How efficient air and water solutions can improve output and outcomes.

Sustainability is a central focus of almost every industry these days. In addition to being front of mind for consumers and prominent in public discussions, it’s a necessary reality for businesses and their leaders, especially in a rapidly changing world where resource limitations, supply chain issues, a warming climate, and inflation are putting more and more stress on the planet and on margins. For the cannabis industry, this not only means reducing resource consumption, but doing so while increasing output and productivity at the same time.

Begin with Improved Output in Mind

For cannabis cultivators, like with most who work in controlled environment agriculture (CEA), sustainability can be a tough equation to crack. The reality is that indoor grows suck down resources. A lot of them. From electricity demands for lighting and the mechanical systems to cool and dehumidify vertical farms, to water use, waste, and logistical impacts for transport and storage, our industry is ripe with challenges.

Sustainable cannabis cultivation begins with the design of the cultivation facility. Over time, we’ve seen successful moves to improve facilities and operations, including progress to swap lighting technologies, make greener choices about power supplies, drive down emissions of transport fleets, or reduce consumables. And while efficient use of resources like water and energy is critical, so is maximizing the genetic output of the plants being grown–both in terms of grams per square foot and in terms of terpene and cannabinoid expression of the finished product. Design solutions that improve yield, quality, consistency, and plant health, without increasing the operational expense of the cultivation facility are often overlooked, and are an essential part of the sustainability discussion.

Solving Microclimate and Drainage Issues

Indoor growers are often faced with microclimates and drainage issues that result in decreased yield and quality issues of their finished product. These are environmental issues caused by poor airflow and result even when efficient systems are in place. They are common in all vertical farming systems, but there are solutions. By thinking a little differently about the challenges of air and water, it is possible to become more sustainable and grow more, high quality flower, with the same or fewer inputs.

After more than a decade of working in indoor agriculture, I’ve seen a lot of advancements in technology and processes. But the one I’m most excited about these days comes from Dual Draft. Their system provides under-canopy and over-canopy airflow integrated to a fully draining plant tray. It is a real game changer for indoor cultivation.

There are 4 Ways Dual Draft solutions manifest in sustainable outcomes:

  1. More of the right airflow with less energy demand. Delivering airflow throughout the plant canopy results in increased vigor, the plant consumes nutrients and CO2 at a more efficient rate, resulting in larger plants and heavier yields. Growing more with the same or fewer inputs improves the efficiency of the production facility.
  2. Water where it’s needed, when it’s needed. This is better for the plant and for the environment. Modern cultivators are embracing a precision irrigation strategy in an effort to be more efficient with this natural resource, as well as to improve the outcomes of their crop. In this strategy delivery of irrigation water to plants is tightly controlled. Complete drainage of the plant media is critical to ensure that this strategy is met.
  3. Decreased pest and disease pressure. This means more predictability and less waste – Microclimate and drainage issues in cultivation are vectors for pests and disease that attack the plants. Controlling these issues reduces the potential of contamination. Stronger, healthier plants are less susceptible to pest, mold, and microbial pressure. Reducing the risk of crop loss and the dependency on artificial means of control such as pesticides.
  4. Bigger, healthier plants result in more yield and higher profitability. Cultivation methodologies that drive yield without increasing operating costs are critical in a market where operational costs are increasing while value of finished goods are decreasing. Research shows that under-canopy airflow opens the stomata of the plant, resulting in increased uptake of CO2, and more vigorous growth.

Better for All

So much of the conversation around sustainability is focused on reducing resource consumption, but sustainability is also increasing output (productivity) with the same resources. The right air and water solutions can result in crop outputs that are better for all–consumers, the planet, and especially growers facing ever shrinking margins.

Pushing Boundaries

To achieve sustainable outcomes, all other requirements of the plant must also be met, including light (photons), water, nutrients, CO2 levels. But given that cannabis cultivators, in particular, are pushing the boundaries of these necessary inputs, in search of better performing plants and superior outcomes, airflow often becomes the missing (or weak) link in the cultivation equation.

Sweet Leaf Madison Capital