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Marina Martin Curran, Vivent:

"Electrical signals vary depending on the plants' stress"

Technological advancements in the horticulture industry are being pushed by cannabis growers. This is the result of a combination of several factors: first of all, cannabis is a highly valuable crop with higher profit margins compared to more traditional food crops. Therefore, growers are investing a substantial amount of money in cannabis operations. The great capital injection into the cannabis sector is prompting the development of many technologies to increase production, quality, and thus profits. One of these technologies is being produced by Vivent.

Plants and growers talking 
“The company was founded in 2012,” says Marina Martin Curran, Vivent’s Sustainability Manager, “on the premise that plants communicate, and they do so also through electrical signaling. The signals vary depending on the plants’ stress.” Following many years of research, the company has developed PhytlSigns, a solution that monitors these signals for the benefit of the grower.

Marina Martin Curran, Sustainability Manager at Vivent

“For instance, we know that there is a distinctive signal when plants are in drought stress,” Marina explains. “Growers who have access to this information would know before visible symptoms appear on their plants if they are in drought stress. This potentially can mean the difference between an average and a high-quality production.”

A difference in production is also influenced by the nutrients a grower gives to the plant. “Usually, these represent a grower’s secret sauce,” she continues. “So, our technology can support knowledge as to which nutrients the plant is lacking so that growers can further improve their recipe.”

Another element that might cause a plant to be in distress is pathogens, especially when it comes to the highly susceptible cannabis plants. “Cannabis growers, like everybody else, are not immune to plants being attacked by fungi, bacteria, or insects” she points out. “In these stressful situations, plants emit particular electric signals, so we are working on algorithms to diagnose different diseases before they are visible. In this way, a grower would receive advanced warning to save the grow and the infected plant.”

How the device works
The PhytlSigns solution has 8 channels with 8 electrodes that can be applied to 8 different plants. Each cable has two needles: one goes at the top of the stem, and the other lower down. “In this way, we measure the potential difference; this sends a signal to the screen of the device,” Marina points out.

This device enables plant communication. “We are working steadily to improve this,” she continues. “As in, how many things do growers want their plant to tell us? For instance, we could work on an algorithm that would alert us to when a plant is about to flower. Knowing this in advance can be particularly valuable for breeders, for instance, when they do genetic hunting. If growers were interested, Vivent could work on an algorithm capable of picking up on when specific cannabinoids reach higher concentrations. For example, if a grower needs to keep their THC levels within a certain limit." 

Being capable of understanding every small aspect of cannabis cultivation is key for growers who want to stay ahead of the curve. “The cannabis industry is growing rapidly, especially here in Switzerland,” Marina says. “There will soon be changes in the law here, and the Swiss government is very keen to be a good model for cannabis production – cannabis sold in Switzerland will be grown locally and will be organic. After medical cannabis, they plan to liberalize recreational cannabis. Vivent’s PhytlSigns technology can be a useful tool to grow organic cannabis.”

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