Far in the countryside in the Netherlands, in a place that might as well be called ‘the center of the middle of nowhere’, there is a cannabis cultivation facility whose aim is to advance the knowledge on cannabis cultivation, with a special focus on standardization – which is one of the main challenges of the sector as a whole.
“Setting up such a facility was definitely not easy,” says Eric Uleman, managing director of CannNext. “I am specifically referring to the whole licensing and security aspect. We had to work hard to secure our research license; of course, that was just the start of the journey.” Indeed, before getting to the beating heart of the facility, Eric takes care to explain the meticulous security plan that he had to come up with together with the local police. “There are security guards, cameras everywhere, and a ‘shield’ that sees and registers everyone entering and moving around the building. We had to make a plan that took into consideration any possible scenario. Being among the first meant that best practices were still nowhere to be found, and therefore we had to make everything from scratch.”
Entering the facility
Once inside the building, the first thing that catches the eye is the stacking of stylish looking shipping containers, where CannNext’s cannabis is grown. “We wanted something that gave us the best control over the growing environment, but on top of that, we wanted something that was also easy to move.” Indeed, these shipping containers have been developed by CannNext together with different partners from the horticulture industry to design the shipping containers with top-notch technology and systems. “We brought together some of the most renowned horticultural suppliers to design our growing containers.” During the latest webinars organized by CannNext, Eric has announced that now the company is going to offer such turn-key solutions to growers around the world. “These containers are designed keeping in mind all those research labs, universities, and medical cannabis growers that want to innovate quickly and realize new techniques, so they can fully focus on product quality.” The Turn-Key-Grow is basically a growth climate cell that is pre-fab and tested locally, allowing the best growing conditions possible. “On top of that, they are remotely accessible 24/7 thanks to the harvest monitoring. In addition, at CannNext we offer 24/7 grower support to help growers and organizations set up professional cultivation standards.”
This is because the CannNext mission, since the company’s inception, has been to bring standardization to the cannabis industry, and their cultivation has been following different principles which ultimately led them to a certain degree of standardization. “This has also led us to develop a cloud-based infrastructure for autonomous medical cannabis growing,” Eric points out. “We will be using the data we have gathered over the years, and we will use it to analyze a given grow environment and decide through an AI what the best decision to take is. Bluntly put, this is a decision-support solution that helps growers understand potential issues and know what the solutions are.”
Different grow rooms for different processes
At CannNext’s facility, there are different climate cells: in two of them, they grow cannabis according to different parameters to see what the best conditions for specific genetics are; in another container, there are the mother plants; finally, in the last one, there are the cuttings. In the room right before the container, a computer controls everything that is happening in the cells. “These are equipped with climate systems, irrigation and fertigation control,” Eric says. “They are equipped with LED lights, which can be adjusted according to the plants' needs – like every other piece of equipment in these containers.”
When entering one of the containers, Eric took care to dim down the light, which anyway did not prevent the whole cell to shine of a very unique and captivating pink/purple light. “Everything here is about standardization and optimization,” says Eric, as he enters the container. In there, two rows of cannabis plants run along the full extent of the container. “These are two different genetics,” he explains. “One is CBD rich, while the other is THC rich.” The most striking detail of the plants is that they all look the same; especially at this time, when CannNext is right in the harvesting process. “The CBD plants are performing incredibly well, as well as the THC of course. At the same time, the latter was put in this room just to see if a greater light intensity would have produced a greater yield.” In the container right next to this, indeed, the same genetics is grown under different conditions. “Even though the plant received more light here, the results are not that different from the same plants in the other container,” Eric observes. “This proves that a greater light intensity does not necessarily translate into a greater yield.”
The container for the mother plants is slightly smaller than the others. In there, CannNext is also testing some LED lights for seed germination. “This ultimately will allow us to have a full ‘recipe book’ to give to our customer, where they can follow the guidelines from seed-to-harvest, thus ensuring always the same result,” Eric says.
The CannNext facility is the demonstration of how Dutch knowledge on horticulture can be applied to medical cannabis growing to achieve the consistent results that many growers have a hard time to realize. “Control and uniformity, this is what these containers are all about,” Eric remarks. “The more you structure, the less you have to fix. Designing such a growth climate chamber was surely a challenge, but the results we are getting are amazing to say the least. We now want to offer the same opportunity to growers all around the world. We offer such a standardized solution that allows companies and researchers to achieve the desired uniformity and operational excellence. Being such a young industry, it is of the utmost importance to learn something new every day, and that is exactly the culture here at CannNext.”