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

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

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 [email protected]


25 comments on “Growing high-quality cannabis in a greenhouse: Q&A with Matt Cohen
  1. Steve from Ford on

    Well if all he is getting in a VERY expensive 10,000 square foot greenhouse is 400 pounds per round then they are doing something wrong and don’t know how to utilize that high priced facility! We grow in, tricked out, double wall poly greenhouses that cost only about 20% of the cost of their fancy Dutch greenhouses and we see almost double that yield per round in the same size!
    Maybe he needs to hire a consultant, LOL!

    • Dan on

      Steve from Ford, i am looking at installing about 10,000 sqft of greenhouse space in NW Oregon. Can you recommend a greenhouse brand or style and any other guidance? Thanks

    • Chuck Boyd on

      I realize that Sept. 2016 is a while back, however if your still out there. I’m thinking on building a 5,000 or 10,000 sq ft greenhouse. I’m having trouble with every ones math. If a maximum of 2,500 plants per acre, which equals about 18 sq ft per plant. Hence about 550 plants in a 10,000 sq ft greenhouse at 5 turns a year & one lb. per plant = 2750 lbs. of CBD oil at $30 per lb. = $82,500 gross sales. Now we need to start subtracting operating cost which by all of my math says your in the red almost $200K. What have I done wrong?

      • Ryan on

        CBD oil sell for much more than $30 per lb. I think you are modeling pounds of hemp flower. Hemp cultivated in a greenhouse for smokable flower would command more than $30 per pound. If you are growing for hemp biomass you would get about $30 per pound, or less today. That’s why hemp is predominantly grown outdoor much cheaper. Your greenhouse would need to be focused on clones, or CBD extraction to make it work.

        2,750 lbs of hemp x 15% extraction yield of CBD = 412 lbs of crude cbd oil @ $1,000 per lb that equates to $412,000 in revenue. Price are volatile however so check the most current price of crude oil.

        • Ransom Jumper on

          This is directed at any of you wise folk with some wisdom to share.
          I am starting my own very small grow by myself. I’ll be growing in 3 26x10x7 greenhouses along side 60″ by 80″ outdoor garden size.. (actually considering going a bit bigger give I make the capital.) I plan on growing quality CBD/CBG strains with companion plants for pest, beneficial bugs and soil amenities. I want to begin with a start room to pick mothers and sort the Genes then I’d like to light dep the green house for the flower and with the outdoor take the nicest colas for flower and use the rest for Oild, bubble hash, tinctures, and salves (with lavender and lemon balm being apart of my companion plants I plan to use the for the salves, and I’ll be growing chamomile to use to prevent fungus because I’ll be in Ocala Florida (should have mentioned earlier) would anyone have any insight or outlook on my ideas? Anything would be amazing also I am curious about the climate in central Florida I believe that cannabis/like a it warm a some what humid correct? I have been thinking about the heat factor, any recommendations? I’m honestly looking for any advice our outlook on it because I have worked many grows and harvest. I also ran a small indoor operation for a bit, I’m ready to try and cultivate my own medicine and progress in learning about permaculture and companion planting.
          You can reach me at [email protected]
          Thank you for your time!

  2. Jaime on

    Q:”How soon do you hit that return on investment?”

    Q:”Within a year?”

    A:”Oh yeah.”

    Piggy back on to Steve’s comment… O.k. 10,000 sq ft greenhouse=$1.5 million dollars. ROI in one year? “Oh yeah.” Ooops! The journalist forgot to ask the hard questions!

    1 ) What if the greenhouse is built early next year? In a county in Ca. that all of the sudden decides to ban MMJ indoor/outdoor. Everything. Where it once was permissible?? Guess who’s on the hook for $1.5 million?!?! Matt gets his money coming and going.

    2 ) If one is going to spend all that money for that kind of a greenhouse, I’m guessing that there are some assurances attached to this purchase. Right? Like: a ) The greenhouse builder TriQ, will have created a special interest lobbying ( special favors ) fund that will supply just the right amount of political influence to persuade that group of politicians/Board of Sups/City Council/etc..that the purchaser can move his product so that he can pay off TriQ within a years time. But of course!
    b ) Along with the previous level of assurance we all can be assured that the price of mmj will stay pretty close to where it’s at right now, 2 yrs, 3yrs from now, right? Meaning, the market price of mmj can’t possibly go so low that the payments incurred by the purchaser of that greenhouse won’t go bankrupt/ruined? Right?! And, c ): If that grower has a problem legally moving his product in such a manner in order to pay off this $1.5 million dollar debt, TriQ has established a special arm in it’s service team that will “hook you up” to make sure that that happens. But of course!!

    So the answer to the $1.5 million question ( and any other project close to it ) is: This deal sounds waaay to good to be true. Buyer REALLY beware. This is worse than used car salesmanship.

    • Michael A on

      I am from British Columbia, Canada and I had a 2.7 acre gutter connect greenhouse built, 24 Model heaters, cooling mister, irrigation systems, Priva climate and weather control system and full irrigation systems and it cost me less than $1 million CAD including land prep, cooler storage, kitchen, picking containers, electric carts and greenhouse builder. $1.5 Million for a 1 acre seems very steep. Even a 1 acre glass will cost less than a million in CAD$

        • Dee on

          Hello it is 2020 this thread is way old,but I would like to inquire, what are the laws in southern cal. I have the land, and what is the Good old country boy way to grow, looking to grow for high grade and CBD oil maybe even some hemp.

      • MaxxedOutCultivators on

        Im in Atlanta, Ga and I have 33acres of land about 55miles outside of Atlanta that Im planning on building a 10,000sqft Dutch Venlo gutter connect greenhouse with environmental controls, full irrigation, fans, dehumidifiers, racks, 5000 gal storage tank, it would be turn-key the full works. I was given a rough quote of $225/sqft so that puts me at $2.25M just in the structure alone. I was estimating about $1M to 1.5M in structure cost. And $1.5M if I went with the very best of everything. Also, this price didn’t include land prep, water and sewage connect, concrete slab/flooring… Is it possible to provide me with the company that you used? Or if anyone reading this has any suggestions I would greatly appreciate it!!!

        • Adam on

          My name is Adam I’ve been in northern Ca for over 10 years. Originally from 2hrs up i75 from atlanta. Don’t let anyone over complicate any of this for you .. I randomly stumbled across this page and eventually you’re comment . Wouldn’t be glad to have a Chatt with you …….IG @_clock_runner . Feel free to Dm me ASAP . Either way… good luck to you on this endeavor .

  3. Dan on

    Anyone with a half of a brain should realize that the sun will produce superior Cannabis every time if the weather is kept off of thr flowers…greenhouse grown Cannabis is superior to any and every other method.

    This industry and the state of WA especially are filled with wealthy Cannabis amatures that are soiling the industry…did I mention all of the highly toxic, illegal pesticides blanketing the I502 crops…which is so sad as biological pesticides that can be used up until the day of harvest on edible crops…are banned!

    Lunacy…and they wonder why the black market still exists!

  4. Alex on

    Well, here in Canada we don’t have to worry about government regulation cause it is approved in the federal level.
    Anybody with half a brain would not go towards greenhouse Dan… we have winters here that last 6-8 month of the year which means they would have to spend a lot more on electricity to heat up their glass/plastic facilities where as warehouses are fully insulated. Also the regulation here(unlike the US) is much stricter on quality and is getting harder and harder, specially if you want to export to places like Europe. Controlling pests and fungus in greenhouses is very hard and a lot of “hybrid” greenhouses are forced to use either a lot of pesticides or use radiation which basically produces garbage product but according to US law is fine to sell to consumers! Sadly this is also allowed in Canada too right now, but there is no way in hell that European countries would accept a radiated/pesticided product, and of course products there are sold at a much higher premium.

    • kaneh bosm on

      You must live in Yellowknife. i grow 10 months out the year in a greenhouse with superior yields and quality, i also know guys who grow year round. I am located in Southern Nova Scotia and it is by far the most feasible way to grow , you just need to know how to grow organically,your strains and design a more then recommended air circulation system, i also use a wood boiler in the cooler months. Pull 2 crops a year. So YES it is feasible to grow in a greenhouse in Canada.

  5. Ray on

    Hi, l’ve recently purchased five acres in Missouri want to find about turning it in to a commercial cannabis operation . What kind of facility would you recommend

    • Marcus on

      Ray. The short answer is one of each type of facility. Each type of facility offers its pros and cons in terms of the products it produces. Consumer demand is still evolving so what is hot today will not be tomorrow. Additionally, productivity is highly dependent on your grower competency. So you will want to snatch up talent when it comes your way, and you don’t want to get stuck with a greenhouse star but not have a greenhouse. Also note that innovation is dispersed and maturing across all grow styles, so expect an arms race between the styles (which also means facilities. I hope that helps. So go for one of each and have fun with it :)!

  6. Felix Olmos on

    can you go to Oregon and set up shop just like that,,, no paper work or permits , license ect…? Please someone let me know how it works. Thanks

    • Adam on

      So many variables .. especially if you aren’t well versed in what actually needs to happen and when at all points from site plan to harvest .. unless you could affford the learning curve I would suggest finding a good honest truly knowledgeable cultivator would be the number one priority. This one person will be the difference In everything .

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