The National Cannabis Industry Association presented the Cannabis Business Summit last week, June 24-25, in Denver. The two-day business conference featured inventors, investors, growers and experts on cannabis cultivation, who have been given pass from the underground through the legalization and legitimization of the cannabis business.
In addition to the trade show, there was a slate of scheduled panel discussions. One panel, Grow 101: Cultivation Facility Build-Out and Management Best Practices, discussed the challenges faced by marijuana cultivators as they strive for quality and efficiency in their grow operations.
The panel featured Ed Rosenthal, a master gardener from Quantum 9, Inc., who is also well known for his books on cannabis cultivation and being a columnist at High Times for two decades. Also on the panel were Nick Hice, owner and founder of Denver Relief Consulting, and Cody Bass, owner of Tahoe Wellness Cooperative in California. Bass also took second place in the Amsterdam Cannabis Cup in 2013. The panel was hosted by Jaime Lewis, the COO of Colorado-based Good Chemistry.
According to the discussion, there are any number of ways to grow and cultivate marijuana. The light and media, such as soil or hydroponic media, should be experimented with to determine the best growing practices. However, experiments ought to be limited in scope to prevent waste and losses in grow operations. In essence, the panel said to look at yields from experiments on small scales, and consider the costs of the technology against what can be earned from the yield.
Rosenthal said that rather than thinking about yield in terms of lights used, the marijuana crop yield should be thought in terms of yield per watt. Furthermore, growing many small plants as opposed to fewer large plants improves yield per wattage. The reason being that smaller plants take less energy to grow, and proportionally, many small plants have more surface area than the same mass in fewer large plants. In marijuana cultivation, it is the surface area of the plant that is ultimately what’s valuable, according to Rosenthal. What grows beneath the surface is just stalks and branches, but takes water and energy to grow all the same.
“Using the Sun, in my opinion, is the real turn we need to make as an industry,” Bass said. One reason is that sunlight is free. Another is that the sun’s light is way more powerful than a set of grow lights could ever be. Perhaps the most obvious benefit to using the sun as a light source is that it does not cost money. The panel highlighted reasons such as these when they agreed the Sun is part of the future of the cannabis industry.
“Investing in real estate where cannabis is growing best is the best investment in my line,” Bass said he tells people who ask him how they can get involved in the business. Bass believes the sun presents the opportunity to decrease the carbon footprint.
Bass discussed the need for the industry to start acting responsibly under its growing (no pun intended) legitimacy. “If we continue in this way, [the cannabis industry] is going to be looked at as having a very negative carbon impact,” Bass said. Similarly, Rosenthal called marijuana a wasteful, polluting industry. The blame he places goes to the decades of illegality for the plant, as well as current stringent regulations in the legal cannabis market.
Hice talked about the business side of grow operations, and how designing the operations should reflect workflows. “Spend a few extra dollars to pay consultants, to pay people that have been there, who have paved that road ahead of you. The few dollars you’re going to spend compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that you can possibly lose by building a facility in the wrong way, or taking shortcuts is really going to hamper your production,” Hice said.
As the industry evolves, the panel said they hope outdoor and greenhouse grow operations become the new normal for marijuana cultivation. Bass would like to see greenhouses with LED lights to be used only as lighting supplements in the winter months. Furthermore, these lights should be powered by solar panels, to offset the carbon footprint from their energy usage.
Likewise, Rosenthal wants to see zero-waste greenhouses, where all water and fertilizer are captured and reused. “Planting mix is a waste of the environment,” Rosenthal said, “If it’s not hydroponics, it’s a waste.” Hice pointed to the tomato industry as an example of a high-tech, low-waste, year-round growing operation that uses hydroponics, and captures and reuses water and fertilizer.
After asking the crowd in attendance who has grown marijuana and who hasn’t, Rosenthal issued the following warning to people who haven’t grown it: “Don’t start. Marijuana might not be addictive, but growing it certainly is.”