"The cannabis industry is currently in a volatile position. Rising inflation and fear of recession are causing cannabis companies to lay off employees, put a pause on new construction or close their production facilities altogether. In addition to economic pressure, the sheer number of grow operations coming online following state-to-state legalization means that the US market is becoming more saturated, in some cases oversupplied, and therefore more competitive. While these trends may be discouraging to both new and existing cultivators, there is still opportunity in an industry that will continue to grow and evolve," says Haley Bridgnell, Marketing Strategist at Ceres Greenhouse Solutions. "This current phase should encourage growers to take a look at their current operation, or project planning, to be sure that their growing technology and other systems will promote long-term viability." In this article, Ceres will talk about commercial cannabis greenhouse design and technology that will lower operating costs, increase flower quality, and overall prove to be a smart long-term investment.
The hybrid greenhouse solution
Different types of growing methods (outdoors, greenhouse, or indoor) have their own benefits, and each are appropriate depending on location, climate, and budget, the Ceres team explains. "Outdoor growing requires the least amount of upfront and operational costs but is at the mercy of environmental factors and has a limited growing season. Indoor growing requires higher upfront and operational costs but yields consistent, high-quality products and allows for perpetual harvests. Neither of these solutions is ideal during a time when wholesale cannabis prices are dropping, and there is pressure to produce more, and better, than the competition."
"This is a time when growers should consider the hybrid growing solution or a sealed greenhouse. With a sealed greenhouse, you are able to take advantage of the sun like an outdoor grow, but also maintain precise control over the growing environment like an indoor grow (utilization of a free energy source with a focus on a quality product)."
At Ceres, their hybrid solution is called the SunChamber and what makes it different from a traditional greenhouse is the fact that air isn't vented in or out of the growing space. Instead, the SunChamber relies on advanced climate control systems to control temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels within the greenhouse. "Also, the SunChamber provides heightened biosecurity, which means less crop loss due to mold, mildew, pests, or cross-pollination. This solution is ideal for growers who need more crop security and are trying to achieve consistent sun-grown quality product year-round while also saving immensely on lighting costs."
Surviving the energy crisis with smart greenhouse technologies
According to Ceres, another factor contributing to the instability of the cannabis market right now is the rising cost of energy. "Additionally, looking into the future, critical resources, such as water, are going to be increasingly difficult and expensive to come by in areas of the country that are experiencing ongoing drought. This means that growers should shift their focus to making their facilities and operations as efficient as possible if they plan to stay afloat."
At Ceres, they have been working for over a decade to develop the most efficient sunlight-based growing systems that outperform facilities that are energy intensive. "We have achieved this by designing a sealed greenhouse solution that can be integrated with two different types of energy-efficient HVACD systems that can heat, cool, and dehumidify the greenhouse space. The first HVACD system is the Ceres EcoLoop, which is a ground-coupled hybrid system combining ground loops for heat exchange, evaporative cooling towers, and heat pumps. The newest HVACD offering is the Ceres EcoPack, which is a packaged heat pump unit without the ground coupling (geothermal) addition of the EcoLoop. Both these systems can run off electricity alone, potentially eliminating the need for fossil fuels. They are also about 60% more efficient than a traditional HVAC system."
But what about water usage? In areas affected by ongoing drought, it's important to consider more water-efficient systems since cannabis is a thirsty crop. "Ceres offers two types of water reclamation with each SunChamber we design – condensate recovery as well as effluent recapture. Through this technology, we are able to reuse up to 90% of the water introduced through greenhouse irrigation. Increasing efficiencies, whether it be with energy or water usage, is a surefire way to increase profits and ensure long-term stability during a time of retrenchment."
The importance of greenhouse automation and crop steering
Inconsistency in a growing environment can have much more of a negative repercussion in a time of economic uncertainty. If climate control systems aren't dialed in to meet the appropriate setpoints, and climate stages for the various stages of plant growth, the quality of product will be compromised. Growers can overcome this issue by investing in crop steering technology like an automated greenhouse controller.
What is crop steering?
Crop steering refers to the concept of "steering" a plant to harvest. Controllers then collect data from sensors strategically spaced throughout the growing space and make minute-by-minute decisions about how best to respond to those inputs.
"At Ceres, we equip all our SunChamber designs with our SunSense controller to effectively control your operation to eliminate any inconsistencies in your grow environment and reduce operational costs as much as possible. We understand that actions as minute as cloud cover can dramatically affect temperature, humidity, and PPFD. We've designed the SunSense to anticipate this and restabilize an environment before the plants become affected. Automation can also reduce the need for labor in the greenhouse – another worthy investment for reducing operational costs and growing smarter."
Holistic cannabis greenhouse design to save you time and money
"While this last year has been discouraging, and maybe detrimental, to some cannabis growers, it has also shed light on what growers should shift their focus to in order to be successful in the current industry," the Ceres team says. "Some things we've discussed so far are energy-efficient technology upgrades to help lower operating costs, sealed greenhouse design for a more resilient and productive business, and greenhouse automation for successful crop steering."
Another important aspect to consider for growers getting started in cannabis cultivation is choosing an appropriate design approach for the project scope. "With most cannabis operations, especially indoor grows, cultivators spend a lot of time and money finding engineers, designers, manufacturers, and other specialists to get their projects up and running. With a Ceres SunChamber, the scope to complete the project is handled in-house by our dedicated team. This includes design and engineering, cultivation system integration, energy modeling, rebate services and equipment sourcing, and construction oversight. We call this the whole systems approach, and it saves our growers time, money, and headache and ensures the project is completed efficiently."
For more information:
Ceres Greenhouse Solutions