold grew on some plants and wiped out the whole crop. Having smaller grow rooms would limit your loss if one got infected.

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  3. Van Carroll on

    The main reason the grows in Colorado are subdivided into rooms is the law. If a dispensary is responsible for stocking 20 strains because of the 70/30 rule, growing those strains in a single room is very difficult. Finishing times from 50 to 75 days, veg times from 1 to 6 weeks, growing methods from SCROG to SOG, and myriad other variations strain to strain. Rooms from 8 to 24 lamps make sense given the law in Colorado. Quality suffers in big rooms. Scheduling and dead space kill any efficiencies of the big room in Colorado.

    When the 70/30 goes away for the recreational shops and cultivators in 2014, Colorado growers specializing in a specific strain or two or three strains will appear. Colorado will begin to see mono-crop industrial production begin. Ed’s right; a lot of shops have costs near $1,200 a pound because of the way they grow when a well designed greenhouse could grow for $275 a pound processed. The current law stops mono cropping in Colorado.

    Commercial Greenhouses consider 8 strains a lot to coordinate on an acre. They are used to growing a million poinsetias all at once. They use the black out technology, injectors, radiant heat floors, and have entire acres dedicated to propagation and stock plants, but they are mono cropping.

    Modern technology is readily adaptable, but it too has it’s limitations in today’s environment. Next year will see a lot of Dutch designed greenhouses growing a lot of Colorado cannabis four turns a year. Sub $500 a pound costs are going to happen next year in Colorado and sub three hundred dollar gardens will be producing before the end of 2015. This is going to lead to $1,000 wholesale by mid 2015 in Colorado.

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  4. Don Murney on

    We are heavily involved in greenhouse automation and irrigation in Canada.

    The reason that large greenhouse operations mono crop is simply because they can. New technology in climate control now allows greenhouses to get very accurate control over large areas and thereby introduce efficiencies into the growing process.

    Proper control of the environment greatly reduces the risk of mold and other diseases, lessening the need for smaller grow rooms.

    New irrigation controllers allow you for instance to grow poinsettias on the floor and a different plant from hanging baskets on the trusses that may require an entirely different nutrient mixture.

    I agree with the author that the cannabis growers are going to have to find efficiencies. There are already large growers looking at entering the market. These people know how to cut costs out of large scale growing operations, albeit with different crops. However the principles are the same.

    Growers in the industry will have to adapt and invest in capital equipment and enlarge their facilities to compete as the market expands and new players enter.

    The technology is already here, it is a matter of finding the right people to implement the technology

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  5. Kent on

    I know this is an way-off-topic question but…
    My high school aged son is looking for a college education that would get him into the growing end of the legal cannabis business. All of the horticulture degree programs I’ve looked at so far seem to have too general a focus to be useful. College costs being what they are now days seems to make it unwise to spend precious tuition $ on courses on Turf Grass Management, etc.

    What programs would those of you who know this business recommend?

    Reply
  6. Emery on

    For Kent: I would check out Agriculture programs at either Iowa State University or Kansas State University. Both have top-notch, well-funded undergrad programs for majoring in agribusiness and soil science (agronomy). Also horticulture degree programs such as greenhouse production and management, nursery management, and horticulture science. This would give your son a much wider educational background to growing; he would undoubtedly have much more extensive knowledge and experience than other growers. The out-of-state tuition is higher, but after one year one can be a state resident and get a very good education with a reasonable about of time and money invested. I went to Iowa State as a chemistry major, and I got an excellent education for about $5000/year. Also certification programs for cannabis growing, testing, etc are in the works in Seattle and other areas, and will becoming more available as our country moves towards legalization. Good luck!

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