Joel Fuzat, Alps

Bigger is not necessarily better: "High plant density with shorter plants is more profitable and efficient"

Among the different mergers and acquisitions that happened recently in the cannabis industry, there was one that is going to influence future cultivation facility projects greatly. This was the acquisition by Australis Capital of ALPS, the greenhouse design company behind numerous vegetable and cannabis projects, such as Vertical Harvest and Aurora Sky. “Alps is a greenhouse design company with many successful cannabis projects under our belt,” Joel Fuzat with Alps says. “We have a multi-stage process where we come to deeply understand what the client’s requirements are, taking the time to fully appreciate and align with what our clients want to produce. This is because our work is individually tailored, and we want to take customers through the entire planning stage, including a deep exploration of the business case, before we start executing the project. Our work with a large variety of clients has provided a wealth of knowledge on optimal outcomes, which we can pass on to our new clients. We think it’s better to understand the expected outcomes before shovels hit the ground, in order to avoid change orders and other delays.

Joel Fuzat

At the same time, ALPS’ job won’t be over when the project is done. “When the project is done, we validate that with the client through Project Handover,” Joel says. “Then, we will move to the next phase, and we set them up with a preventative maintenance program so they can save money: operational costs can really hurt the bottom line of a producer.”

Overcoming challenges
This because there are so many elements that factor into any cannabis cultivation operations that it is not unusual to leave something behind or to overlook something else. “One of the biggest struggles is to understand the full scope of a complex operation,” Joel explains. “The cannabis industry still draws a lot from the legacy market. Many of these foundational participants operated on a small scale. These kinds of operations relied on individuals tending to each plant individually, hand-watering, and all of that. But running an industrial-scale agricultural operation is a different story. For instance, it is difficult to align harvest scheduling with market demand; after that, you will have to consider trimming, drying, packaging and ultimately getting that product out of the door. At ALPS, we have deep mass-scale production experience, from growing the plants all the way down to packaging and everything in between, so we can help clients anticipate issues and provide them with tools to establish KPIs and bring them into the reality of industrial manufacturing.

EU GMP Compliant Greenhouse design by ALPS 

Size matters
Another thing that Joel has noticed in the industry is the tendency to believe that larger plants equal bigger yields. “A lot of producers are still of the mindset that growing large plants will result in bigger yields,” Joel says. “We believe that high plant density with shorter plants is more profitable and efficient. The less time a plant spends in the stages of growth, the fewer opportunities it has to get diseases. The added benefit is on the harvest side: the faster you can move the plant, the more stable the whole cannabinoid profile of the whole batch would be. Additionally, with a plant being of smaller stature, employees spend less time on the entirety of the plant and focus more on the valuable flowers. The fun thing is that if each bud is harmonious, the bottling rate of the product gets even faster. Many producers don’t consider the hidden time that large plants create. Every touch - pruning, trimming, deleafing – adds up to time lost and money spent. A short plant simply eliminates this.”

To greenhouse, or not to greenhouse?
The quest to get consistent cannabis plants and flowers was undertaken by the majority of growers through indoor cultivation. However, the whole industry has been experiencing an increasing greenhouse trend. “In the early days, at least in Canada, there was the perception that growing indoors was cleaner,” Joel remarks. “Yet, the high carbon cost, the very high energy draw, make indoor cultivation quite heavy on both the environment and on the economics of the operation. With greenhouses, growers are naturally putting plants under the sun, which creates a sense of ethical business operations; on top of that, this also has a better impact on the plant, as the combination of the sunlight spectrum and supplemental light gives the best results.”

EU GMP Compliant Greenhouse design by ALPS 

“Initially, products from indoor facilities were significantly superior compared to this from traditional greenhouses,” Marc Lakmaaker with Australis says. “But when we design them, they are closed facilities and built for cannabis cultivation specifically.” And indeed, ALPS has proven its ability to design such facilities with Aurora Sky. “The idea behind that project was to build an operation that would combine low operational cost and high-quality product on a really large scale,” Marc explains. “Everything in the Sky facility is automated,” Marc further explains. “There’s humidity control, temperature control, and also robotics implemented in the greenhouse. For instance, airflow too is controlled, not only the volume of air, but also where this air hits the plants.”

“It was our first successful project to build a medical cannabis greenhouse,” Joel says. “It was the first very strong, big step towards the same sort of efficiency we see coming from the Netherlands. I believe that cannabis can be produced cost-effectively and at high-quality.”

For more information:
AUSA Corporation 

Aurora Larssen Projects (ALPS) 

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