One of the most important elements in cannabis cultivation is heating control. Most of the people that grow indoors don’t have much problem in controlling it, as all the highly technologically advanced equipment allows for utter control of the environment. “But now, cannabis greenhouse cultivation is a big trend,” says Jim Rearden, CEO of BioTherm. “Market metrics are showing that cannabis is becoming more commodified and there is more competition. Growers have started using light deprivation greenhouses, which allow for a 25% to 40% reduced cost of production for final flower products compared to indoor facilities.
Cannabis greenhouse cultivation
At the same time, greenhouses are more difficult to operate. “Greenhouse cultivation is more complex than indoor,” Jim says. “But the building is cheaper to build, which is a huge plus now that there is less capital. The market is also understanding and responding very positively. Thus, if you have the right stuff and the right people, you end up with an extremely profitable operation.”
Yet, heating in a greenhouse remains a big challenge. “Relying on natural sunlight ultimately makes controlling the heating a way more complex job than indoors,” Jim continues. “But heating is not an enemy necessarily, if you focus on the way the cannabis plants have evolved in places in the world where there is more of a tropical environment. Therefore, in order to maximize production and to improve the plants’ sturdiness and health, cannabis plants should have a warm media temperature and cool air temperature. This saves a lot of energy and makes for much better compact, and branching plants: the media temperature rules everything in cannabis.”
Controlling the heat
For more than 40 years, BioTherm has been serving the horticulture industry with their hydronic heating systems for greenhouses, providing growers with innovative approaches for systems, such as a bench heating system, greenhouse perimeter heating, and all kinds of different ways to optimize the temperature of the greenhouse. “We come into the greenhouse, we see the plant, the growing structure, the soil, the medium: this is because the body of the plant, its structure, its spectrum, all needs to have the optimal temperature,” Jim points out.
“We use our water system, which is proven to be the most efficient, and use it to cool down and to direct the heating to those zones that need it for growing reasons, like the root zone, for instance. The systems we produce are extremely flexible and can be adapted to every kind of structure, growing environment and methodology. If you look at a greenhouse, it’s like a cake, it’s layer upon layer. Thus, for instance, we have systems that growers can install on the plant material, whether this is on the floor, the table, or gutter.”
Optimized irrigation water
Aside from that, BioTherm has other divisions as well: one for optimized air, and one for the hydro science department. “Our engineering team wants to create a tool that creates the right humidity for each of the growing stages of the plant, since cannabis needs a specific amount of it in different phases of its growth, thus also preventing dangerous pathogens such as mold and botrytis.”
“At the hydroscience division, we do systems that optimize irrigation water. We have a new technology that puts dissolved oxygen into the irrigation water using a tool that was used for medical applications: we tweaked it and made it suitable for cannabis cultivation. On top of that, we do large sub-irrigation ebb-and-flow floors, we have closed irrigation systems that recycle the water and sub irrigate the plant: this kind of system is becoming of increasing interest for the cannabis world as well.”
Such innovative solutions are particularly necessary for an industry that is getting out of its infancy, thus becoming increasingly competitive. “The cannabis industry started in California and Colorado, and it was a wild west,” Jim says. “Over time, real horticulturists will take over, and you will see much bigger overall sophistication. When it will stabilize, it will become a very solid and pragmatic market. The race to the bottom will always take place, price will constantly be a pressure. We can serve growers for the future because we know so much about greenhouse work, as that’s what we have been doing for more than 40 years.”
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