There is very little mystery when it comes to popular brands. They’re successful because the customer can count on having a consistent experience. Consumers feel confident that they will always receive the same latte, no matter which location they patronize.
When it comes to purchasing cannabis, this is seldom the case. Cannabis enthusiasts often rant about purchasing a particular cultivar and having different experiences with it each go-round.
To address the issue of inconsistency, growers must embrace repeatable cultivation procedures coupled with granularly controlled cultivation environments to minimize phenotypic plasticity (variability) in the flower’s chemical and phenotypic expression. By deploying modern technology in new and innovative ways, cannabis growers have the opportunity to break from labor-intensive, resource-driven processes that yield inherently variable results.
In this blog, we will explore the historical background that shaped today’s cultivation methods, what consumers expect, obstacles cultivators still face when addressing consumer expectations, and how emerging technologies like Agrify’s family of cultivation solutions can help resolve these issues.
How did we get here?
To understand where the cannabis industry is going and where cultivation is headed, we first need to understand how the cannabis industry got here. Traditional cultivation arose during an era of cannabis prohibition, where it was more important to be discreet rather than efficient. Now, as regulations loosen and we head toward federal legalization, we can anticipate more changes each year. The pace of growth for this nascent yet booming industry will be determined by the adoption of new regulations, the evolution of consumer buying habits, and ultimately the ability of growers and facilities to adapt.
Cannabis growers did not benefit from the knowledge and science that other agricultural crops did over the last 100 years. The application of modern agricultural research and best practices was not adopted due to the clandestine nature of cannabis cultivation. Now, with restrictions lifted, we confidently anticipate these advancements will crossover into modern cannabis cultivation practices.
Over the last 50 years, agriculture has made many advancements to meet the demands of the global food supply, and these advancements are beginning to make their way into the cannabis industry. These advancements include:
- Breeding. These evolving practices can improve crop yield and hardiness.
- Advancements in agricultural equipment. This enables farmers, including cannabis cultivators, to produce more with greater efficiency and less labor.
- Vertical farming. This addresses urban population density and limited arable land, as well as allowing for more precise control over the growing environment.
- Artificial intelligence. The application of artificial intelligence can help detect diseases and prevent crop devastation.
Consumers’ expectations and cultivar consistency
As the cannabis industry migrates from an underground operation to an industry just like any other regulated product, consumers are learning to expect the “Starbucks experience” with each dispensary visit, where every cultivar with the same name should support a nearly identical experience.
However, recreating that experience is much easier said than done. A 2015 study determined that “marijuana strain names often do not reflect a meaningful genetic identity.” Another test of cannabis products found that the THC levels did not match what was advertised. However, the fact remains that consumers identify with the names of these cultivars and have learned to associate certain effects with each.
Let’s look at the cultivar Gelato as an example. This cultivar gained popularity and notoriety for its pungent aroma and powerful fast-acting effects and was cultivated coast to coast after it took off. However, what growers may not have known was that Gelato, like most cannabis strains, produces up to 503 unique chemical compounds in different ratios and proportions. It is the aggregate effect of those compounds that gives Gelato, and every other cultivar, its effect. The amount of each chemical compound produced is determined by a cultivar’s DNA and the environment in which it was grown.
The plasticity of cannabis and the variability in growing environments make providing customers with a consistent experience difficult. This lack of consistency is causing companies to reevaluate their growing methods and incorporate precision growing techniques into their repertoire to minimize variations in their flower quality. These technologies, which other agricultural operations have been able to utilize, are now making their way into the cannabis industry as a standard practice.
Cannabis cultivation consistency issues that still persist
While indoor cannabis cultivation methods have improved significantly in recent years, there is still a gap between traditional indoor cannabis cultivation methods, emerging cultivation technologies, and what needs to be done to attempt consistency expected by consumers. Three major areas that still need to be addressed include:
- Electricity hogs: Cannabis is by far the most energy-intensive industry out there, and energy bills can be in the six figures for the average cultivation facility. This is a remnant of cultivation techniques forced to evolve indoors. However, indoor cultivation is here to stay, and the industry simply needs to find ways to decrease their energy use as a result.
- Too many touchpoints: Limiting human contact with the plant is crucial, as cannabis is sensitive to harmful pathogens that transfer easily, are quick to develop, and are difficult to stop once rooted. These issues can tank an entire harvest, costing the grower precious time and money.
- Lack of reproducibility: Even under tightly controlled conditions, Mother Nature has her way. A slight change in the amount of light, irrigation schedule, or relative humidity levels in the grow environment can lead to drastically different outcomes.
Agrify’s solutions to improve consistency
Solution providers are beginning to address these issues with the application of technology and automation. By leveraging data, growers are empowered to maximize overall quality and yield with fewer touchpoints. That’s where Agrify Insights come in: Our software goes beyond simple cultivation software and tracks thousands of data points, all of which influence the final product. This software automates vast amounts of data collection, which in turn will be used to further optimize the cultivation process and ultimately the quality of the flower produced.
Agrify Insights is integrated within our Vertical Farming Units. Each one of our VFUs is its own contained microclimate, within which a cultivator can have total fine-tuning of what goes on within each unit. This fully scalable solution takes up a fraction of the footprint of a typical indoor grow facility, as VFUs can be stacked three high. Each VFU can contain a different cultivar without impacting any other cultivar around it, too.
For those tackling one of the biggest cannabis cultivation issues to date – energy use – our LED light options can help cut down on electricity use while ensuring plants receive the full spectrum of light they need. Our robust LED rebate program lends our experts to your cultivation facility, helping you plan out precisely how many lights you need and taking you through the convoluted LED rebate process with your utility provider. With this assistance, your grow facility can receive updates worth as much as 50% of the investment you make into energy-saving LED lights and other qualifying Agrify equipment.
We can anticipate the incorporation of software-driven, systems engineered, vertical farming-centric technologies, which will allow growers to utilize a multi-tier cultivation approach to maximize their real estate and their bottom line. Ultimately, thanks to technology like that offered by Agrify, cultivators will be able to grow the highest quality flower with reproducible environments and repeatable practices, delivering consistency of process and product!