Sarah Ratliff   |   September 10, 2019

How Technology Can Boost the Prospects of Artisan Cannabis

While craft beer producers have worked in the shadows cast by the giant beer companies, in cannabis, small-scale production has dominated from the beginning. The type of specialized production associated with artisan cannabis has long been the rule rather than the exception. More significant players are coming, but artisan cannabis will still have a presence as long as producers continue to meet their customers’ expectations.
Following 20 years in the corporate world—culminating with biotech giant Amgen in Southern California, where she worked in health outcomes—Sarah Ratliff and her husband bought an organic farm on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Today…

Artisan cannabis producers strive to create a customized user experience, following organic growing principles that align with modern-day ecological sensibilities. The quest to fill micro-niches is the standard practice in artisan cannabis, and any technology they adopt must maximize their ability to exploit these opportunities.

One professional striving to energize the artisanal niche through scientific research is Christopher Harkins, the Chief Operating Officer at NUG, a Bay Area company that creates specialized cannabis products for California consumers.

“Artisan cannabis companies offer meticulously extracted concentrates, edibles, and other innovative items produced via state-of-the-art lab technology,” he explains. “Artisan cannabis companies have the personalized, local feel of a small business, even if they do have wide distribution.”

With its heavy focus on high-tech research and development, NUG has become a significant player in California, expanding beyond the range of the ordinary artisanal supplier.

 “I love being able to create specialized, unique products that appeal to different demographics,” Harkins says. “We still create products for the experienced cannabis user, but now there’s a little something for everyone, including beginners and the canna-curious.”

On the surface, artisan cannabis is defined by the natural simplicity associated with organic agriculture. However, in its drive for specificity and diversity, opportunities to apply advanced technology are significant and proliferating rapidly.

Genetic Innovation in Artisan Cannabis

Research and development in genetics can help artisan cannabis solidify its standing with potential clients. Artisan cannabis producers must deliver on their promise to provide quality and reliability in addition to astounding levels of variety, and genetic science can help them get there.

The potential to further customize aroma and flavor is genuine, and the technology to make it happen is moving forward at an accelerating pace. One professional determined to make an impact in this area is Jordan Zager, co-founder of the Washington state biotech startup Dewey Scientific.

“I started this company with a mission of delivering more standardized, resilient, and productive cannabis crops using modern scientific tools and methods,” he explains. “It’s no secret that there is a fairly large knowledge gap between what we know about cannabis compared to other commonly cultivated crops, at a genetic level. My true passion is in the research, development, and commercialization of this unique and understudied plant.”

Current Dewey Scientific R&D projects are seeking to enhance the quantity and quality of the cannabinoids and terpenes manufactured by cannabis plant trichomes, which means improved odors and flavors and stronger (yet safe) therapeutic or mind-altering effects. Efforts like these can offer added spice, texture, and depth to the artisanal cannabis niche, where subtle changes are rewarded by discriminating consumers.

“It’s simple,” Zager states. “Artisan cannabis is the future of cannabis. It’s what the ‘cannasseurs’ are buying, and it’s what every producer is attempting to make.”

Regardless of the size and scale of their production, cannabis growers and breeders can benefit from more refined and precise genetic knowledge and the development of more exact techniques for controlling and predicting genetic outcomes. But for artisanal growers, where niche is everything, genetic science will help them reach their full potential.

Let There Be Light—but Make it Good Light

Genetic research is at the forefront of the attempt to apply science and technology to artisanal cannabis production. At each stage of production, appropriate technology consistent with principles of sustainability can benefit growers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.

One area where innovation in equipment and technology is making an impact is in lighting. Indoor cannabis growing facilities need ample quantities of light, which can cost a bundle unless the best-available technologies are deployed.

Noah Miller, CEO of Black Dog LED, is proud of the achievements of his company’s lighting division.

“Black Dog LED offers the only true, complete spectrum from UV (ultraviolet) and IR (infrared) and the proper balance of colors in the commercial cannabis space,” he says. “These two items allow us to grow cannabis that has higher levels of active compounds such as THC, CBD, and terpenes.”

Black Dog LED lighting systems can be scaled up or scaled down depending on the size of the client, and Miller’s company has helped many artisan cannabis producers trim their energy budgets. Saving money on energy consumption is a primary motivation for many forward-thinking cannabis entrepreneurs since cannabis production tends to be an energy hog when appropriate technology is not applied.

Automation and Artisan Cannabis

Automation is slowly but surely taking over cannabis, and the situation in the artisan cannabis sector is no different. Completely automated hydroponic units ensure perfection in nutrient feeding, lighting, watering, and temperature. For indoor growers who want to control conditions as precisely as possible, this type of equipment can be both a money- and an energy-saver, fitting the needs of artisan producers who want to create a more sustainable profile.

Regardless of the size of the operation, cannabis production is a notoriously high user of energy and water. This problem is challenging to conquer since the plants require such inputs to produce efficiently. Consequently, automated systems that carefully control water and energy usage have much to recommend them for artisanal producers, who pride themselves on their commitment to environmental responsibility.

The Promise of Solar Energy in Cannabis

As the price of solar energy continues to decline, making it competitive with grid-produced electricity, more and more cannabis producers are likely to install solar panels as a way to cut costs and decrease their carbon footprints. One company that has gone off-the-grid entirely is Enterprise Farms, an Oregon outfit that sells specialized flowers and extracts under the trade name Artisan Grown.

With their implementation of high-efficiency hydroponic systems, low-cost lighting, and rich, organic nutrient formulas, Enterprise Farm has been a pioneer in sustainable cannabis production. Their adoption of solar technology represents a deepening of their commitment to using appropriate technology whenever possible, and it is helping set an example that other artisan cannabis growers, manufacturers, and retailers are sure to follow.

Solar energy is a rising force destined to transform the way the cannabis industry uses energy and impacts the environment. This movement is an essential development, in a time when society desperately needs to transition away from the fossil fuel economy.

Artisan Cannabis and Appropriate Technology: An Unbeatable Combination

Technology may seem less critical for artisan cannabis production. After all, this is a sector that enthusiastically embraces—and eagerly markets—its ”hands-on” approach to the planting, nurturing, harvesting and processing of cannabis plants and flowers.

However, even here, technology has its applications, and those who fail to perceive the opportunities provided by technology will be missing the boat. Appropriate technology combined with an attention to detail will give artisanal producers the edge over their competition, and no one who wants to survive in this niche can expect to do so if they’re unwilling to consider adopting technological solutions when doing so will not compromise their integrity or vision.

 

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