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The Future of Cannabis Cultivation

Seedsman’s Dr Gary Yates, also the Chief Scientific Officer at Pharmaseeds, went to GreenTech in Amsterdam recently.

GreenTech is the global meeting place for all professionals involved in horticulture technology. GreenTech focuses on the early stages of the horticulture chain and production issues relevant to growers.

And while it’s primarily an exhibition surrounding horticulture in general, there’s a large focus on cannabis cultivation.

Here’s what Dr Gary got up to.

Emerging Technologies for Home Growing

After a long layoff of live events, it’s good to get back out on the conference/fair/expo circuit. Of all the places where these expos appear, Amsterdam provided a fitting home for the GreenTech cultivation show.

This expo does not cater exclusively to cannabis cultivation – in fact, only a small corner of the fair was dedicated to our favourite plant. However, Amsterdam is a suitable host considering the vast amounts of cut flower, vegetables and horticulture grown in the Netherlands. It has been the European cannabis powerhouse for a lifetime!

For those who don’t know, the Netherlands has done more than its fair share of pioneering in cultivation too, as a great deal of hydroponic innovation originated and developed there. In fact, most of the cannabis flower available in coffee shops is reportedly grown using hydroponic methods. This will become clearer in the next few months as the country moves away from its ‘source from anywhere’ model to a model that sees only ten cannabis cultivation companies providing the entire Netherlands with cannabis products.

It was an absolute pleasure to be joined by legendary cultivators Jorge Cervantes and Stefan Meyer for this expo.

Jorge literally wrote the book on cannabis cultivation and is an outstanding source of knowledge and information. Stefan, who also has an excellent knowledge base, has been an entrepreneur in cannabis for over 20 years, based in Switzerland, where he has achieved a substantial body of work in the space.

Now we have the setting, let’s discuss cultivation!

Cannabis Lighting

Unsurprisingly, the presence of LED light manufacturers outnumbered everything else. More surprisingly, however, most of them were very high quality, with products already proven in the field.

Key points include the 1000watt LEDs, which will test the resolve of those still using HID (High-Intensity Discharge) type lights (such as high-pressure sodium/HPS). Some of the manufacturers had customisable layouts and shaped designs for all types of room setups. Almost all had remote controls built-in, and the better ones included variable light spectrum and variable intensity.

Whether you are a LED convert or remain faithful to HID lights, it would be hard not to be impressed with some of the LED technology on display. Interestingly, not one light manufacturer present was showing HID lighting, with all displaying their LED systems.

From simulating sunrise and set to simply having the ability to dim or brighten the room from your smartphone finely, LEDs are here to stay, and more and more growers are moving towards them. If you’re not a fan of LEDs, fair enough – but don’t sleep on the advancements of this technology.

It’s getting fascinating and becoming more comparable to the older style of lights. As the LED lighting area is so saturated with manufacturers, there appears to be a slow natural culling of the inferior ones. For those who provide LED lights, we are now seeing the better ones thrive whilst others wither in terms of quality of products due to customer uptake and testimonials from commercial growers.

Robots and Monsters!

The next categorisation comes from the observation of the innovation around automation! Silly language aside, there was a great deal on display regarding automation. Everything seemed to be on display, from advanced robotics with integrated artificial intelligence (AI) to more mechanical-based technologies.

Budget restrictions notwithstanding, it would appear possible to achieve a completely automated process from seed planting all the way through to dispatching products, all with the flick of a switch! (well, there is a bucketload more to it than that, but that’s where it could end up).

Each aspect of the cannabis growing cycle can be automated; if all were combined, it could be completely autonomous. Whether or not complete automation is desirable or necessary, it stands to reason that for particular situations, at least, it might be helpful to get robots to do the heavy lifting.

For example, those who are physically unable to manage their grows, or, of course, why robots were built in the first place – for commercial-scale operations. From a home growers’ perspective, most of the automation is cool but over-the-top for the scale on which they generally operate.

However, many home growers already use automatic systems, such as for feeding/watering, day and night period control, temperature and humidity control, and so on. This type of innovation generally debuts at expos such as these, so in some respects, it is a little glimpse into what’s coming.

Red Eyes

The most interesting robotic technologies include the use of sophisticated specialised cameras with decision-making AI which, for example, can be programmed to: Pick ripe fruit/veg (leaving unripe ones behind), detect early onset of pathogens such as powdery mildew and even deter would-be robbers by telling them to “get out!”.

Couple this ‘robot eye’ with an incredibly dexterous robot arm with interchangeable tools (i.e. hands), and it is possible in theory to have machines detect when cannabis buds are ready for harvest. Trichomes would provide the shift in the light spectrum at maturity for the robot eye to ‘see’ the difference between immature and mature.

Once the branch was mature, the robot arm would cut the stem, trim the buds, and hang ready for drying. Amazing!

Although this is not exactly within the enthusiast’s reach (mainly due to budget), technologies such as this often start out unattainable, only to slowly make their way down the supply chain to the consumer level.

This is something to keep an eye on for those who may need this type of assistance. Technologies like this using cameras will eventually make their way into the grow shops. This rationale is based on the idea that cameras can detect certain wavelengths of light that humans cannot. For the home grower, early identification of, for example, disease can provide the grower with a crucial window for treatment before the disease really sets in and takes over.

Cooling and Humidity

The integration of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) is no new thing to cannabis cultivators. However, some of the more recent upgrades really provide neat solutions to ongoing grow room problems.

For example, mist generators for cooling and increasing humidity. At first glance, this looked to be confined to the propagation side of the grow spectrum, but after enquiry, it appears greenhouse-wide cooling can be done using a high or low-pressure fogging system.

This is especially useful in open ventilation systems, where some control of the environment is possible, but generally, high temperatures cannot be controlled – or at least are not as dialled – as would be in a closed-loop system.

Fogging must be done with filtered (RO ideally) water to reduce residual salts from staining plants and equipment. If used correctly, these fogging systems can significantly reduce energy use whilst providing an effective air cooling that most growers can only dream of! As mentioned above, these are already scalable and can be used in propagation systems for creating a dense mist. Those with low humidity or high-temperature issues should have a closer look.

But bear in mind electricity and water are a dangerous combination. Therefore fog/mist generation must only be used in a grow room adequately set up for it, with no issues of water getting where it shouldn’t be.

Drones

This was a mini-highlight of the expo; seeing how drones are being integrated into cultivation is terrific. From insect control to foliar spraying, drones are increasingly being adapted for use in cultivation. Insect control was hard to understand the conception of how it worked due to the precision required for such delicate work.

But as AI advances in combination with sophisticated camera systems, the potential here is limited only by the programmers/users’ imagination.

Impressively, both outdoor and indoor drones existed, and by far the most impressive drone at GreenTech was a €250,000, 1-hour flight time, self-charging, completely autonomous AI drone for outdoor fieldwork. It would monitor the entire grow area, collect data and send it back to a central hub. This incredible drone can be scheduled and left to work in an area independently with no intervention and has a security feature for warding off intruders or hungry birds. It can even detect pathogens and water stress, monitor plant health, and provide regular images of the field for remote management.

Will Robots Grow our Cannabis?

Robots and AI make good on ensuring consistency is as high as possible, which is something that the medical cannabis industry could use. However, automation comes at the potential cost of disconnecting from the plant.

Most growers have a strong love for the plant, and further automation might remove some of that interaction. Growers often bond with their plants in a way that might not be possible through complete automation. Nonetheless, some of the technologies coming through will make great additions to the home grow rooms, which can sometimes be extremely labour-intensive. Certain parts of the process being automated would really help with the workload and allow more focus on the plant itself.

GreenTech was a fantastic expo with more things on display than it would be possible to write about. The innovation in cultivation remains impressive, and seeing it all on display in one place was a terrific experience.

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.

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