When it comes to growing cannabis, growers should ask themselves: which market am I going to tackle? Even though this might not sound as the most brilliant question, it has a lot of implications for the actual growing process. Indeed, there is a recreational and a medical market. While only a very small number of countries have legalized recreational cannabis, there is a great number of countries that have regulated its medical use. Among these, there are some countries of the European Union, which many reports have forecasted that it will be one of the most important and profitable market, if not the most. Thus, investors, companies, and growers eyed EU as a place where to grow medical cannabis, so to more easily supply the European continent. However, growing for the recreational sector is not the same as growing for the medical one. “Medical cannabis means that it must be GMP compliant,” says Timo Bongartz, General Manager EMEA with Fluence by OSRAM. “It is of the utmost importance to comply with these practices. Thing is, I have seen that these procedures are oftentimes considered too late during the facility layout and qualification of equipment. All of that need to be thought out from the beginning, because this is a highly regulated sector, and growers must be compliant.”
Timo Bongartz giving a speech during the Medical Cannabis Forum, Malta
The three elements of GMP
Timo further explains that GMP basically involves three elements, “Eliminating risk, ensuring product consistency, and patient safety. We as a company provide a GMP checklist, and then design a list of specifications, such as functional design specification, user manual, cleaning manual, equipment SOPs. However, to do so, it is crucial to understand the customer application.” Indeed, Timo points out that one of the biggest challenges is to understand what growers want from lighting. “It is crucial to understand the rationale, and then to act accordingly,” says he. “So, the first thing is to speak the language of plants: what is the DLI and PPFD target? what is the height of the canopy? What is the distance of the canopy from the lighting solution? This is extremely important information to know as this provides the basis to come up with a layout which can supply light in a homogenous way to the plants. This is why it is also important to know which strain is being grown, for instance and how long it is in cloning, veg and flowering phase.
That’s why Timo remarks the importance of having a lighting system that conforms to different specs. “Light is not an on-off, nice to have function, it is one of the most important equipment for the value creation and product consistency. We want to empower growers and allow them to be successful. We will never sell the product only: we provide solutions.”
LED more suitable for GMP
Thus, since GMP is the way to go for growing medical cannabis, Timo observes the LED might be the most suitable option. “If you want to stabilize your production and ensure consistency, and increase cannabinoid profile, you will grow under LEDs.” At the same time, there are still a substantial number of growers who still use HPS lighting. “HPS has two advantages: it is cheaper, from a capital standpoint; it is a very well-known equipment: many people used it, thus if you use it, you know what you get. However, if you are just switching to LED and do not adjust your environmental conditions and cultivation practice, then it is not going to work,” says he.
However, HPS lights produce a lot of heat, which should be balanced out through the HVAC. “Cannabis plants take a lot of light,” Timo explains. “And this could generate a lot of heat. So, it is as if lighting and heating are coupled: you cannot have one without the other. The more light you are going to give to plants, the more heat you are going to produce, the more you are going to ask the HVAC to fix that. Therefore, you can use only so much light, as the HVAC has only a specific capacity. This is why growers that use HPS usually don’t get as many flowers as their colleagues using LEDs.”
Decoupling the heating-lighting couple
“The first advantage of LED is that it is a much more efficient solution,” he points out. “This is truly GMP, as LED ensures product quality and consistency. HPS could be a risk, as you have the heating-lighting couple. Through LED, you can de-couple them, thus allowing more control over the grow.”
On top of that, Timo explains that LEDs are usually digitalized, so to grant a more thorough control on the light given to plants. “Additionally, LED offers the possibility to grow cannabis in a multi-layered fashion, which is something that HPS does not afford as the heat produced would be too much thus inevitably damaging the plants. With LED, you can go up to 25cm close to the canopy. There are so many grow possibilities.”
As the industry matures, GMP standards will become more and more important, “Especially the EU-GMP ones,” says Timo. “These are very high standards that can open the door to almost every international market. Our mission is exactly to share our knowledge and expertise to support growers in their medical cannabis endeavors.”