How to Increase Cannabis Yield with Automation and Controls

by | Nov 19, 2021

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Growing cannabis is simple, right? It notoriously grows like a weed in some climates. But, when it comes to cannabis in the 21st century, it's not so easy. The challenge lies in perfecting yield, potency, and profile. Increasing yields and improving the final product efficiently and cost-effectively is the primary objective for commercial operators.

Implementing advanced automation and environmental controls is the only way to perfect the cannabinoid profile, increase flower size, and replicate this success from crop to crop. It's gone well beyond scheduling light-dark phases. Now, cannabis technology is almost at a place where cultivators can set it and forget it, for a completely hands-off approach.

Step 1: Automated Schedules Are Just the Beginning

In the grow room, lighting gets the most attention for its influence over yield and flower development. Grow room lights, no matter whether they are conventional HID variety or advanced LED, have long been set to timers to achieve the light-dark periods needed for vegetative and flower.

But, on-off settings are only the beginning. Cannabis cultivators and plant scientists are hacking into the chemistry of the cannabis species to better understand exactly what it needs at every step along the way.

That means tweaking light-dark schedules week by week, implementing sunrise and sunset protocols, and even adjusting the spectrum as the growth progresses. This isn't just about moving away from blue light into a warmer range closer to flower. Indoor grow lighting has become a refined light science.

Advanced grow light solutions, designed and engineered by the likes of Growor and Fluence, among others, are all pushing the boundaries of conventional lighting technologies into these new, highly controlled frontiers. Using automation, grow lights allow growers to tweak parameters, crunch highly accurate data, and most importantly, replicate the successful results.

Step 2: Automating the Entire Environment

Lights are an important component, but clearly, they’re only one piece within a much larger puzzle. Optimizing yields also must incorporate temperature, humidity, CO2, nutrients, vapor pressure deficit, and more.

Most indoor commercial growers now rely on full or partial automation to control the indoor environment. These automations run the gamut in terms of capability but typically incorporate one or more grow room sensors, a remote dashboard, and powerful analytics.

A few technologies are pushing the limits of what's possible. For example, Growor's sensor and control system, which integrates with most commercial systems, uses AI to adapt to the timely needs of each cultivar and each successive crop. This grow room system automatically pivots the environmental parameters for the best possible yield.

As per Growor, “All parameters are calculated in advance and integrated into the management software, which is governed by a self-evolving algorithm. A network of sensors provides real-time information to the feedback loop and it triggers an immediate response from the system to any developmental or environmental anomalies.”

Step 3: Drill Down into the Root Zone

But, automation doesn't just take a macro view of the grow room environment. In every aspect of indoor growing, technologies are coming online to refine, automate, and analyze the environment at a micro-level.

Grodan, a veteran stone wool gro medium company, is one of these highly specialized innovators. To better control the influences within a hydroponic system, they have developed specialized growing tools to control water content, electrical conductivity, and temperature in the root zone.

The Grodan GroSens Sensor, alongside the other integrated suite of options, is helping cultivators working with any hydroponic crop optimize production and decrease costs by delivering never-before-available crop insights. Growers take these insights to improve the environment for more consistent yields and improved fruit or flower development.

Production Increases Only Possible with Automation

The automation rolling out across the cannabis sector (and other indoor crops) is improving yield and solving for inconsistencies between batches, all the while reducing operational costs. Automating extraction and packaging processes is improving secondary production. Meanwhile, cannabis vending machines could even be the automation answer to retail.

While not quite possible yet, very soon we could live in a world where the perfect bud comes from a fully automated indoor environment, with no humans touching plants.  

In the future, automation and controls will ensure that a specific cultivar grown in one facility matches the profile of the same cultivar grown across the country. Thus reducing variability, through a tightly and intelligently controlled indoor environment.