Guest Column: Top Technological Game-Changers for Cannabis Growers

By Van McConnon

Get ready for the new era of cannabis cultivation.

Technology is triggering a sea change in the way marijuana is grown, allowing cultivation sites to lower costs, boost yields and maximize production capacity. The situation is changing so rapidly that the decisions marijuana cultivation businesses make today will play a huge role in whether they are still around in a few years.

Growers who stick with traditional methods of cultivating marijuana – employing what essentially amounts to modified basement technology – will lose out in the long-run. Those who incorporate advancements in technology, on the other hand, will lead the way forward and have a distinct advantage in the future.

We’re already seeing a significant gap emerge: The cost of producing a pound of premium cannabis in Colorado, for example, ranges from around $385 to $1,450. Technology is a big reason for the difference.

Here are some technologies that will play an important role in cannabis cultivation in the next few years:

Automated Fertigation

This isn’t exactly “new” technology: It’s been used for years in commercial agriculture, but the cannabis cultivation industry is just beginning to adopt it. Automated fertigation is really making a difference in grow facilities over 10,000 square feet, cutting fertilizer and labor costs dramatically.

When implementing this technology, the first step is to organize your grow into zones. These can be rooms, sections of a greenhouse or groupings of plants. Define each zone’s nutrient and water requirements, plumb the system, place sensors at different points in the system…and watch your plants thrive.

These automated systems mix on the fly to very exact standards. Some use analog mixing technology and others use electronic injectors to get nutrients and water to the plants in the right proportions and the correct pH balance.

If your facility is big enough, fertigation will improve consistency and cut labor costs. The biggest issue is adapting the systems for organic growers and traditional cannabis nutrient packs. Using a base of powdered commercial fertilizers will work best in these systems since they run cleaner and can usually be mixed into three or four tanks of concentrate. The fertigation system can then mix and pH-balance each tank.

Effective automated fertigation systems for cannabis are available from Dosatron, Envirotech and Gryphon Automation.

Modern Greenhouse Technology

 

Forget about the musty nursery where your family picked up bedding plants in the spring of 1986. A modern greenhouse can peg the day at the beach as effectively and predictably as any indoor facility – creating cost savings, consistency and simply a better product.

Colorado recently had a cold snap. It was minus 2 outside, but I was standing in a 27,000-square-foot greenhouse surrounded by gorgeous seven-foot plants a week or so from harvest. The temperature was 79 degrees and the relative humidity was pegged at 45%. The heaters were doubling as carbon dioxide generators, running at 1,250 parts per million CO2 levels to give the plants that extra boost. The greenhouse was the only space that was actually handling the cold and maintaining the environment perfectly.

This is a great example of how effective and efficient greenhouse technology has become.

A modern cannabis greenhouse will use double-paneled poly with light diffusion technology. This will eliminate 95% of the photo bleaching seen with some strains grown outdoors or in low-tech greenhouses.

For some really photosensitive strains prone to bleaching, shading technology can be used to match the light to the variety’s ability to use it.

An advanced cannabis greenhouse will have an effective blackout system so that you can modify the flowering cycle in the spring, summer and fall. Cannabis seems to be marginally more sensitive to light than mums or poinsettias, so make sure that your supplier has experience with cannabis growers and their black-out requirements.

Supplemental lighting will turn those nine hour days to twelve in December and January. An Israeli company has developed dehumidification technology that combines heat, humidification and mold control – manna from heaven for a grower.

The best part about a greenhouse is the cost. An acre cannabis greenhouse will cost 15% less to build than an indoor facility using high-pressure sodium lights (HPS) and will produce substantially more cannabis over the course of a year.

The operating costs deliver even more dramatic savings. A greenhouse will cost 33% percent less to operate than a HPS facility over the course of a year while generating a higher yield per square foot. A Denver cultivator calls indoor HPS facilities “the noose that will hang a lot of growers.” He grows in a greenhouse and is charging top dollar for his flowers because his product is phenomenal.

LED Technology

LED lighting has been my Holy Grail of lighting since I got into this business five years ago.

Between the cooling, venting and power requirements, HPS and metal halide lamps burn money and power at an incredible rate. On the other hand, LED lamps emit almost no heat, do not require venting or cooling and consume less power. With LED, your cooling system can be dramatically scaled back or – in the case of a cultivation site I designed recently – even eliminated.

The problem with LED has always been that it can lead to low yields and poor quality. This has changed, in large part because of advancements in LED technology tied to the International Space Station.

One dispensary in Colorado – Denver Relief – reported a 13% increase in yield and a 40% reduction in energy under LED technology developed by Lighting Science in a side-by-side test with HPS. Our own tests of this system have produced similar results.

Up-front expenses can be a challenge. A 20,000-square-foot LED facility will cost $400,000 more to build than an HPS site. But the difference over time is astounding: The HPS facility is about $2 million more expensive to operate over a five-year period than the LED site.

So if you are planning to spend millions of dollars on a new facility using HPS and metal halide, you may be digging your own grave. The only reason marijuana was grown indoor with modified street lamps was because it was illegal.

Going forward, every grower will have to implement some or all of these technologies to stay competitive. There will be more than 10 million square feet of space dedicated to the legal commercial cultivation of marijuana by the end of 2014. How the next 5 million square feet gets built will determine who wins and who loses.

Van McConnon is a senior consultant with Colorado Cannabis Systems in Boulder, Colorado, and has been growing and selling legal medical marijuana in the state for five years.

19 comments on “Guest Column: Top Technological Game-Changers for Cannabis Growers
  1. Ben on

    Is it possible when identifying MMJ companies in stories to go a bit further and let the reader know if an individual company is either publicly traded or might be considering and IPO? I’m a small investor and find it difficult at times to track down whether or not a company trades on any stock market. And including a trading symbol or a bit more investing information about new companies would be extremely helpful for me… Would anyone else like something like this?

    Reply
  2. Atson on

    My interest is marijuana stock. Anything these articles can do to single out individual stocks with tickers symbols, what the stocks are doing, how long have they been doing it and how they compare to other pot stocks would really help. Thanks, A

    Reply
  3. Ben on

    I posted the original comment about stock symbols when a stock is talked about. Possibly if MBD just made a habit of including the stock symbol when talking about a stock that is publicly traded… All readers would soon realize if a symbol isn’t mentioned the company is not publicly traded. Any other suggestions from readers?

    Reply
  4. Ben on

    One more comment, sorry. People will suggest looking at various lists available, that is all well and good but not really that helpful when reading a story in MBD. Many times I’ve read about a company that does this or that within the marijuana community and I search all over the internet to find out if it is publicly traded, to no avail. If it isn’t to much of a hassle for the reporter to just include a stock symbol where applicable I for one would appreciate it.

    Reply
  5. Van McConnon on

    Hey Everybody,
    Jim, Greenhouses handle heat with a combination of evaporative cooling, misting, shade, and dryer climates. Greenhouses in south Florida will shut down in the summer. Greenhouses in the west will be able run year round -10 to 120. Each region demands different engineering and will provide 3 to 5 crops a year.

    Fred, I have tried six separate LED systems over the years. I have only used one that works. There may be others, but to date the Lighting Science rig is the only one that has really performed for us or any one else I trust.

    I have no opinion on investing in the marijuana industry in any traditional way. We have no banking, it against federal law, and there are a plethora of regulatory hurdles in the states that have legalized rec or mmj that make it very risky to play the cannabis investment market.

    Reply
  6. Ryan Ryall on

    Yes @fred savag, LED technology is there if you pick the right manufacturer. There is A LOT of junk on the market that makes a bad name for LED technology in general. From manufacturers making false claims on equivalency, false claims on performance, lack of knowledge of LED technology for photosynthesis and misapplication of the technology. Watch out for Lighting Science to break out with their LED grow lights and see for yourselves. I have seen what these LED can do and it is absolutely astounding! Increasing yields and product quality while saving energy and labor? Yes please.

    Reply
  7. crazybaldhead on

    No mention of induction lighting? Led tech over the last 5 years? Modified street lights? I was growing in rockwool, under son agro and hps lights from Hydrofarm, with infrared monitored co2 enrichment back in 1994. Aeroponics and induction lighting are the future, and theyre not even mentioned. I would think the author would have dug a bit deeper, this info is top soil.

    Reply
  8. Ben on

    If anyone is interested in peripheral companies that supply the MMJ business I did manage to find the stock symbol for the company talked about above, Lighting Science. It is LSCG.
    @Van, to quote Mark Twain…”When everyone is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”

    Reply
  9. Clark_G on

    Death references like “the noose that will hang” and “digging your own grave” in the article provide readers a tell that the author’s providing more of a dramatic sales pitch than realistic grow information. So LEDs are awesome but the author comes back to comment everything on the LED market today is not worth it, except for one company that doesn’t have its product to market yet. That’s the LED sales pitch? My clients would laugh in my face. No sober grower/ businessman would gamble on a solitary supplier when there are thousands of suppliers of laboratory proven HID lighting. Reminds me of the people hyping CFL’s for flowering cannabis 7-8 years ago, never really panned out, but it sure looked great on paper.

    Reply
  10. Van McConnon on

    Colorado Cannabis Systems bought the Lighting Science rig we tested and are testing currently at a CED distribution warehouse in Denver last year over the counter for retail. Three respected growers are using the lamps in the Denver area and have achieved results similar to what we have found. I am currently growing a seed crop to see if you can produce viable seeds using the lamp. This is how we do things at CCS. We research, we test, and then we implement the technologies we like for our clients.

    Reply
  11. Kerrie B Badertscher on

    Nice article. If you are looking for an expanded information on upgrading systems to reduce costs and increase production flow. Please check out our new book: Cannabis for Capitalists, written by a Certified Professional Horticulturist through ASHS and former IBMer with over 33 years in quality assurance, production management, R&D, etc. Our work has been reviewed by three universities in the US. Check us out at http://www.otokehort.com or on Amazon. Thanks again for the nice article about CCS,
    Kerrie

    Reply
  12. BHT on

    Van what is the model that you used from Lighting Science? There isn’t anything on their website specified for growing except for single bulbs called MyNature Grow.(https://definitydigital.com/File%20Library/Spec%20Sheets/DDMyNatureGrow_SpecSheetsCombined.pdf) From that there isn’t any way to determine whether it will be effective. You cannot try to compare those metrics to Hortilux because Hortilux does not publish PAR rates on its bulbs. Their spectrum looks like this for 1K HPS:http://www.eyehortilux.com/products/hps/PerformanceSpecs/lu1000bhtlen/66785 On their website they say they don’t measure PAR: “Lumen and PAR rating do not tell the complete story in terms of plant growth. Both criteria can be optimized simply for ratings with little to no improvement in plant growth.”
    One problem in this industry is having lighting companies use similar measuring metrics. The most commonly heard comment is “I did a side by side” as the experimental proof of the efficacy of a lighting system. Where is the data in that? That is hearsay. I’d like to see a side by side with time-lapse videography of the same strain, from the same mom, with the same amount of vigor, flowered out to substantiate claims made of light efficiency. Otherwise there is no real way of telling since no one uses the same metrics to measure their lights.

    Reply
  13. Jorge Cervantes on

    I was excited to read this article. I´m amazed that this greenhouse technology is considered “new” by the cannabis industry. Drip irrigation, automatic fertigation, darkening greenhouses, have been around for 20–30 years. Check greenhouse technology in the Netherlands and Israel, two leading countries in greenhouse technology. Oh yes, they are also leaders in efficient cannabis production.

    Reply
  14. Robin on

    LED lights will replace HPS. Its like comparinf fossil fuel to solar. HPS is fossil fuel, leaving a huge carbon foot print. LED technoligy is growing by the day. Broad spectum LED lights and hybrid Hydroponics like Aeroponics will lead the pack

    Reply
  15. Charles Buerger on

    My name is Charles Buerger and I am a particle physicist, coating engineer and a ‘successful’ inventor. For the last five years I’ve dedicated my time to the development of optical coatings. These optical coatings allow users to manipulate and guide light through materials. When used in conjunction with projection systems, these optical coatings are used to create high quality displays.

    I am certain that my optical coatings can be easily adapted to the market sector of commercial grow operations, allowing significantly increased crop yields. My advancements in coating science allow my binder to form covalent bonds with dissimilar materials, granting unprecedented adhesion to any non-porous substrate. In addition, these coatings are water based and extremely low VOC.

    My company is currently in a holding pattern for the next few weeks. While we are waiting for closing on some of our technology, I wanted to explore the market in Colorado and locate a strategic partner to test the viability of my ideas, as well as help me work out the details of a new business venture. This venture will be geared towards providing advanced lighting and functional coatings that are of the highest quality, that are based upon firm scientific foundations, and that offer specialization without the exorbitant price tags that are common among current products. I firmly believe in giving the best for the least, especially when the market is receptive to such action.

    Attached are some videos that show what I’m doing with light on the display level. With the right partners that offer the necessary guidance, we can quickly and easily take the commercial grow market. To me, this would be a fun and profitable venture, so I’m open to any mutually beneficial relationship, and I’m eager to share the profits.

    As previously stated, I’m seeking to form alliances with companies who are operational in the Colorado market, so if this is something that interests you, I would very much like to speak, and perhaps visit, with you very soon.
    If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Thank you for your time.

    YouTube – A bit about Voxel Worx Worldwide
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLi7nv3Dg3APAE9cubq8zCTbZxkCXPUGkb

    Charles Buerger
    Photonic Metamaterials
    Cell no. +1 281 546 4355

    The coatings manipulate the speed and direction of light and efficiently scatter light in all directions evenly which would effectively reflect back specular light from walls, floors, and ceilings. This would be a variant of my front projection coatings.

    The diffusion coating for lighting would coalesce LED’s together and/or distribute the light homogeneously across the growing area and the amount of heat reaching the plants can be reduced significantly and with the proper configuration many unique growing environments could be designed affordable that would increase the level of specialization to the grower. This would be variants of my rear projection coatings and could also be adapted to be a selective spectral pass coating that also uses the energy from the blocked wavelengths to up convert (quantum well & quantum tunneling) to redistribute this energy to output in the favorable regions for optimal growth – we would borrow from the unused energy and convert it to wavelengths best suited for growth.

    I also believe that it ‘may’ be beneficial to use my micro-lens technology in an organic water based dispersion that could be misted upon areas where growth is most desired and because the misted areas are able to pull in more energy from multiple directions (ball lens) then growth may be selectively enhanced in those regions. This would be organic as the beads are not absorbed but would shake off and they do not burn so even if some got on the buds they would not be inhaling gas from a burned particle.

    The coatings for the walls or diffusers can be formulated with or without traditional antimicrobials (nothing that touches the plants would have any type of chemical) which would help to maintain a more sanitary environment by inhibiting any growth upon the floors, walls, or ceilings.

    Another option is a self-cleaning coating that I have which is photo-reactive and when exposed to UV radiation causing an oxidizing effect which is not a pesticide or fungicide but rather reaction to light that generates an effective region where fungus, mold, etc. would not grow and would be ideal for grow trays and other surfaces that typically have issues.

    The possibilities are endless.
    We sell new solutions to problems related to projected media and digital advertising. Brought to you by Voxel Worx, an advanced projection and coating company. Our optical coatings are for use with rear projection systems and are specifically designed to have excellent adhesion to nonporous clear substrates such as glass, plastic sheets, and flexible films which can also be used on fabrics and cloths of varying translucency.
    281 546 4355
    Voxel Worx coatings provide new methods for creating seamless large format and small format rear projection displays on flat and curved surfaces in both high brightness environments and low light setting and can be applied to a multitude of substrates while still maintaining excellent optical properties such as high gain, wide angle of view, and no hotspot with excellent and an unprecedented adhesion performance to glass, plastics, films, and fabrics.

    Our coatings have excellent adhesion to both porous and non-porous substrates and are guaranteed to adhere better to these surfaces than any other coating. All of our coatings are water-based, are removable from glass substrates without the use of chemicals, they cure at normal ambient temperatures, and are both chemical and mar resistant (extremely tough and durable).

    We are the first to bring you this technology and we will remain the name you use and trust because it has always been our mission to be the first, the best, and the only rear-projection solution in the world that works and is affordable.

    Customized coatings can also be tailored to your needs upon request.

    Our coatings primary properties:

    • It is water-based and environmentally friendly

    • It is waterproof upon curing and can be used in extreme environmental conditions

    • Coating cures at normal ambient temperatures without the need of any special processes

    • Chemical & Mar/Scratch resistant – it is very durable

    • It will not fade or discolor from UV exposure

    • It does not damage or etch glass – substrate bonding is achieved by advanced chemical engineering

    • It maintains unprecedented adhesion to glass substrates and also to plastics (including films). The coating is also flexible and coated film materials can be rolled for easier transportation and storage.

    • It is removable from glass substrates without the use of chemicals and with very little effort by applying steam for 5-25 seconds and removing coating with a blade. No residue is left behind and the amount of steam necessary for removal is not significant enough to cause glass to fracture. Though the coating can be removed via such a method this in no way diminishes its long-term durability and resistance to the elements.

    • Coated glass surfaces will not be prone to fracturing due to heat buildup from sun exposure because it is designed to not retain spectral frequencies that would generate heat but instead reflects these.

    • The product covers a large area – (1) quart Part A and 20 ml Part B kits (1 quart covers 30 ft²/2.79 m²)

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *