Grower's COVID pain points and strategies for after the crisis

The Coronavirus pandemic has dealt a major blow to the global economy. The lockdowns and social distancing measures have forced a number of businesses to stop their operations. Even though certain sectors have been allowed to keep working, their processes had to be re-evaluated to accommodate social distancing. In those countries where the cannabis industry is regulated, growers had to adapt to this new normal. “The Corona crisis has posed a whole new set of challenges to growers,” Colin Ferrian, Director of Enterprise Solutions at urban-gro, explains. “Primarily, we’ve seen growers experiencing a lot of problems with the reduced workforce caused by social distancing. This has also led to workforce restrictions, stacked turns, and many growers going on leave to stay closer to their families. On top of this, initially there was a product demand uncertainty that hasn’t helped to sort things out easily.”

A ripple effect
Colin further explains that the reduced daily workforce has had a ripple effect on the whole business. “If you are a grower and your team of 20 is cut down to just 5 elements, you have fewer opportunities to operate critical equipment or to spot serious issues, like mites, for instance. Additionally, it doesn’t allow for proper training of the team, as there is often no time left for that. This is a huge issue if you want to focus on crop quality and consistency.”

The product demand uncertainty remained unchanged, even though there was an increase during the pandemic. “Widespread uncertainty has prevented growers from hiring more personnel, especially in such a knowledge-based sector where it is difficult to hire truly skilled people,” Colin observes. “When a new grower comes to a new facility, chances are that they will find different equipment from what they were used to; it is rarely a seamless transition.”

Immediately spot variations
That is why urban-gro has leveraged its experience in helping commercial cannabis growers across the country to develop ‘gro-care,’ a virtual support solution that allows growers to constantly monitor their equipment. “We created gro-care because we wanted growers to be able to immediately spot any slight variation in the cultivation facility,” Colin points out. “If a controller or something in the facility goes outside of its standard parameters, gro-care notifies the grower of what is happening, so that they can fix it immediately. The software has all those features that give peace of mind to growers. For instance, you can see the design of the facility alongside the equipment manuals: in this way, if there is something to be fixed, it is easy to reference the appropriate manual, thus facilitating the maintenance process. A regular equipment maintenance schedule is indeed another crucial characteristic of success with gro-care.”

Improving efficiency
At the same time, gro-care does not only provide remote monitoring, but it also carries out reports that show system optimization usage. “This way, growers and executives can see how well the equipment has been operating. Say that your controller has not been optimized for a specific nutrient, a grower could better work on quantifying, resulting in an up to 3% improvement in the yield. This ultimately leads to thousands of dollars of incremental profits generated by the saving on operating expenses.”

On top of that, gro-care can also train employees through a series of educational videos that provides them with the knowledge necessary to work flawlessly. “The staff training is a really big item,” Colin remarks. “When one of your associate growers is capable of repairing a piece of equipment that‘s gone down, this gives tremendous peace of mind to the operation as a whole.”

All key features of gro-care are specifically designed to improve the efficiency of cannabis cultivation during these trying times in a way that inevitably improves the operation for the time being and the future. “Growers can benefit from this crisis when they can find deficiencies in their processes, because they are going to retain that efficiency, which is going to make for a sustainable business,” says Colin. “The macro issue is that growers are being forced to grow profit, but they don’t have the opportunity to grow revenue. It is hard to get funding and you have to be profitable. What you have to do is to expand your margins somehow. We understand that growers can only push revenue so much, but we’ve identified things that they can do to expand the margin. When they are successful, we are successful.”

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