Even though the horticulture industry is renowned for its reliance on high-tech solutions and automation, as the ultimate goal is to achieve the best efficiency to grow crops at scale profitably, the same cannot be said about the entirety of the cannabis industry.
A lot of cannabis farms still heavily rely on human labor; this is mainly caused by the fact that it can be difficult for automated machines to handle the delicate cannabis flowers without any loss in quality. As the market matures, the demand for high-quality cannabis is growing to show no sign of slowing down. And although innovation in agricultural machinery has advanced substantially over time, it can be particularly challenging to fully rely on automation when a skilled person does a better job than a robot.
The reason behind that lies in the fact that cannabis is a more valuable crop than more ‘traditional’ horticultural commodities. For instance, tomato growers too heavily rely on automation, and a loss of product due to pathogens, failed growth, or damages occurred during the harvest is to be expected, and eventually, it won’t affect a company’s bottom line much. But with cannabis, even a little loss could cost a cannabis farm thousands of dollars and a lot of time wasted.
Such a thing is especially true when it comes to the final stages of cultivation, namely drying and curing. Several cannabis farms decide to harvest by hand to preserve the integrity of the flower as much as possible; similarly, the trimming too occurs by hand most of the time. There are automated solutions when it comes to harvesting and picking, but there is the popular belief that machine trimming damages the flowers, especially the delicate trichomes, thus negatively affecting the quality of the end-product, as well as its value. Yet, a grower has to consider also the efficiency of the operation: hand trimming takes way more time than machine trimming, needless to say. So, while on the one hand growers care about producing the highest quality cannabis, the real challenge lies in combining efficiency with high quality.
When it comes to better automating the cannabis industry, there is less demand for new, revolutionary products than for improving existing ones. Minor changes, such as a control system that can be preset with light and humidity adjustments for a full 16-week grow cycle, or a single software for both harvest planning and product distribution for better inventory tracking are also sought-after solutions. With further legalization promising an expansion of the burgeoning industry, there is plenty of room for automation to grow.
But for now, robots won't take over the cannabis industry.