LOWER COSTS AND REDUCE WASTE THE SMART WAY
Growers shouldn’t rely on soaring margins to overcome costly, inefficient cultivation practices. But how can we grow cheaper without harming crop yields?
Price and regulatory pressures are driving cultivators to explore different ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality. Wasteful and inefficient cultivation practices that were hidden in the past by huge margins are now simply causing businesses to fail.
Making any experimental changes to a cultivation strategy, even in the service of increased operational efficiencies, can be a high-risk proposition. Small tweaks to the environment can create unanticipated changes in plant morphology, especially if only a few key variables at a time are changed in isolation. When that happens, the entire system can get knocked out of balance. An out-of-balance environment creates stress, which always reduces plant health, quality and yield.
ACCOUNTING FOR ALL VARIABLES
For example, let’s say a cultivator seeks to improve yields by experimenting with increased light intensities and changes in spectrum. But if they don’t simultaneously adjust fertigation, temperature and CO2 parameters in harmony, the results will often be negative.In this case, the cultivator might assume that the experiment failed, and that increased light levels and spectrum changes were responsible for a reduction in plant performance. However, if they had adjusted the other critical variables to help the plants process and use the increased light intensity—rather than experience the higher light levels as stress resulting from an unbalanced environment—then the experiment would have had a much higher likelihood of success.
This example brings up three critical questions:
1. How can efficiency seeking cultivators make careful changes across the cultivation value chain and generate consistent, measurable improvements during this ongoing process without adding unnecessary risk to the bottom line?
2. What are the most important things to measure, and how?
3. What is the best way to collect and use cultivation data to chart a clear path to continuous improvement?
The answers to these questions should be predicated on three simple truths:
1. Simple is always better.
2. Begin with a cultivation SOPs baseline and strategy that prioritizes the creation and maintenance of a homogenous, balanced and hygienic environment.
3. Any experimental changes should always be done incrementally and never drastically, and never done in isolation from other inputs.
Assuming these three concepts are embraced by the team, then it’s a matter of putting data acquisition and analysis to work for your business in the most straightforward manner possible.The goal is to continuously gather data from your cultivation facility and use this data to drive constant, iterative improvements.
To start this process, begin as simply as possible and only measure what matters most:
→ PPFD(light intensity at canopy)
→ VPD (Vapor Pressure Deficit)
→ Root zone/root media: EC, pH and temperature (always automate fertigation and begin with a simple crop steering/dry back scheduling program—this is a great place to experiment with careful, iterative changes to increase quality and yield)
And always remember: You can only tell if your facility is experiencing microclimates and other expressions of an unbalanced environment if you have atmospheric and root zone sensors deployed in the most likely areas to experience these issues. Any data-driven cultivation plan is only as good as the input data. Make sure that your sensor deployment covers multiple areas in each room. I recommend a baseline of at least one atmospheric sensor per every 480 square feet.
MAKING THE DATA WORK FOR YOU
Once the data acquisition plan is set and the sensors deployed, it is imperative that each room—and the facility overall—has critical data displayed in real-time on a cultivation management dashboard.
This dashboard should be tied to a centralized cultivation or building management system, which should also provide alerts when any of the automated environmental parameters drift out of their pre-set ranges.
At the same time, the data should be logged into a historical archive that can be accessed and compared against any number of relevant markers for operational efficiency and success, such as:
→ Grams per square foot
→ THC content (improvement vs. baseline)
→ kW consumption vs. net profit per square foot
→ Overall true COGS, month-to-month (baseline vs. improvement)
There are many amazing, collaborative companies providing the hardware and software tools needed to embark on a journey of data-driven cultivation improvements. At the same time, many cultivators have embraced a commitment to lowering energy use and using data to cultivate both profitably and sustainably. As our industry matures, the use of cultivation data to drive increased efficiencies will only continue to grow.
ASH GANLEY is on a mission to increase the quality and quantity of cannabis production while reducing the environmental impact and operational expense of cultivation. He is a Senior Consultant for Cannabis Global Consultants, the CEO of Ganley Consulting Group, and former CEO of GrowRay Technologies.