In this new article series, we will spotlight the ag-tech startups that will be at the Israel Cannabis Innovation pavilion during the Cannafest, Prague, on November 5th-7th, where industry professionals will meet the most innovative Israeli cannabis technologies in the spotlight. In today’s edition, we visit an Israel-based medical cannabis greenhouse where the grower is trialing an innovative solution by Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies.
It was an exceptionally sunny and warm day in Israel as we made our way into the medical cannabis greenhouse operated by “Breath of Life” (BOL). “Let’s say that we don’t have a problem with cold temperatures, in Israel,” says Mark Fishman, agronomist with Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies.
As the building is approached, rather than a cultivation facility, it seems to get closer to a prison with all the fences, barbed wire, and security that one needs to get past to finally enter the cultivation area. Breath of Life was one of the first cannabis farms to be set up in Israel, and they have been active in this space for over a decade. To be active for such a long time in this highly competitive market, the company has always strived to employ and embrace the most technologically advanced solutions. It is important to point out that it might come easy for BOL to find innovative solutions, and the reason is one only: Israel. This country has always been spearheading cannabis research, shedding light not only on how cannabinoids can treat medical conditions, but also on how to grow cannabis more efficiently.
Checking out the trial
One of the reasons for the visit to the BOL facility is to check out a trial the company has been carrying out. Breath of Life has installed the new heat exchange probes designed by Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies. Or, the R&D manager on behalf of BOL, takes care of explaining how the trial was set up. “We have set up two rows of same cultivar cannabis plants,” he says. “One row has the Roots system installed.” Indeed, every pot has a heat exchange probe from Roots to check the temperature of the root zone and adjust it accordingly. “We are still waiting for the lab results, but there are some things that you can already see with your eyes,” Or adds.
Mark points at the control row with no Roots probes inserted in the pots: “Do you see the net, here?” he says. “You can already see that these plants here are not as those on the other side. On top of that, the canopy density is not as high as on the other side. Additionally, you can see that the flowers here look like what we call ‘snowflakes’: they have still 3-4 weeks of flowering, and they look like small popcorn kernels.”
The other row of cannabis plants with the probes installed by Roots shows itself in a completely different guise. “Here there are the plants with Roots system,” says Mark. “You can see that they are much taller, they are of a darker green color, and the flowers have reached a considerable size, already anticipating an abundant harvest.” Both of these rows of cannabis plants were grown under the same conditions, yet one of them has performed way better than the other. That’s because only one of them had the Roots system installed to control vital parameters, especially to optimized the root zone temperatures.
Managing root zone temperature and irrigation
“All monitoring and control are done by our friendly computer,” says Mark. “You can see that every row is equipped with a tensiometer that measures the water tension in the substrate. In this way, the plant can basically tell the computer when and how much water it needs. By comparing the water usage to the other row of plants, we saw that the row equipped with the probes consumed way less water just because the roots are cooled and the plants need to "drink" less.”
But the additional added value of the Roots system is the reduced operational cost due to more efficient management of the growth temperature. “By keeping the roots zone at the optimal temperature, you don't need as much HVAC power to maintain a stable grow room temperature,” Mark continues. “For instance, here in Israel, it can get quite hot. So, growers in greenhouses usually install thermal screens and wet mattresses/walls, which, in conjunction with air ventilation, help to control the temperature. Yet, the operational cost of installing and running all of that together can get quite high and adds humidity that can damage the harvest. With our solution, you wouldn’t need any of that as you are keeping the plant’s temperature stable where it matters the most: the root zone.”
Thus, this trial on the one hand validated the fact that if the roots zone is kept at an optimal temperature, then the outside temperature can be less than optimal; on the other hand, the trial also validated the effectiveness of Roots’ solution, as well as BOL’s positioning as one of the most advanced cannabis growers in Israel. “The people at BOL have been fantastic,” Mark claims. “with Roots they are pioneering new and innovative ways to get the highest quality at the lowest cost-efficiently.”
Stay tuned for the second part, where we will delve into the relationship between cannabis cultivation and AI, together with the Israeli startup MyCrops.