Karhlyle Fletcher   |   March 01, 2022

Smart Cannabis - Environment Sensors Provide Cultivators Deep Intelligence

Smart technology is providing unprecendented insight for farmers.
Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

As the cannabis industry grows into a legitimate segment of the agricultural world, precision through the use of environmental sensors replaces the reliance on skill, experience, estimation and human error. No longer can farmers rely on eyeballing and guessing what their crops need, opting instead for sensors with live reading and data reporting.

How Complicated Can Sensors Be? How Complicated Do They Need to Be?

Countless resources on sensors bring up the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it has transformed cultivators' ability to manage their farms. While IoT technology is groundbreaking, describing how sensors work on cannabis farms as "benefitting from IoT technology" doesn't give much detail. Instead, to understand how sensors work, the focus must be on HVAC and potential events that could damn a harvest.

First and foremost, mold and mildews are a common threat to the industry, with Michigan recalling 64,000 pounds of cannabis in December of last year due to potential faulty testing. That product was worth an estimated $240 million. While the state should require third-party testing, individual cultivators can ensure their flowers are mold-free by using sensors that read airborne particulates. Doing so ensures that there will be no rude awakening when sending their products off for testing.

Otherwise, the basics to monitor are temperature, humidity, lighting, airflow, CO2 levels, pH, electrical conductivity, and vapor pressure deficit. Different sensors are ideal for collecting varying data sets. Naturally, something which reads lighting information won’t tell you anything about soil moisture. IoT integration is attractive because cultivators can manage their farms remotely by reading their sensors and responding accordingly. Farmers can even automate the management of their farms with the proper software.

Sensors differ by their application. Cultivators place soil moisture sensors into the soil, and other sensors hang around the canopy. Environmental information also dictates placement. If a sensor is too close to equipment like fans or lights, its data will not represent the whole grow.

Essential and Nonessential Sensors

A digital thermometer is a relatively simple tool. A household tool found in most homes. Yet, a digital thermometer is also a crucial part of any grow, as cannabis grows best in daytime temperatures around 70ºF to 85ºF. Without controlling for temperature, an entire crop can die off or never meet its potential.

Next, growers must be aware of the humidity in the air because too humid an environment is a breeding ground for mold and mildews. At the same time, with too low humidity, cannabis plants shrivel up and stop producing at maximum capacity. Cultivators keep track of this by using sensors that measure relative humidity. Tracking this specific sort of humidity accounts for the temperature and thus the region of a farm.

Vapor pressure deficit is a related concept calculated by comparing the water content in the air and the water content inside the plant. Measuring the pressure deficit in the air compared to the pressure inside the plant results in a VPD calculation. While this can be a valuable data point for a farmer, it is relatively auxiliary and more a luxury than a necessity. Still, proper humidity control technology is crucial in managing both humidity and VPD.

Light meters are another essential tool no cultivator can skip. Cultivators use this tool to measure the lux given off by their lights. This data allows cultivators to place their lights in the ideal locations to ensure their plants develop healthily throughout all stages of growth.

Otherwise, CO2 and ph readings are often omitted, but at the peril of the operations that do so. The truth is that there are no nonessential sensors or data. However, calculating the electrical conductivity and vapor pressure deficit is intimidating for many fledgling operations. Still, more successful operations use all of the sensors and data available. These include soil pH meters, electrical conductivity sensors, and CO2 sensors. Some more advanced sensors read several data points, streamlining the process for cultivators.

How Do All of These Sensors Contribute to Farm Management?

As discussed, the IoT technology empowers many operations to completely automate, limiting the need for human management almost altogether. With the proper setup, cultivators manage their entire farm from moment to moment, even remotely. However, automation wouldn't be possible without sensors or the software to read the data provided by them.

Even while farming manually, sensors provide cultivators with deep insights needed to bring a healthy harvest from seed to sale with minimal hassle. It's much better to discover a nutrient need or a pesty mildew growth before shipping off a product. Sensors allow cultivators to stay informed and protected from the risks inherent while trusting mother nature for profit.

 

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