Revisiting the Evolution of Cultivation IoT

by | Jan 8, 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.

Consistency from one crop to the next is a limiting factor in cannabis cultivation, especially if pharmaceutical preparations are the end goal. Cannabis, a plant with characteristics that can vary wildly depending on minute changes in the environment, continues to challenge growers in the quest for uniformity. A growing number of Internet of Things (IoT) options promise to solve these ongoing issues with consistency.

Cannabis Tech has covered IoT in cannabis cultivation several times over the last few years, but the technology is only just getting started. The only way forward for commercial-scale cultivation is working with IoT. A complex network of sensors integrated into smart software makes granular grow room analysis possible and perfection within reach. This level of evaluation and data harvesting is only feasible with IoT-supported cultivation.

With more companies integrating IoT solutions into the grow room, it's a topic well worth revisiting, time and time again.

The Promise of Consistency from IoT in Cannabis

There is a common thread running through most IoT companies providing services to the cannabis sector — it's the promise of consistency. It's a message repeated over and over across each website.

●      Agrify, an integrated grow system for cannabis and hemp, states, “The future of cannabis relies on delivering a consistent, high-quality experience to the customer.”

●      A new partnership between Hortica, AES, and others details how their IoT solution will “improve quality, yield, and consistency while reducing operating costs and risk.”

●      Braingrid, an expansive software for cultivators, promises growers the “powerful knowledge to grow higher quality products more consistently. Understand microclimates, refine your processes, and perfect your recipe.”

But how does a connected grow room improve on consistency? While each solution incorporates unique components, these technologies typically include a comprehensive network of grow room sensors, full-spectrum environmental controls (water treatment, lighting, HVAC), and more often than not, integrated grow benches or farming units.

All components feed into a dashboard, which spits out a constant data stream of information to allow the growers unparalleled insight into every corner of the grow room. Detailed reporting and analysis allow for perfect, timely adjustments, which improves the consistency of final yield, time to harvest, and of course, the plant profile.

In a world where commercial cannabis facilities are pushing hundreds of thousands of square feet, IoT is the only way to manage such scale feasibly. Beyond simple crop management, growers hope that automation and IoT will provide the level of detail and control required to make the final product predictable and more suitable for incorporation into medicine.

The Evolution of IoT for Cultivation

Rapid technological evolution is happening in grow facilities, both for the home grower and the commercial/industrial producer. On the commercial end of the spectrum, the industry has witnessed some of the most exciting shifts, with increasingly powerful partnerships.

One such partnership, announced in September 2020, is between Hortica, Microsoft Azure, AES minIoT, and Cloud of Things. This unique combination of technology and growers promises to produce “pharma-like cannabis.” Hortica is striving to run multiple remote commercial operations automatically and autonomically.

The system is a complex network of growing hardware, connected via ultra-sensitive sensors that feed into a local mesh network. The overarching analysis and automated controls are held on the Azure Cloud for precision grow room management from anywhere in the world.

Horitca's approach isn't the only IoT solution making headlines in the past year. Agrify announced a $25 million IPO in December 2020. This ag-tech company focuses on smart hardware and cultivation software to improve crop management, from a single unit to the entire facility.

Its innovative crop software comes with preprogrammed or custom Grow Plans based around the grower's goals. Agrify Insights also facilitates optimized planting schedules and the potential to generate plans for 98% continuous utilization of the entire space. It's a data-driven approach that would never be feasible with the human brain alone.

The Future of Automated Grow Rooms

How long will it be until a human cultivator is no longer a requirement within the grow room? Most technologies these days feed all data into a database for grower interpretation. While an easy-to-read dashboard is structured around key grow room metrics, the environment and canopy still need a cultivator's expertise to produce the expected results.

But humans are prone to making mistakes. The more human intervention in the grow room, the higher the risk to consistency. In the future, machine-learning combined with deeper penetration of IoT into growing facilities will lead to dramatic shifts in how we produce cannabis — and the need for any human interference.