It's a whirlwind of jargon, with discussions littered with osmotic, vegetative, generative dry downs and dry backs. Crop steering is taking controlled environment agriculture to new levels, pushing yields beyond what even old-time growers thought was possible.
With growers reporting doubling or even tripling yields — consistently — with this advanced cultivation technique, it's no wonder it's taken the cannabis industry by storm in recent years. Cannabis cultivators are adopting crop steering techniques and technologies developed in other Ag sectors to maximize yields and phytochemical content.
What Is Crop Steering?
AROYA, a crop management company driving crop steering innovation, defines crop steering as “a plant growth management practice that manipulates the environment (light, climate, irrigation) to encourage plants to grow a certain way. Next to light intensity, it's the most important tactic you can use to manipulate yield.”
Defined differently, Growlink, a next-generation cultivation solution, describes it as “a method of managing plant growth, by adjusting irrigation and climate to force a desired response from the plant.”
Crop steering is about getting the balance just right, pushing plants to the very edge of extreme growth to drive the results you seek. For cannabis cultivators, that translates into pushing plants between vegetative and generative phases for greater yields and better profiles.
Irrigation is the primary means of control. The amount, frequency, and timing of the irrigation schedule trigger specific growth responses from the plants. Climate is the second component of crop steering, where adjustments to temperature, day length, humidity, and ventilation also drive outcomes.
At its core, crop steering is a deep understanding of the cannabis plants' response to different conditions, manipulating them to get the desired results. Originally, crop steering may have been developed based on experienced growers' best guesses, but now it's guided by science and data.
The Basics of Crop Steering Methodology
Crop steering optimizes cannabis growth in vegetative by delivering everything the plant needs to reach peak output. You could easily get lost in the climatic and environmental details, but generally speaking, it involves balancing the following conditions:
● Decreasing EC
● Increasing water content
● Decreasing VPD
● Increasing temperature
● Increasing irrigation frequency
● Increasing the length of feeds
When the cultivator chooses to switch to generative, it means flipping the script. Growers encourage the plant to focus on reproductive growth through a stimulated stress response by adjusting the climate. This typically includes a combination of the following environmental changes:
● Increasing EC
● Decreasing water content
● Increasing VPD
● Reducing temperature
● Reducing irrigation frequency
● Decreasing the length of feeds
Crop Steering Technology
The only reliable way to monitor and manipulate each condition is with advanced cultivation tech. Crop steering to the degree it's happening now is only possible with advanced grow room technology, a system of integrated grow room sensors and controls all managed via a comprehensive dashboard.
It goes beyond simple temperature and humidity sensors. Crop steering demands intel gathered from advanced grow room tools, including:
● Leaf barometers (to capture transpiration rate)
● Substrate EC sensor
● Substrate thermometer
● Substrate water content monitor
● Vapor pressure deficit (VPD) sensor
● Barometric pressure sensor
● Light intensity sensor
Without this staggering level of detailed information, growers can't get the same results. As only one example, in a conversation hosted by AROYA and CLTIVD (2021), Lance Guyan (Craft Farmer) and Joe Cimino (Good Greens) shared how difficult it was to guess timing before they installed crop management tech into their grow rooms.
No matter their level of experience, their best guess for water content or EC wasn't good enough. However, their yields and quality dramatically improved as soon as Guyan and Cimino had sensors and other monitors to measure moisture, EC, and other climate conditions accurately. Cimino reported getting three inches of veg growth a day thanks to data-driven crop steering practices.
With the precision these recent advances in grow room tech technology allow, growers can perfect the light intensity and hit the actual dry back state required to trigger generative growth. Data allows growers to target exact plant heights and reduce internodal spacing, which feeds into more yield per plant and better cannabinoid and terpene levels.
Crop Steering, the Future of Cannabis is Here
Crop steering is only the latest example of how cannabis cultivators take inspiration from other Ag sectors and then push it to the limit of what's possible with cannabis.
The data-driven manipulation and management of a plant's environment are already paying off for the growers that have adopted it. Producers are getting record-breaking yields without compromising cannabinoid and terpene profiles. With undeniable results, crop steering is already driving the future of commercial production.