Implementing technology to improve crop quality and lower production expenses

“It is critical for cannabis businesses to continue to innovate and apply new technologies to their production. As more and more states are legalizing, a lot of companies are focusing on starting up and getting to market. Yet the companies that will be most successful are the ones that will have more of a long-term vision,” says Ryan Douglas of Ryan Douglas Cultivation. He explains that a big part of being successful in the future is being competitive on prices. The goal for companies is then of course to produce the highest quality cannabis they can at the lowest cost of production. “That’s why it’s critical to look at some technologies from other industries that we can apply to cannabis. Implementing these technologies is even at the best interest of producers that are profitable today, as you want to still survive when there might be pressure on the price points in the near future.”

Tissue culture
One of the ways to lower production costs, is by using tissue culture as the starting material. “While tissue culture is the standard for a lot of horticultural and agricultural production programs, it’s still in the minority among cannabis producers,” Douglas explains. One of the reasons why it is not yet so popular today is due to the lack of access. “Because cannabis is not federally legal, some tissue culture companies are hesitant to ship the cannabis plantlets out of state. Other tissue culture companies simply don’t want to handle cannabis, as they would rather handle more traditional agricultural crops.”

"Tissue culture propagation can help growers avoid diseases like this"

Yet the growers who can get their hands on cannabis tissue culture are provided with many benefits. As tissue culture is a way of propagating plants inside a laboratory, the sterile environment means that the plantlets will arrive to the grower certified disease-free. “With insects and disease pressure being a constant challenge for growers, this is an important benefit. With anything in life, prevention is much less expensive than curative measures. Especially when it concerns the money a company spends on trying to eradicate a disease or insect infestation, it’s very expensive. Therefore, it makes a lot more sense to spend money on getting guaranteed clean genetics from the get-go.” Moreover, outsourcing the propagation frees up more space for the flowering plant production. “The flowering room is really where the money is at, so it can make the facility become much more profitable.”

Douglas thinks that tissue culture will continue to be one of the keys for commercial scale cultivators to lower their cost of production. “With more and more states legalizing, more commercial cultivation sites are created and more diseases are jumping from traditional crops onto cannabis,” says Douglas. “Tissue culture labs often double as diagnostic laboratories that can determine what is attacking your plant before they clean it up. It is important to not only fix the problem but also know what the problem actually is. Then, the grower can determine the most effective methods for preventing the spread. Because of all the benefits, I believe tissue culture may very well become the standard of sourcing genetics.”

RFID tags
When it comes to the cannabis industry, compliance is essential. Part of complying with the regulations is maintaining a tight inventory control. Companies need to track the crop all the way from inception to sales. “At the dawn of the legal medical cannabis industry in the US, a lot of growers were just handwriting labels on the pots or attached a label with a barcode on the plant, similar to a medical wrist brand. Scanning bar codes with a handheld scanner is of course much more efficient than writing things down by hand, but there are still a number of challenges involved.” Douglas explains that the bar codes can degrade over time, as they get wet and dirty from being so close to the soil. Growers are then at risk of noncompliance, as their inventory system is inaccurate. Moreover, the bar code scanners don’t always work efficiently. “Sometimes their functionality depends on internet connection or how close they are to the nearest computer. Staff then needs to walk around trying to find connection. You not only risk compliance, it is also inefficient and the company is spending money unnecessarily on labor.”

"Traditional wristbands and barcodes can get wet and become unreadable"

Luckily, companies can implement technology to solve these problems, such as through implementing RFID tags (radio-frequency identification). “Instead of using a scanner to read the barcodes individually, these readers are stationary inside the greenhouse or grow room. They are mounted every 25 feet or so and automatically detect the presence of the bar codes, being able to read hundreds of plants at once,” Douglas explains. “This is very convenient when you are moving plants from one room to another. Instead of having to worry about scanning every single bar code, you can move hundreds of plants at a time.” The technology can be made even more efficient when pairing the RFID technology with smart cameras. “At the end of a crop cycle, you can then enter the bar code for a certain plant and you can visually see where that plant has been every day of its existence in the production cycle. Not only are you eliminating the risk of non-compliance because you are tracking every single part of the facility, you are also eliminating wasted money on labor thanks to the automation.”

Interested in learning more?
Ryan Douglas recently published a new eBook based on interest generated from one of his Zoom workshops: ‘Secrets to Maximizing Profits in the Cannabis Industry’. The book aims to help existing cannabis cultivation businesses tackle operational challenges with new ideas, alternative perspectives, and new ventures. The eBook is available here on Amazon.

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Ryan Douglas Cultivation

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