Cannabis is one of the most valuable crops, and as such, it has the potential to allow growers to be very profitable. Yet, in order to stand out in an ever-competing cannabis market, it is crucial that growers can improve their growing skills by releasing the highest quality products possible. However, achieving such a thing is not an easy endeavor, as the cannabis plant is less forgiving than other more ‘traditional’ crops when it comes to cultivation. Such diminished forgiveness is also caused by the fact that the market demands cannabis products to have a specific chemical profile, or in other words, that the cannabinoid concentration is of a certain quantity. As the industry matures and new cannabinoids are discovered and explored, the market is still very much revolving around two mainly: THC and CBD..
The challenge for growers says Tivurcio Botello, Cannabis Technology Consultant with Hydro-Promotions, “lies in the fact that they need to be certain that their cannabis genetic strain is providing a marketable potency level of the target cannabinoid. All cannabis cultivation strategies play an integral part for the strengths of any cannabinoid development”. That is why GemmaCert has developed a technology that allows growers to test their CBD and THC levels on the spot with a 5min test time without damaging the product. The technology uses NIR, which is used in many other applications like food, grain, and raw material analysis across the globe. “
Collecting in-house data
Tivurcio also pointed out that “Collecting in-house data is paramount for any grower. It is of the utmost importance in order to be able to drive the cultivation strategy to allow plants to express their full genetic potential. Today’s growers do not have a quick solution or access to a product that can be used as a utility to optimize their efforts besides a $250k instrument like an HPLC instrument, which is run by a PhD chemical analysis lab professional."
"Another point to understand is that with the use of today’s technology using HPLC there is no ‘standard operating procedure’ accepted by the industry to identify cannabinoid levels. Each lab must create or develop its own standard, which can come with a +/- accuracy statement. Having an in-house system as simple as GemmaCert, which costs in the range of $5k USD, allows for a non-PhD individual to accumulate as many readings on their efforts as desired without the added costs of testing. Thus, it’s imperative that in-house data be accumulated for optimizing a cultivation operation at realistic cost efficiency. The beauty of a NIR technology like GemmaCert is that it compares readings across the globe and its accuracy level is at 0.2% of what an HPLC instrument can provide. This will ultimately change the nature of inhouse data collection by a more sophisticated and educated master grower or the head of operations.”
Cannabis testing standards
Complying with a specific set of standards to your local government is critical, especially in an industry as highly regulated as cannabis. “And when it comes to testing, there is really no standard at all,” Tivurcio points out. “For instance, in California’s regulations set by the BCC, there’s a section that says that if your standard method for detecting cannabinoid THC or CBD is 20% plus or minus that of the BCC standard sample, then your method can be approved for COA accreditation. This is caused by the fact that there’s no federal guideline on this. That means one lab’s readings could be 20% different from another lab and the BCC will find that both readings are correct. You have to ask yourself, which one is correct. This is where in-house data becomes valuable. You know what you historically have, and it prevents quality issues with your cultivation or extraction methods."
"Eventually, a federal government regulatory body will create a standard method that reviews lab companies’ standards for approval. But, since the federal government is not involved, it’s up to individual states to manage all of that, but they are not prepared or have the funds to support the proper regulation of lab analysis on a chemical compound like CBD and THC. This is a constantly evolving industry and if you want to be sure your readings from the lab are correct, you might want to have some historical in-house data to support your argument."
Testing in the cultivation facility
Tivurcio continues to explain, “Considering all the hurdles and reasons of having a cannabis flower or an ethanol crude oil tested, it is imperative that growers look at the best option on the market. I found GemmaCert to have developed the best solution with over 5yrs of accumulated cross-referenced NIR and HPLC testing data to establish a database that allows for an accuracy of 0.2%. Any company wanting to come to this space with a similar NIR technology will have to follow the same path. Ultimately the more cross-referenced tests you have the greater the accuracy you have. In addition, they are offering a lifetime warranty, and a lifetime upgrade to their technology improvements. They have plans to allow for distillate from CO2, Butane, and Ethanol to be on their future readings. Currently, you get flower, ethanol crude, and water activity as part of the package. There is no shortcut to NIR accuracy, and I must applaud GemmaCert for taking the time to do it right. Of course, there is a mobile app and it can read more than one unit."
Indeed, by utilizing such a machine, growers can constantly understand the THC and CBD content, giving them crucial info on how the plants’ growth is going. “In-house data collection is key,” says Tivurcio. “For instance, when a grower is creating a new strain, they can take a piece of material and see how the growth is going, if the newly created strain is developing the desired THC and CBD content. This is a new idea to an old way of doing things. For instance, typically you get the most revenue for the highest THC or CBD levels. When you are producing a flower you want to stay on target as you adjust your cultivation process or when you are purchasing your raw material for your extraction process, you want to have a reading you can trust. Who are you going to trust to give you that reading, a high throughput lab that only sees you as a number, or your own operations manager who is letting you know things are on target because they can track the levels of all the strains you are working with historically?”