Like every new sector, the cannabis industry is undergoing a constant evolution as ever more challenges are overcome. Thing is, unlike other industries, the cannabis one is still experiencing the effect of the prohibition era, where growers used to grow cannabis illegally in a basement, or in an attic, in a rather small scale. Therefore, when they found themselves transitioning to the legal sector and dealing with large scale operations, growers are asked to adapt their mentality to this business model.
Too much focus on lights and nutrients
However, since this is not an easy transition to make, especially when a commercial horticulture background is lacking, growers look around for advice and help in order to adjust their processes to their new venture. “A common mistake that I have witnessed is too much of an emphasis on lights and nutrients,” says Av Singh, PhD and his colleague Randy Flemming form Flemming & Singh Cannabis Inc. a turnkey consultancy company. “We mainly focus on cultivation, as there is still a widespread uncertainty when it comes to best practices. However, we also help growers go through the licensing and application process.”
The importance of the growing environment
“To go back to lights and nutrients, you can easily understand this by the number of suppliers currently available on the market,” Av continues. “These are certainly important aspects, but the most important thing is the growing environment. It is of the utmost importance to control the environment carefully in order to prevent pests and pathogens from thriving,” Av explains. “So proper HVAC is a necessity. If you are running around dealing with humidity issues and pest issues, you don’t have the chance to really express your skills as a grower.”
According to Av it is also important to design your cultivation strategy that takes into account the environmental conditions that you grow in. “You need to fine-tune a cultivation strategy that matches the environmental parameters you have set. Here in Canada for instance by regulation we are not restricted by plant number, and so we see flowering rooms in excess of 40,000 sqft. It is very difficult to control the climate in larger rooms, you will create micro-environments where pathogens can thrive.”
Indoor or greenhouse?
It is easier to control these conditions when growing indoor, but Av still thinks that greenhouses can play a part in the industry. “There is always room for greenhouses, they still make a lot of sense when you can grow under a full sun scenario. But even in these situations, it is harder to create a fully controlled environment. In terms of making consistent medicine in the form of flower, a greenhouse isn’t the best choice. However, greenhouse growing can be great for extracts.”
Like other medical cannabis professionals, Av also sees gaining the trust of medical practitioners as one of the major challenges facing the industry. “The cannabis industry isn’t overly proactive on their genetics and breeding when it comes to catering to the pharmaceutical market. Right now it’s still relatively popular to focus on high THC, or high CBD. Really focusing on two compounds only, with little emphasis on terpenes or any of the other hundreds of constituents. The majority of new entrants into cannabis are looking for a consistent and simple medicine. Typically that’s going to happen in chemovars that are moderate in either of those two major cannabinoids. We need to have licensed producers that are more responsive to the needs of these consumers.”
Another challenge that Av sees is that there is a need to ensure diversity within the industry. Since the industry is currently in its growing stages it is the perfect time to introduce a healthy diversity. “We need it in both small scale and larger scaled operations, but we also need diversity in terms of people who are growing it. We want to make sure that the subculture - the people that grew during the period of prohibition are able to enter the space.
“We put emphasis on working with small scale farmers, women, LGBTQ2S+ people, and then also with indigenous people, and minorities,” Av continues. “Specifically the people that were most targeted by the prohibition period. For them, we have a policy of ‘pay what you can, when you can, if you can.’ Which means that our services are essentially free of charge until they have the capacity to pay.”
Flemming and Singh is a turnkey consulting company with a focus on cultivation, who also provide help with the design process and go through the licensing and application process for clients. They provide information from the cultivation to the extraction. They are active globally, but most of their clients are situated in Canada.