To the cannabis grower harvesting is one of the most exciting times of the growing cycle. After spending months addressing the crop’s health requirements and constantly analyzing environmental conditions, it’s finally time to harvest the plants and let them do what they do best: sit and develop into potent and profitable nugs.
Each grower will have their own harvesting schedule, but they all are similar in the steps that they take. Maximizing THC is essential, so each grower obsesses over the proper time to harvest, while also ensuring they have plenty of time for drying and curing. However, even growers that have mastered these techniques and have followed their harvesting schedule perfectly may not achieve the lowest cost per gram, leading to a less than ideal harvest. In fact, ensuring a successful harvest that yields profitable buds starts long before the actual harvest.
Creating a growing environment that maximizes control and reduces costs is essential to a profitable harvest. While many indoor growers spend large sums of money for environmental control, many are finding that the combination of greenhouse and hydroponics growing allows operations to maximize their profitability by providing a superior product with reduced utilities and labor requirements, allowing for a truly successful harvest.
The cannabis industry is in a constant state of flux, and finding solutions to sustain a thriving business has already become an issue for many. The considerable cost of environmental control and labor can eventually become a business crushing burden, and as more growers enter the market and create more competition, these costs will become impossible to ignore.
Nobody knows this better than Growers Supply’s Jon Kozlowski. Kozlowski has consulted cannabis growers across the country, and he has seen the drastic increase of growers on the market. “In 2016 the state of Oregon alone received nearly 2000 applications for growing, more than double of what was expected. Competition is going to become a major factor across the industry,” he said. With the industry creating an environment where competition is high, growers will have to hit their absolute lowest cost per gram to make sure each harvest is a successful one.
It’s no secret that the cannabis industry is a major drain on the nation’s energy grid, and this will only continue as the industry grows. This is why greenhouse production has become so essential. Utilizing a greenhouse can save operations thousands of dollars per year by reducing electrical requirements. Furthermore, greenhouses can provide an optimal environment that’s balanced between indoor and outdoor growing, allowing growers to reap the best of both worlds.
Greenhouse production utilizes the benefits of the outdoors, while maintaining the controlled environment of warehouse grow rooms. While the industry waits for the lighting revolutions to take place, transitioning an operation to a greenhouse can help to lessen the burden of electricity by allowing growers to utilize natural lighting.
In addition to saving growers on the cost of expensive artificial lighting, switching to greenhouse production allows growers to take advantage of a natural and healthy air flow. Indoor production facilities require pricey exhaust and ventilation systems to maintain optimal conditions. While greenhouse production will likely only require an exhaust system during certain times of the year, growers can also benefit from simple roll up sides, ceiling vents and open ends that provide substantial air flow.
While integrating a greenhouse can be a dollar-saving move for any operation, the addition of a hydroponics system can help to reach a higher level of efficiency.
In comparison to traditionally grown crops, hydroponic farmers claim several advantages. Many hydroponics growers experience larger yields, healthier buds and a shorter time between harvests. But the product isn’t the only thing benefiting from hydroponics. Utilizing hydroponics can significantly improve an operation’s day-to-day success by reducing the risks of disease and pests, while also reducing labor requirements.
Hydroponics systems help to eliminate soil borne bacteria and pests. Hydroponics also eliminates foliar moisture, which can become a breeding ground for pests inside greenhouses. While bacteria is a part of biology and will appear at some point no matter where you grow, hydroponics systems tend to avoid using media that are known to promote bacteria or pests, minimizing the occurrence of such problems. Keeping a close eye on nutrient deficiency and pest occurrence can help stop an infestation before it takes hold, but hiring laborers to keep track of plant health can become expensive.
One of the best parts of a well-designed hydroponics system is the uniform layout. Crops are lined in symmetrical rows that makes assessing and working with the plants easier. When growers are working with a system, they can work on plants by the dozens, instead of just one by one. This, along with the ability to move entire rows, enables operations to quickly address any issues that arise and transport crops between different grow rooms, allowing operations to reduce their operating costs and to focus on more important issues. When using a greenhouse outfitted with hydroponics growers are also able to easily automate their operation, reducing labor needs and lowering the cost per gram.
Ah, the wonderful world of science. Humans used to wonder if and how robots would become better than humans. Well, greenhouses across the world are beginning to experience the superiority of robots. Turns out they really are better- and rarely complain about lower back pain.
Remarkably, the innovative technology of automation in a greenhouse can alleviate the burden of paid human labor. Human labor is costly and for many growers, it is a necessary expense especially during certain parts of the crop cycle, like harvesting and trimming. However, with the right equipment, operations can significantly reduce the amount of labor they depend on.
More and more, a range of technologies are being developed for varying cost brackets, to help automate greenhouse production. With climate sensitive controllers, automated fertigation, automated light deprivation systems and automatic trimmers, the possibility of human error is reduced by the comforting control of the metal robotic hand. Completely automating a greenhouse may be in the budget, and if so, it’s a good option. If a completely automated operation isn’t possible, a grower can still implement one or two automated tools to help alleviate time and money spent on their production.
What makes automated technology so beneficial is the precision of sensors to collect data and the ability of the controllers to respond according to the crop’s needs. Although adaptable, cannabis benefits from a controlled environment for many reasons. To optimize bud quality, paying attention to the intricacies of life cycles of the cannabis crop is crucial. Making sure that light deprivation is efficient, that humidity isn’t prompting mold or bacteria or that plants are getting the right amount of nutrients at the right time, are just a few of the major tasks a grower must undertake during the cannabis growing process. These steps require being particular, and crops can benefit significantly from increased efficiency and precision, while operations can benefit from the limited labor.
Two growers that worked with Kozlowski to maximize the profitability of their harvests are Jerry Denny from Elk, Washington and Tim Caine of Bend, Oregon.
“While any region can successfully produce in a greenhouse, some of our most successful cannabis growers are located in the Pacific Northwest,” said Kozlowski.
Denny introduced a hydroponics system into his greenhouse and has found that the system combined with the greenhouse has lowered his cost per gram and allowed his company, 420 Growers and Processors, to maintain profitable harvests, even as cannabis prices fluctuate.
“The biggest benefit I see with these NFT channels is the labor. I don’t have to have anybody mixing soil, and I don’t have to have people packing soil in pots and transplanting each individual pot. Labor is where I see myself saving the most money,” said Denny.
Tim Caine and his family had been a part of the agricultural community for nearly three decades, and when he first started growing he ran into an issue that most cannabis growers face. “The amount of money I spent on energy costs growing indoors was outrageous,” he said. With his agricultural background, Caine knew that his cannabis business would be more lucrative if he used a greenhouse instead.
He worked with Kozlowski to create an automated greenhouse that would allow him to maximize the operation’s profits. Kozlowski was excited to see how Caine’s operation could flourish by integrating a greenhouse, and said, “With upwards of 300 sunny days per year, Central Oregon is such a great climate for greenhouse growing.”
Caine has found success with his setup, and he’s proving that greenhouse cannabis production can be prolific. Caine has welcomed automation into his operation by utilizing an automated controller. With this, his operation can maintain an ideal growing environment year-round.
“Out here in Oregon we’re pretty much in a desert climate. We’ve had days where it was 90 degrees during the day and 40 degrees at night. The automated controller has allowed me to control the greenhouse’s internal environment,” said Caine.
While many factors contribute to a successful harvest, the only thing that really matters is profitability, and this is linked to cost per gram. No harvest is successful without achieving the absolute lowest cost per gram, and as competition within the industry continues to grow, this will become more important. Creating an environment that allows growers to obtain successful harvests starts long before the drying, trimming and curing. Utilizing hydroponics in a greenhouse production environment allows operations to maximize their profits by producing premium bud, while reducing utilities costs and labor needs.
Amanda Williams is a content writer for GrowSpan, which specializes in greenhouses and growing solutions. She is an experienced grower and owner of Town Farm in Ledyard, Connecticut. Christopher Machnich is an industry enthusiast that contributes to GrowSpan.com.