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Andrew Sack, VP of cultivation at TerrAscend East

"Space constraints do not need to stop you"

The cannabis industry truly is a special subsector of horticulture. Coming out after years of navigating ‘illicit’ waters, cannabis growing stands out as the most highly technological agricultural sector: unlike tomato or sweet pepper greenhouses, cannabis cultivation facilities are characterized by the advanced technology that is utilized to achieve the best crop. At the same time, getting into such an industry requires a level of knowledge that caught some ‘early adopters’ unprepared, while others were very much aware of what factors into large-scale cannabis cultivation.

“It is crucial that everyone works in conjunction with each other,” Andrew Sack, VP of Operations for TerrAscend East, which owns and operates Ilera Healthcare, says. “When it comes to large-scale cultivation, you need to bring different personalities together, and have them complete so many complicated but crucial tasks: they are not sitting behind a computer, they are moving around constantly, as there are many things to take care of in a large-scale cultivation setting.”

Challenges of running an indoor grow
Of all the things to take care of, there are some that prove themselves to be a bit more challenging than others. “The most complex things would be the control and the irrigation systems,” Andy points out. “They seem very simple, but all the flow rates, pressure, and so on, need to be perfectly exact: there’s little to no room for mistakes.”

Indeed, if one puts fertigation and environmental control together, they can be by far the most complicated things when it comes to growing techniques. “You need everything to work in unison,” he says. “Fertigation can change the environmental control parameters. You need to have a good understanding of electrical work and wiring, and how sensors work to understand how to calibrate them and be able to troubleshoot; because it doesn’t matter what control system you work with; at some point you need to troubleshoot problems.”

Making complexity easy
Working with such complex systems might be very challenging, especially when the cultivation facility is extremely big. However, there is a way to make complex systems more manageable, in smaller scale settings. “Vertical farming,” Andy remarks. “Space constraint does not need to stop you. Many growers opted for vertical growing.” Same goes with TerrAscend. Their facilities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey countryside have only so much area to build in. “If you have a high ceiling facility, you can make the most out of it by double stacking.” In order to put together their vertical cultivation space, TerrAscend selected Pipp Horticulture vertical racks. “They are very professional and have an excellent customer service team,” Andy continues. “Their team came into the facility and did all the installation, allowing us to ultimately double our canopy.”

Thanks to the great experience in the cannabis industry that Andy has, he is very much aware of what is needed to make a large-scale cultivation successful. “Don’t cut corners on the HVAC,” he observes. “When developing indoors, the mechanical aspect is a large percentage of the overall expenses; many growers think that they can reduce that by cutting corners and getting a cheaper HVAC, or trying to downsize it. That’s the first mistake: your revenue depends on how well you can grow your plant, and that is given by how good a grower is at controlling the environment, a lot of which depends on the HVAC.”

Even though the global pandemic is taking its toll on everyday life, the cannabis industry might be one of those sectors that can contribute to the economic recovery of many countries. “Many growers experienced an increase in sales,” he says. “Countries and states are looking at that, and pushed by the trying times caused by the pandemic, I fully believe that more states are going to get on board, and a similar trend will be seen on a global scale.”

For more information:
Pipp Horticulture
2966 Wilson Drive NW
Walker, Michigan 49534
P: 616-988-4044
F: 616-988-4045