When Eric Culberson arrived in 2015 as Columbia Care’s senior cultivation manager, the vertically integrated cannabis company was operating in three U.S. markets. Today, that number totals 18. The task of managing production for multiple facilities located in different parts of the country comes with inherent challenges.
Growers must manage several environmental processes concurrently to optimize yields and avoid potential losses. For Culberson, overseeing multiple sites would have been exponentially more taxing if he didn’t have access to an automated control system. In 2014, shortly before Culberson arrived, the company deployed a system from Argus Controls to help combat a devastating mold problem at its Chino Valley, Arizona, greenhouse.
The primary purpose of the system was to track and monitor temperature and humidity and the timing of tasks, such as closing blackout curtains. Today, Argus serves as the primary control system for 13 of the company’s 18 cultivation sites.
“The mold problem was only part of the reason we installed Argus,” Culberson says. “Some of the other reasons these days are the ability for me to remote access any facility from anywhere in the country and improve or troubleshoot their situation. I can also pull graphs and data from each individual location and use it to assess expected yield, make improvements, and even get predictions on equipment failures.”
The mold problem at the Chino Valley greenhouse wiped out an estimated 500 pounds of usable material, according to Culberson, who now serves as Columbia Care’s vice president of horticulture. The Argus system provided the cultivation team with time-sensitive information that helped managers quickly address conditions that were leading to mold.
Initially, the Chino Valley team used Argus as a data logger—collecting information from the 25,000-square-foot greenhouse about temperature, humidity, and dew points over time, including insight into when these variables were reaching risky thresholds. “By installing that Argus system, it gave me the opportunity to understand when my environment was crossing over into the risky, non-advantageous world,” Culberson says.
The Argus system also enables automated control of various environmental systems, such as exhaust and fan vents, based on thresholds pre-established by the user. “I was able to manipulate the situation in my grow and know exactly what the impacts were over time,” Culberson says.
The result: Within two to three months, the Chino facility had nearly eradicated the mold problem by having real-time insight into potentially risky conditions.
Today, Columbia Care has expanded the use of Argus to view and aggregate data from any environmental source across multiple locations in the U.S. The company deploys the Argus Omni Sensors, which are single module devices to measure temperature, relative humidity, light and optional CO2, throughout its facilities and different rooms. Columbia Care also uses handheld meters that measure similar variables as well as wind speed, water flow and pH.
The information is delivered to an internal network where Culberson can download data tables and compare each location remotely to identify any outliers without having to visit each facility in person. “We run a harmonized program,” he says. “That means everyone should be doing the same thing, with the same equipment and materials.”
Culberson also receives automated alerts via text messages and email if something has strayed from acceptable levels. Another benefit is the ability to manage cultivation staff more efficiently. Finding and training highly skilled greenhouse workers is a common challenge for many cultivators. The Argus system automates many processes that they would otherwise need to understand and perform manually. This is critical for Columbia Care because the company runs a consistent, harmonized cultivation program across all of its facilities.
“I can put in all of these thresholds and parameters for growing without having to find the right person to manage them,” Culberson says. “The Argus system allows us to not have to find that perfect resource as far as the labor pool goes and train them on how we want them to act and react.”