What impacts indoor agriculture ultimately impacts cannabis cultivation. With the future of indoor food production in the world increasingly focused on growing more food with fewer resources, how does this translate to cannabis?
The future of cannabis cultivation is about producing more flower per square foot with fewer inputs. Thanks to technologies and agricultural approaches borrowed from more traditional sectors, it's getting there. To this end, what trends in grow house designs are influencing the development of indoor cannabis cultivation?
Trending: Highly Localized Agriculture
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture contributes 10 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Growing cannabis is no exception and oftentimes an even more significant contributor than other crops. Either way, the impact of all agriculture on the local environment is a concern for farms everywhere.
In their 2020 Sustainability Report, Aster Farms reported that their operations produced 20,000 kg of CO2 emissions. But as they discovered, the most significant contribution to their farm's carbon footprint was actually from employees commuting to and from the rural property — not from on-farm activities. According to their estimate, 18,000 kg out of the 20,000 kg of emissions came from employee mileage to and from work.
Additional contributions to their CO2 footprint came from deliveries and farm supplies. “Aster Farms strives to keep our greenhouse gas emissions low by practicing no-till farming, sourcing locally (within a 50-mile radius), buying in bulk, and repurposing materials onsite. The less deliveries, less time on the road, and less we purchase, the less CO2e we are responsible for.”
Aster Farms is an example of why highly localized agriculture is trending. Both for cannabis and vegetable production, it makes sustainable sense to produce cannabis in the vicinity of the consumer base.
Instead of importing produce from halfway around the world, localized farming supplies fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs — and yes, even cannabis — to their local communities, dramatically reducing CO2 emissions related to the movement of people, produce, and supplies.
Trending: Vertical Farming
As agriculture moves toward customers, it inevitably moves into urban areas. The intersection of cities and farming is compounded because urban areas continue to encroach onto valuable arable land. With urban real estate substantially more expensive than rural investments, cultivators are getting creative to make urban farming economical and financially feasible.
One of these solutions is going vertical. Vertical farming, an approach pioneered decades ago, is catching on globally. According to Grand View Research, the vertical produce market was valued at $1.02 billion in 2019 and has an astonishing projected compound annual growth rate of 25.7 percent until 2027. Thus far, most vertical facilities are pumping out leafy greens — but several companies are working on vertical technologies specific to cannabis.
Cannabis, a high-value cash crop, is particularly suitable for vertical treatment. However, vertical farming typically happens in more urban areas with higher real estate costs. The startup costs for build-outs and equipment tend to be significantly higher than traditional indoor facilities.
But, the output is potentially three or more times that of conventional farming practices. Moreover, with the ability to stack units vertically, up to three or more tiers high, what was once wasted facility space is suddenly pumping out profits.
Vertical farming makes it financially feasible for indoor crops to move into urban facilities because of the economies of scale. For example, a recent transformation of a MedMen cultivation facility from single tier to vertical has reportedly reduced the cost per pound by 75 percent, doubled production by the square foot, and increased yield by more than 150 percent while decreasing water and fertilizer applications.
Trending: Precision Agriculture
Another prediction for the future of growing indoors is a concept known as precision agriculture. The Canadian Government defines this as “a practice that uses automated data gathering technologies, such as variable-rate mapping, artificial intelligence, and digital imagery, to guide targeted farm management activities (e.g., seeding, input application, harvesting) to improve the sustainability, efficiency, and productivity of agricultural operations.”
Several related concepts fall under this broader umbrella term, including controlled environment agriculture and, in some regards, crop steering. All of which aim to produce more with less through data-driven operations.
The key to precision agriculture is timely, detailed data and AI-powered analytics tools to decode it. Data ensures plants are getting exactly what they need when they need it. Which ultimately means “lower input costs, increased yields, enhanced environmental sustainability, and better-informed management decisions.”
Agrify, Growlink, and Arroyo are a few companies building out comprehensive grow room technologies that create networks of sensors, controls, and algorithms to dial in the environment for bigger yields produced from fewer resources.
Cannabis Cultivators Continue to Contribute to the Future of Agriculture
The evolution of cultivation tech for cannabis has always taken inspiration from the traditional agriculture sectors, like crop steering, grow room lighting and vertical designs.
The cannabis industry has often taken these ideas and built off them, refined them, and pushed them to the limits of what's possible. The current trends in grow house designs for indoor vegetables, flowers, and fruits influence cannabis production and vice versa.