Kristina Etter   |   October 17, 2017

Advancing Indoor Agriculture

The rapid increase of the legal cannabis market across the United States is changing the landscape of farming, especially indoor agriculture operations.
Before becoming a freelance cannabis writer, Kristina Etter, spent 20 years in corporate information technology with companies including Maytag Appliances, Wells Fargo Financial, and DuPont Pioneer. With a niche in mobile technology and…

The rapid increase of the legal cannabis market across the United States is changing the landscape of farming, especially indoor agriculture operations. 

The Volksgarden® Single Supra™ Image Courtesy of Cannabis Pharming

 

Money Drives Innovation

Where there is money, there is innovation; and clearly there is no lack of money in the cannabis industry. In a State of Indoor Farming report released in 2016 by Agrilyst, a management and analytics platform for indoor farming operations, cannabis was the most lucrative indoor crop per square foot of indoor cultivation space. Leaping off the charts at $112 per square foot, cannabis growers are seeing about $4.8 million per acre. The second highest ranking indoor crop, greens, reported about half the revenue potential as cannabis.

Cannabis is causing a shift in many industries, the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol industry, and the medical industry. In addition, specialized cannabis cultivation facilities and the systems that control them are driving an entirely new branch of agriculture technology in response to the increased demand for the medicinal herb. Although cannabis has been grown for thousands of years, quality, medicinal cannabis is a highly sensitive crop which demands precise lighting and a delicate blend of water, humidity, and nutrients. Today, high-tech automation systems control many of these operations.

 

Technology Leads the Way

Many agricultural technology companies are leading the way in cannabis-grow technology. In a world where the ultimate goal is to increase productivity of the plants, precise control of the environmental factors they live in is essential.

Fluence Bioengineering, an LED lighting company, announced last December partnering with MedMen, a cannabis cultivation facility in Los Angeles. By converting their traditional single-tier grow into a cutting-edge vertical farm, they were able to ultimately increase their yield by 157 percent. In addition, the new technology also provided,

Decreased cycle-time on some strains

75% reduction in production cost per pound

Decreased energy consumption

Reduced land requirements by 50%

Higher quality final product

A Canadian-tech company, Braingrid, is making the science of data available at the fingertips of master growers. Braingrid uses a series of small magnetic sensors, called Sentrollers, placed in the cultivation facility to monitor various environmental factors including temperature, lighting, moisture levels, pH levels in the soil, and more. In fact, Braingrid claims their Sentrollers can be connected to any sensor in the world. The magic all happens when the data starts compiling in their servers in the cloud, sending alerts and real-time data to any smartphone so owners and their employees can monitor every aspect of the grow from anywhere.

Image Courtesy of Braingrid.io

As with any high-dollar commodity, security itself can be a concern. While security cameras allow you to see what happened after the fact, Hard Car Security has taken the technology of security for cannabis operations to the next level with automated security patrol. These high-functioning robots are equipped with two-way communication, HD cameras, GPS, and a siren; and although they are not currently armed, CEO Todd Kleperis told Forbes, he does hope to incorporate pepper spray into the design someday. The overall goal of the robot is to detect abnormalities and report them to their human counterparts tucked safely in a backroom, making the job of securing millions of dollars of crops easier and safer.

 

Environmental Protections

In the wake of the devastating fires in northern California, one can only wonder how much of the crops would’ve been spared had they been inside indoor grow facilities. In Mendocino County, one of three counties of the Emerald Triangle, even if the crops weren’t directly burned, many plants have been rendered useless due to the smoke, soot, and ash from the nearby wildfires, which could leave behind contaminants which are unsafe for consumption. Large scale disasters such as this could change the landscape of northern California as growers look to protect their crops in the future.

As the legal cannabis industry stretches across the US, technology in indoor horticulture is racing to take full advantage of renewed interest in farming and agriculture. From automated seeding, automated feeding, and automated security and monitoring to automated trimmers, cannabis vending machines, and drone delivery systems, the booming cannabis industry has provided technology companies with a clean slate to create breakthroughs in farming technology. 

 

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