Growing high-quality cannabis in a greenhouse: Q&A with Matt Cohen

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By Omar Sacirbey

More marijuana growers are convinced you can grow a high-quality crop inside a greenhouse – one as good as that cultivated in an illuminated indoor grow.

Producing a good greenhouse crop requires a hefty investment in a high-tech facility. The capital outlay can be much more than growing outside or in a warehouse.

But the return on investment “is profound,” and a grower can recoup their costs in a year or less with a sophisticated system, said Matt Cohen, founder of TriQ Systems, an Oregon-based industrial greenhouse engineering firm serving cannabis growers.

Cohen worked for years cultivating cannabis in California and working for one of the biggest names in the industry, Harborside Health Center. Along the way, he became convinced that greenhouse growing is the way to go. So he immersed himself in the ins and outs of greenhouse equipment and technology, and founded TriQ Systems in 2012.

Marijuana Business Daily talked with Cohen about why he thinks cannabis grown in greenhouses can be as good as indoor-grown cannabis, and he provided tips on how to achieve that.

You’re a big fan of high-tech Dutch greenhouses. What’s so special about them?

The Dutch dominate the greenhouse industry. There’s a huge Dutch influence on the big three: tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. All require top hygiene controls. The sophistication of the Dutch is that they understand that you need very high CO2 levels, so their greenhouses are airtight. And they understand you want very bright greenhouses, because 1% light equals 1% production. So they really care about anything that blocks the sun in their greenhouses.

It’s only in these high-tech systems that you’re going to get the quality and yield at the lowest operating cost.

They must cost more?

Yes. The capital expenditure can be 20% to 40% higher and you have to add about a month of lead time because they’re being imported. But the return on investment is profound.

How soon do you hit that return on investment?

It depends on the environment. If you’re in Miami, you’re running your chillers all the time, so there’s a higher energy cost. If you’re in British Columbia, you’re running heaters all the time. But if you’re a company that’s trying to grow top-shelf cannabis, the return on investment is rapid.

Within a year?

Oh yeah.

How do you compete with indoor?

“Indoor quality has exactly-pegged temperature and relative humidity and CO2 levels all the time. If you want to get to the top-shelf level you have to have that CO2, and the only way you can do it is with high tech. It doesn’t matter where you are.

You also have to take the seasons into consideration. In the middle of winter, in Maryland, you’ll need efficient heating and light assistance, while in the summer you’ll need dehumidification and probably also light assistance. Whereas in Arizona, you’ll need less light assistance because there is so much sun there. But you have to figure out how you’re going to run your cooling if you’re going to get those optimal CO2 levels.

So a little more investment in the greenhouse will result in much greater return on investment?

If all you’re making is grade B cannabis oil, a mid-tech greenhouse will do. But if you’re making high-grade dabs and you care about that terpine profile and consistency, and you want to run your facility year-round, then you’re going to have to be in a high-tech facility.

We have the luxury in our industry that there are such high margins. But what we’re seeing right now is that prices are crashing everywhere. If you’re building a greenhouse now, you’re not going to see cash flow for about a year. So it behooves you to build something for the future now.

Right now, the market can still tolerate grade B products. But as it becomes more competitive, grade B products will be pushed off the market, and this will push up the demand for high-end greenhouses.

Is there an ideal greenhouse size for cannabis cultivation?

At the industrial scale, they do greenhouse blocks which can be multiple hectares. One greenhouse can be a couple of hectares before you want to break it off. All these require build-out phases of a couple of acres at a time.

People in our business are used to building multiple indoor flowering rooms as a way to lower the risk of contamination between plants. So as they move into the greenhouses, they create individual bays divided by walls. But the best greenhouse growers don’t do that because they’ve gotten so good at keep their plants healthy. If you try and compartmentalize in a greenhouse you can send your cost per square foot-up up at least 20%.

How do you know how big your greenhouse should be?

The way to think about it is how much yield you want to produce per year. If you want to produce one ton per year, that’s approximately five crops per year. Each crop is about 400 pounds, which requires about a 10,000 square foot greenhouse. That doesn’t include support areas for potting, trimming, packaging, things like that, which also adds up to a significant amount of space. The investment will be about $1.5 million.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at