Cannabis is a delicate and volatile crop. Unstable conditions and environmental variables can result in wild fluctuations in the expression of the chemical compounds found in cannabis. Experienced cannabis growers know that even the slightest changes in temperature, light, or airflow can affect the quality of their plants and impact their yields.
With the proliferation of retail cannabis, many cultivators have taken advantage of, as well as contributed to, high-tech indoor agriculture solutions. As with the chicken and the egg, the fiscal nature of cannabis has helped develop ag-tech, as much as ag-tech has helped develop cannabis.
Cannabis Tech spoke with David Kessler, the Chief Scientific Officer at Agrify, to discuss how technology provides cultivators something Mother Nature can’t – consistency.
In an Era of Indoor Ag, Cannabis Wins
Talking about agriculture more like a passion project than a job, Kessler said, “By the time I was able to walk and become useful, my parents had my hands in the dirt.” Paired with a love of nature instilled by his grandmother while in grad school, Kessler specialized in enclosed environment farm facility design. Eventually, Kessler was designing research and development centers for Georgia Tech and even consulting on movie sets in Hollywood.
Today, as the CSO at Agrify, Kessler has worked toward evolving agriculture technology from its original conception to make it more applicable for cannabis production. He believes that as much as technology is shaping the cannabis industry, the industry is also shaping technology.
“Environmental ag was really born out of early concerns about food production and the rising population,” Kessler explained. “But growing lettuce at 99 cents a head, there’s not a lot of margin there. So, with that in mind, there’s been huge strides [in technology] driven by the fiscal potential of cannabis.”
As a non-plant-touching ancillary business, Agrify doesn’t actually grow cannabis. However, with the help of their clients, they’ve been able to prove that consistent conditions, combined with quality genetics, will produce a consistent chemical composition in cannabis at each harvest.
The Proof is in the Percentages
Kessler explained that in large indoor operations, there is potential for microclimate pockets or small regions within a cultivation facility that are slightly different from the surrounding area. These variances, however slight, can lead to chemical variability within the plant.
Referencing results from a recent cannabis competition called “The Grow Off,” when cuttings from the same cultivar were given to 25 different growers, final lab analysis varied by as much as 85% in cannabinoid production and more than 500% in terpene content depending on care and environment.
“When you look at that potential variability and see an industry that is moving toward a CPG form factor, it’s hard to understand how products with that level of inconsistency are going to get traction,” Kessler commented.
Using enclosed growth chambers, dubbed Vertical Farming Units (VFUs), Agrify can create, reproduce and granularly control the environment to ensure uniform conditions. With specific recipes or grow plans, cultivators can provide the optimal environment for each cultivar which, in turn, delivers the best, most consistent yields.
“The more consistently we can reproduce the environment, the more consistent yields cultivators will have,” Kessler added. And now, he has the data to back up that claim.
In a recent press release, Agrify provided the lab analysis of ten harvests of two different cultivars grown by one of their partners. The results showed only slight variances in the chemical composition from one harvest to the next:
- Lemon Haze displayed a variance of just .38% phytocannabinoid content, only a .02% variation on total terpenes.
- Candy Cane showed just a .67% variance in cannabinoid potency, while terp content varied only .08% across ten harvests.
“We aren’t achieving these results; our clients achieve these results using our technology. But we figure, if they are growing the plants, then it is our job to support them in pushing the limits of each strain’s genetic potential becasue when our clients are successful, then we’re successful,” Kessler commented.
Data is Still King
Data, data collection, and data analysis are critical elements in nearly every industry, and cannabis is no different. Kessler stated, “Automated data collection is one of the key features.”
Agrify’s VFUs record over 850,000 points of data, per chamber, per year. “By constantly recording the internal environment in multiple ways, we’re able to reproduce that environment and minimize chemotypic variations,” Kessler elaborated.
Through the aggregation of data, clients can choose to share their information to help contribute to the body of collective cannabis knowledge, or they can opt out and keep their “secret sauce” a secret.
Automation Doesn’t Mean Human-less
Although Kessler foresees more technology in the future of cannabis cultivation, he also believes there will always be a need for a human touch. While cameras can monitor crops and artificial intelligence can, at times, predict problems before we see them, although you still need a hands-on/eyes-on approach with cannabis. As Kessler concluded in a final statement, “At Agrify, we want to empower growers, not replace them. We simply offer the tools that help them push the genetic potential of their plants to elicit the most consistent, highest quality cannabis possible.”