Increasing yield and quality amidst water scarcity and rising fertilizer costs

There have been many reports on how resource-intensive the cannabis industry is – especially in terms of water and electricity consumption. This is not just a cannabis cultivation issue; it has become a significant and vital challenge for the entire horticulture sector. On top of worsening water scarcity, rising energy and input costs are just a few of the resulting problems. There are many ways a grower can tackle those issues right in the cultivation. One of these is the substrate or growing media.

To better understand how the cannabis cultivation industry can support water conservation efforts while driving increases in crop quality and yield, we spoke with Ben Feldman, one of the expert Technical Advisors with Grodan. Grodan has worked with plant scientists for over 50 years to develop Precision Growing methods that are proven to use less water and inputs while increasing yield and plant health. “If a grower utilizes a uniform and measurable substrate, they can be more efficient in how they use water and inputs,” says Ben Feldman. “That also allows a grower to balance and steer the plant using irrigation strategies in line with the climate rather than prioritizing one over the other.”

More control, less energy 
The more you can control water, the fewer inputs you use. “Another issue that requires a lot of resources is managing moisture inside a facility,” Ben continues. “The grower has a few options to address this such as using air movement within the facility, with heating pipes, exhaust fans, dehumidifiers, and so on, but those options use energy.” Thus, when you deal with humidity, the energy cost builds up. “That’s why it’s crucial to irrigate in a uniform and efficient way, to reduce the amount of excess moisture and hence energy consumption.”

With all that in mind, Grodan has developed the Gro-Block Improved, inert stone wool substrates that have been specifically designed for maximum control in cannabis production. “The characteristics of the Grodan Improved stone wool ensure a more even distribution of WC and EC in the blocks and gives the grower more power to steer the growth of the crop. Using tools such as GroSens allows the grower to precisely measure the WC, EC, and temperature inside the substrate,” says Ben. “In this way, you can see how the plant performs with a given amount of water and fertilizers. This allows a grower to really dial in their irrigation to the exact needs of the plant, boosting its growth while optimizing water and fertilizer consumption.”

Ben indeed says that at Grodan, they mainly focus on precision irrigation strategies. “Grodan developed the crop steering models that are used widely in both the cannabis and vegetable industries. Root Zone Management and Precision Growing are at the core of our advice. They’re very important to us,” and on roots, “The roots are the foundation of a plant.” It’s not a surprise that many growers say ‘big roots equal big fruits.’ “There are some truths to that,” says Ben. “Creating a large volume of active and healthy roots inside the substrate is crucial to strong, healthy plant growth and development that will ultimately lead to high quality and production.”.

Making proactive, informed decisions
Precision and efficiency are the keywords. “To measure what happens in the Gro-Block, Grodan has developed GroSens and e-Gro.” Both of these solutions allow a grower to control and understand how a plant is performing, and to make proactive, informed decisions to improve the overall efficiency and water and energy consumption. “GroSens are wireless sensors that measure the WC, EC, and temperature inside the substrate,” explains Ben. “The measurements are taken in real-time and are highly accurate and representative of the full substrate area due to the number of additional probes on each sensor. Grodan Improved Gro-Blocks, together with the GroSens, provides you with a clear representation of what’s going on in the root zone.”

But it doesn’t end there. You need more than a snapshot in time to make the best decisions in the cultivation. The historical view of the production is also important to see trends, how specific strains reacted to the irrigation strategies, and what actions resulted in the best outcomes. “That’s the job of e-Gro,” Ben points out. “This is a data-driven cultivation software platform that allows a grower to collect and combine data and see how the crop has developed within a specific timeframe. There are features such as alerts and analytics that use the data to best support profitable and optimal crop production. In this way, a grower can see current and previous crop performance to make informed decisions, tweak the cultivation process, increase production and efficiency, and minimize energy and resource consumption.”

You don’t get behind the wheel of a race car if you don’t know how to drive. “When you use a Grodan product, you have a crop advisor there to help you,” Ben says. “Grodan has expert technical advisors on staff that can provide product advice to licensed growers using our substrate with phone support, via e-Gro, or if needed, an on-site visit.

Water and energy are at a crisis point; we see the resulting issues in the news frequently. Grodan is committed to addressing this in their products and methods so that cultivators can minimize their water impact via substrate and irrigation management. In addition, we design our solutions specifically for the cannabis plant using scientific methods and continuously working to improve the efficacy of our products and methods.”

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