Collecting and interpreting data for fertigation

Cannabis cultivation was shrouded in secrecy for many decades, and during that time, countless cultivation methods were developed underground. After legalization, the first approach of many companies was to scale up these small-scale cultivation systems. In reality, what works at a small scale cannot always be applied in large-scale production, as the dynamics are simply different. “At scale, the access to advanced equipment improves the control of the system, but it also makes it more complex to operate,” explains Philipp Matzneller with Sostanza Global. “In my experience as a grower and crop consultant, large-scale operations struggle most with fertigation, propagation, steering the greenhouse climate, pests, and diseases.”

Fertigation program
Developing a suitable fertigation program can be challenging, considering the broad range of products and delivery systems available. “There are many cannabis fertilizer formulations on the market, and in my experience, their quality and efficacy vary quite a bit,” he continues. “For large-scale cultivations, I believe that the right fertilizer formulation can often provide desirable plant nutrition, but the uptake of nutrients by plants also depends on the environmental conditions, the growing substrate, the cultivar, the source water, and other cultivation factors. Setting up a plant nutrition monitoring program to optimize your formulations for your production system and your unique cultivars are recommended for every large-scale producer.”

The best way to understand what plants need to express their full genetic potential is through systematic data collection and analysis. “I think that a data-driven cultivation approach is the future of horticulture,” Philipp continues. “This is even more important when it comes to cannabis cultivation. The cannabis industry still has a lot to learn, especially considering that each cultivation system (and there are many) is different and requires a different approach. Collecting and interpreting the relevant data is the fastest and most efficient way to make controlled, effective improvements.”

The importance of data 
How can data be collected and used to fine-tune a fertigation strategy? “There are two ways to collect fertigation data: manually and using sensors,” he explains. “Selecting which one is best depends on the type and scale of the operation. The key parameters to measure are electrical conductivity and pH of the nutrient solution and growing substrate. At the same time, it is important to know the mineral content of the leaf tissue and runoff solution, both of which are part of a standard service offered by several laboratories. Irrigation can be monitored with volumetric water content sensors, but I believe that manually checking the water content of the substrate will continue to play an important role in cannabis production.”

Of course, once all the information is gathered, one also has to interpret the data and act accordingly. “The data collected from the fertigation process can quickly accumulate,” Philipp remarks. “That’s why I usually recommend using tools for both the analysis and the interpretation. In some cases, simple spreadsheets may be sufficient. For larger operations, however, it will probably be advantageous to use specialized software. Once the results are in, the grower can tune processes and optimize where necessary. “Continuing this process of data collection, interpretation, and optimization is key to achieve an ever-improving cultivation system.” Philipp and Sostanza Global are involved in different areas of a cannabis cultivation project. “We operate during the design phase and when facilities are operational,” he points out. “In any case, what matters to us most is to give growers the tools and information needed to continuously improve their operations and keep ahead of their competitors.”

For more information:
Sostanza Global

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