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Transitioning to Automated Light Deprivation

Cannabis producers have traditionally been held back by a lack of capital. This funding shortage limited growers’ access to the latest advancements in technology, which in turn limited their profitability. Fortunately for today’s growers, the tides are noticeably turning. Business owners are now beginning to outfit their operations with the latest equipment, giving grow operations a profit and yield boost.

Growers that use manual light deprivation techniques, like blackout tarps on a hoop house, know how tedious it is to apply and remove them each day. This is time that could be better spent on optimizing growing methods. An engineered light deprivation system dramatically cuts down on human labor and streamlines the growing process through automated and effective light deprivation.

Engineered light deprivation systems were once a luxury that only few growers could afford. Now they are rapidly becoming the industry standard. These systems have critical advantages over manual light deprivation systems and provide a solid return on investment.

What an engineered blackout system offers is precision control over the photoperiod. With total darkness that’s deployed precisely when it is needed, a major part of cannabis growing technique is already mastered. An engineered system will minimize mistakes and allow growers to harvest all year long. Moreover, automated curtains allow natural light in, making growers much less dependent on costly artificial lighting. There are several specific ways these systems can be used to maximize the efficiency of a grow operation.

Go with Engineered

Many growers are tempted to opt for turnkey blackout systems because of their affordability, but the disadvantages outweigh the initial cost savings. Turnkey blackout systems are generally one-size-fits-all, and are simply dropped into existing greenhouses. There are two serious shortcomings with this option. First, they tend not to provide complete darkness and without proper light deprivation, cannabis plants cannot adequately flower. Second, turnkey blackout systems tend to break down over time and fail growers looking for a system that is a long term solution. What a business owner initially saves in purchase price, they will certainly make up for in repairs or replacement.

Universal blackout systems that are dropped into a greenhouse can create a couple environmental control issues. Because these systems are not designed to work within a specific greenhouse layout, they can develop stress points with repeated use. It’s not uncommon for blackout curtains to drag against heating units or other tools and accessories every time the curtains are opened and closed. This constant wear and tear eventually takes its toll, forcing growers to make time-consuming repairs or buy replacements. Mass produced blackout systems also run the risk of completely blocking vents or exhaust fans, forcing growers to reconfigure their setup or get rid of the blackout system and start all over again.

Each time engineered blackout curtains are deployed, growers can rest assured they will last for many years and remain in ideal condition. When each piece of greenhouse equipment has already been accounted for, there is no risk of the light deprivation system dragging against greenhouse components or accessories.

Light deprivation designers often see growers forget how a blackout system will affect the interior greenhouse climate. Blackout curtain systems can prevent interior greenhouse heat from reaching the outer structure walls, so growers should be prepared to have a snow melting program built into their roof, if that is prescribed in their building code.

Equally important is that growers in warmer climates should have active ventilation in place when the curtains are closed. HAF fans, exhaust fans and shutters with breathable walls work best. Do not rely on ridge vents to do the work of ventilation, as they will not work when a blackout system is enabled. Growers should account for the extra equipment that will be hanging off rafters at the eave height, the reason being that blackout systems can take up to 18” of head space. At least 14’ sidewalls for a custom engineered light dep system are strongly recommended.

Seek Professional Installation

Acquiring an engineered light deprivation system is a good starting point, but it’s only part of the task. To make a system worth the investment, it must be installed properly. When professionals design and install a light deprivation system, growers are guaranteed 100 percent blackout conditions for the necessary photo-period cycle. An expert won’t merely set it and forget it; rather, they will consistently review and improve the performance of the blackout system to guarantee maximum efficiency.

In another effort to cut cost, some growers may be tempted to install an automated light deprivation system themselves. While it’s technically possible to do, pulling it off successfully is extremely labor-intensive, time-consuming and above all, carries a high rate of error. Even after the light deprivation system is installed, an experienced professional will still be needed to troubleshoot issues and make any necessary adjustments. For example, fixing a light leak along the seal would be a routine adjustment for someone with experience, but could prove to be troublesome for a beginner.

Harmonize Light Deprivation with Controls

Growers with outdated environmental controls, such as standard thermostats or humidistats, should consider getting a professional upgrade to a computer-controlled system. New controllers have the ability to predict indoor conditions and trigger the necessary equipment to keep microclimates stable. This not only minimizes damage, it also keeps harvests on schedule.

Feedback systems reduce waste, human error and save grow operations money every day. Those who have seen new controllers work their magic appreciate their ability to read conditions both inside and outside the greenhouse and perform thousands of calculations in an instant. The ability to make sure a greenhouse is running optimally from the comfort of home, miles away, is one that is relished by professional growers everywhere.

Synching up a number of different automated systems is not as difficult as it may seem. Controllers that organize all equipment from one location reduce human labor, human error and ultimately, maximize crop yield.  Automation comes in many forms—from lights that turn off when necessary, to irrigation systems that turn on when crops need moisture.

Environmental controllers such as these are calibrated to work with everyday devices, like smart phones and laptops. Controllers can be synced up to a phone or computer so that growers may manage their grow op even when they’re offsite. This level of technology converts an ordinary greenhouse into a production powerhouse that doesn’t require workers to be present 24/7.

An engineered light deprivation system that works in harmony with the greenhouse system as a whole is the most effective piece of equipment a cannabis producer can invest in to achieve their lowest cost per gram. Some grow operations have seen a 9:1 return on investment within the first year of incorporating an engineered light deprivation system. A return of this magnitude is uncommon when it comes to other cultivation methods.

Staying ahead of competition is everything in the cannabis industry, so getting off on the right foot immensely improves the likelihood of business success. Cannabis producers know perhaps better than most growers that time is money. As more states obtain commercial licenses to grow, it’s crucial for growers spanning all regions to adapt to maintain the edge on competition. Automated light deprivation systems that have been engineered for a specific grow op not only provide precision photoperiod control, they also free up labor so growers can focus their energy on maximizing their profits.

Suggested Vendor

Alpine Series greenhouse from Gro-Tech Systems is manufactured for commercial grow operations that need the capacity and flexibility to grow at scale.  Unlike other greenhouses, the automated light deprivation system was designed first and had the structure designed around it.  This makes the light dep system the core of the structure and gives growers the advantages of environmentally controlled indoor cultivation without the challenges of traditional greenhouses. For more information visit Gro-Techsystems.com.

Jessica Batchelor is a content writer for GrowSpan (Growspan.com) and has a keen interest in horticulture and how it is affected by new technology.

Will Kacheris is a Cannabis Specialist for GrowSpan Greenhouse Structures. With a bachelor’s in Agricultural Operations Management and a master’s in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, he applies sound agricultural principals to the industry, allowing growers to establish sound businesses and maximum profits.

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