Setting up a cannabis cultivation facility is something that requires a lot of knowledge and experience, as these are among the most important elements to ensure the success of any given company. The level of complexity for such facilities is really high, because all the components need to be fine-tuned with each other, and everything should work like a symphony.
Agrify is a US company that provides indoor grow solutions for cannabis and hemp growers. Their expertise and industry network have also allowed them to set up a formative series of videos to further discuss the different facets of large-scale indoor cannabis cultivation. One episode, indeed, focused on the design of the facility and what the things to be aware of are. In order to discuss that, hosts Matt Liotta and David Keller invited Niall McManus and Chris Tenaglia of Valiant America, a turn-key indoor facility solutions provider.
The first step of setting up a facility is of course the selection of the site. “Utilities are the number one thing,” Niall explained. Indeed, the availability of specific resources would dictate the methods and processes that are possible to carry out in the facility. “Utilities have a serious effect on what you are going to do in the building. You might not be able to do certain methods because the utilities do not allow for that. For instance, a facility might be in an area with well water, and the quality of said water might be not as good, so you have to resort to a water tank, but then you would have to deal with the jurisdiction to know what is allowed.”
David Keller remarks: “Water plays such a critical role that it’s not wise to overlook it. Usually, municipalities provide a water report so that you can check yourself the quality of the water. Otherwise, you can send a water sample to a lab to have that tested so to have a better understanding of what one should do. This is such an inexpensive thing to test, and water quality and water availability are crucial to the success of an operation.”
Existing vs new
Once a site has been selected and the methods and processes accommodate the availability of given utilities, there are other thing to consider. First of all, is there an existing building that needs to be retrofitted, or is the facility being built from scratch? “Most times, there is an existing building,” Niall said. “In those events, the first thing we do is to send the architect in to make sure that the building is suitable. Once you do the initial inspection, you can have an idea of what is good or not in the construction.” Niall especially referred to the materials that are used for the construction, and if these can also be used in a cannabis grow setting. “For instance, wood is not good because of the mold that might develop on it. We use mold-resistant materials when building a facility. A common mistake is to not use mold-resistant material for the front door of the facility. Through our design, mold mitigation starts from the front door.”
Humans are the main carriers of pathogens within a grow facility, that is why it is of the utmost importance to start fighting literally from the front door of the facility. “The question is what is the cost of losing the crop when bringing an infestation into the building,” Niall said. “And you cannot start thinking about that stuff as you go, because it would be badly engineered at that point. This is where the design build approach comes into play.”
Indeed, Chris Tenaglia explains that the approach of designing a cannabis cultivation facility is completely different from a traditional building design approach. “On a traditional building, you have the architect and the engineers working together and making up plans,” he said. “Then, those plans go to different contractors. However, if there is an issue, you need to go back to the plan and redo it, which might be redundant for the architect and engineers, and it takes up time. The biggest concern with construction in this industry is time frame: if you have to go back to planning, it might be tough to complete everything on time. You can hear nightmare stories when something like that happens, causing the budget to double.” That is why Chris suggested that engineers and architects should work together with the construction team so to address everything as soon as it's necessary, without going back and forth.
Because of the different approach that the designing and construction of a cannabis facility requires and the complexity of indoor cannabis cultivation, David noted the importance of relying on someone with enough knowledge and experience. “The design of a facility is a very deliberative process if you want the best facility, or you have to work with a competent team that has done this many times before.”
“You have to look at the professionals,” Niall pointed out. “I think that people have to remember that a lot of thought goes into commercial cannabis facilities.”
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