Entrepreneurs have been perfecting the art of cannabis growing for years. Now that weed has become more mainstream, different technologies are popping up everywhere to help enhance the process. From the proper lighting and automatic temperature checks to having control over an irrigation system, keep reading to find out which technologies can help take your budtending business to the next level.
Installing the proper lighting is the most important technology needed in order to grow cannabis. The duration that the plant is exposed to light has two significant roles: catalyzing the cannabis plant from a vegetative growth stage to a flowering stage, and establishing a daily light integral (DLI) to efficiently induce the positive effects of increased biomass, flower number, and shortened growth cycles.
Ten years ago, it was unheard of to use LED lighting to cultivate cannabis. At the inception of the Colorado adult-use market a decade ago, high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting was still the norm for indoor grows, according to Jay Czarkowski, Founding Partner at Canna Advisors. In the last five years, there has been a shift towards LEDs, allowing for more productive flowering rooms with greater efficiency. LED and other lighting systems that employ UVB and subcanopy lighting produce higher yields.
“Lighting accounts for 20-25 percent of all of the energy consumed in the U.S. today,” Bryan Fried, Chairman and CEO of Pangea Global Technologies, said. “When LED became viable, it was the natural answer for lighting in general to help reduce our carbon footprint, to be more environmentally friendly, and to reduce our energy consumption and the cost of energy consumption.”
The Downsides of LEDs
The downside of LED lighting is the increased capital cost over High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights, according to Czarkowski. Especially if you are outfitting a double- or triple-stacked canopy, the costs per square foot jump quickly. However, the lower radiant heat of LED lighting allows for reduced electricity costs and HVAC load, and LED fixtures generally have a longer lifespan than HPS. LEDs also allow the stacking of benches to greatly increase a facility’s output per square foot. While LEDs may be a greater cost up front, their benefits are apparent in the long run. Over the last several years, LED prices have dropped significantly, and the technology continues to improve.
“I personally like Fohse Lights, since they are producing the biggest yields right now. Covering 150 grams per square foot with their lights, they are a very good company. I have looked at a lot of different companies, and right now, they are number one,” BigMike, founder of Advanced Nutrients, said.
Getting Enough CO2 Through Lighting
Cannabis plants need CO2 to make energy from light via photosynthesis. Without enough CO2 in the air, plants will “starve” and die because they cannot make energy. With low-powered grow lights (like CFLs, T5s, or small LEDs), your plant can already “digest” all the light at natural CO2 levels.
“Plants want to absorb different amounts of photosynthetic radiation at different levels, so you need to be able to control that,” Fried said. “You have to be able to adjust it at a micro level, depending on the specific strand, so lighting control has to be very concise.” Technology can help easily control the lighting to ensure your cannabis is getting the correct amount of CO2.
Pangea Lighting Software
Pangea created a wireless technological solution that controls the lights themselves. This open architecture and wireless cannabis lighting platform collects all sorts of plant growth data, including temperature, humidity, soil content, spectrum control, and more. It can also automate reactive actions, such as watering, turning lights on and off, or creating alerts. Pangea gives businesses of all sizes the ability to manage, operate, and automate farming by using sensors and data from a single smartphone or any web browser.
This innovative Pangea software is more affordable than you think. It allows cannabis growers to eliminate the need for extra hands on deck since the hardware can control the lighting and monitor other aspects of the plant growth process with just the touch of a button. It is also scalable, meaning you only pay for what you need, and as your business grows, you can slowly add on more software.
Unlike animals and humans, a marijuana plant is entirely dependent on its environment. They will not usually die from being too hot, but their growth can slow from it. High external temperatures (above 80-90 °F) while flowering will not only slow down bud growth, but also reduce their smell and potency. If you care about growing buds with plenty of cannabinoids, you need to be sure the external temperature is kept under control during the flowering stage.
“The secret to growing cannabis well is to control the environment it grows in, and that is where technology becomes important. New technology is used to control the grow rooms remotely, which includes controlling the humidity and temperature, but sensors also make sure the lighting and water levels are perfect,” Baruch Labunski, CEO at Rank Secure, said.
This $20 piece of technology can easily be purchased off of Amazon and can help cannabis growers measure leaf surface temperature (LST). According to BigMike, it is important to keep the leaf surface temperature two-to-four degrees lower than the ambient room temperature.
This temperature differential occurs because as a plant transpires water through the leaves, it acts as a cooling system for those leaves. A higher relative humidity will slow the rate of transpiration, and as a result, the surface temperature of the leaf will rise while low relative humidity can increase the rate of transpiration, reducing LST. Significant variations between ambient air temperature and LST, or an equal or higher LST than ambient air temperature, typically indicates crop stress and less than optimal growth.
All About DIF
There is also something called the DIF, or the difference between the daytime and night time temperature. Control over your DIF will give you control over your plant’s height and internodal spacing without the use of dangerous or untested chemicals or growth regulators. According to BigMike, at night, growers should have the room 10 degrees cooler than normal. Warmer temperatures at night will slow the growth of the plant.
By maintaining a sanitary grow environment for cannabis plants, home growers can maximize yield, improve cannabinoid production, and save a lot of headaches during the cultivation process. Contamination coming into the growing environment is a serious problem, so if you are about to enter a growing facility, you need a way to decontaminate yourself since you can bring spores and other harmful things in from the outside, according to Fried.
Personal Protective Equipment
“One overlooked enhancement is proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and simple sanitation and pest management practices, like sticky clean mats,” Czarkowski said. “Look to pharmaceutical companies, GMP, and cleanrooms to create a sterile and predictable environment that you can control. Proper PPE, sanitation, and integrated pest management procedures are relatively cheap compared to the cost of losing entire crops due to contamination.”
Integrated Pest Management Systems
These systems help cultivation operations identify, eradicate, treat, and prevent infestations. The IPM approach can be applied to both agricultural and non-agricultural settings, such as the home, garden, and workplace. IPM takes advantage of all appropriate pest management options including, but not limited to, the judicious use of pesticides, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
One thing BikMike has noticed, especially in California, is that many cannabis plants are infected with fusarium wilt. Fusarium, also known as fusarium wilt, is a fungi-produced illness caused by fusarium fungi, and it is quite common in cannabis. This disease affects mainly the roots and stems, which means your plants will lose strength, stop growing or flowering, and their branches or the plant in general may even begin to dry up, depending on the intensity of the attack. Fusarium wilt can affect indoor, outdoor, and greenhouse grows.
Not only is it important to keep your growing area sanitized, but also the soil that your plants grow in to help prevent diseases that can spread like wildfire and destroy years of growth. Advanced Nutrients offers a product called Voodoo Juice which helps protect cannabis plants from seven different types of fusariums.
“Most are not aware that there is a massive shift between the vegetative growth stage and the bloom stage. The plant utilizes macros, secondary, and micronutrients differently. For instance, when a plant is in the vegetative growth, it uses a lot more iron, which is extremely critical for plant growth. If you give it the wrong source of iron, it will impact the plant’s growth and size by about 20-to-30 percent,” BigMike said.
Fertigation is a process that combines fertilization and irrigation, where fertilizer is added to an irrigation system. Rather than traditional fertilization, fertigation approaches are purported to target the plant’s nutrient deficiencies more effectively. It also reduces soil erosion and water consumption, reduces the amount of fertilizer utilized, and controls the time and rate it is released.
Automation by Environmental Controls
“Some plant-whisperers are dead set on hand watering, but I would push for automation via environmental controls wherever possible,” Czarkowski said. “The best growing technology does not have to be complicated. The Dosatron System is a great example of that. Its water-powered injectors do not need electricity to accurately add nutrients to an automated watering regiment.”
For those looking at the cost for these types of systems, used equipment is available for a discount from time-to-time, according to Czarkowski. Equipment shortages worldwide have made outfitting new facilities a challenge for many.
Utilizing Three Technologies Combined
In the future of cannabis, corporations and dispensaries will be using three technologies that Advanced Nutrients is currently working on right now, which are genetics, environment, and fertigation. Right now, no one is doing this, and the biggest challenge is the runoff.
“Many growers are monitoring the plants, but they do not break down the macros, secondaries, and micronutrients, so they do not know what the plant is using,” BigMike said. A plant may be using three percent of nutrients, but what is the composition of those nutrients? When those three technologies are married, it will give god-like control over the plant.”
By utilizing this technology, Advanced Nutrients currently has a cannabis plant waiting to be released by the USDA that does not contain any THC and produces 12 percent of CBD. If you want different colored flowers, you will also be able to gene edit that, as well as create mildew-resistant strains.
Crop steering is a horticulture approach that uses management of environment and inputs to promote specific plant responses. A company called Rhythm can help cannabis growers with crop steering, where you can manipulate the plant hour-by-hour while it is growing and optimize the growth of the plant through its entire lifecycle.
Rhythm does this through a process called dryback, which measures how much moisture is in the growing tube or medium, and based on how much moisture is in there, they can tell how long it will take until the growing medium dries out. A big mistake cannabis growers can make is oversaturating the growing medium with water — you must let that dry out to a certain extent and make those roots search and work hard for water, according to BigMike. Stressing a plant on purpose can help it to protect itself by making more resin, since it thinks it is at the end of its life cycle even when it is not.
While the latest technology can certainly be an investment for small businesses, it can help to save you money in the long run. It can also keep the process environmentally friendly, since certain technologies help reduce both energy and water usage, according to Labunski. All of this, in turn, leads to a reduction in labor costs since employees no longer need to constantly monitor the grow rooms, while increasing both the quality of the cannabis as well as the yields.