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What are the biggest success factors for CEA cannabis?

“A CEA cannabis grower had a very low-quality production and low yield. Luckily, we improved the situation by using data. Overall, we can learn from looking at a high-value crop like cannabis, as we can take some of the top success factors and apply it to other CEA crops,” shared Robin Koehorst, Global Director of Plant Science and Applications at AEssenseGrows, during the CEA 4.0. Robin says that AEssenseGrows’ modular aeroponic systems can be used for cannabis as well as other crops, such as tomatoes and lettuce. “A lot of pressure is focused on the cannabis industry, as there is so much investment and time put into it. We can take lessons from that industry, applying them to CEA vegetables and produce.”

Case study
Robin shares that a facility they were working with had some unhappy plants. The facility had a 4-tier system of controlled aeroponic cultivation. “They came to us with the problem of having low yields and low secondary metabolites. They were growing a cultivar that had previously tested around 25% THC, but they were now averaging around 15%. There was a lot of space between the plants and they didn’t look too healthy.”

The AEssenseGrows team went to the site for a physical inspection. “The first observation was that there was some good air movement in the beginning of the room, but the plants stood absolutely still in the back of the room,” Robin says. “We also noticed that there was variation in the humidity and really poor root growth.” While these observations were a good start, Robin explains that actual data was necessary to analyze what was happening. Therefore, they used the technical data collected with their Guardian Grow Manager software.

“The climate control system that was used was registering one humidity. When we put sensors throughout the room, we noticed variation throughout the whole space. The humidity at the bottom layer was averaging around 67%, whereas the top layer was averaging 57% humidity. When calculating the VPD average, we noticed a 40% variation between the bottom and top layer,” Robin says.

Now that the problem was clear, there was a simple solution: add more fans to break the microclimates. “Just with the installation of vertical air movement fans and horizontal fans, the results were amazing. The roots became healthy again and the yields dramatically increased.”

Keys to success
After working with and helping many CEA cannabis growers, the AEssenseGrows team has noticed many success factors that can also benefit growers of other crops. “Environmental control probably makes up a quarter of the key to success. Controlling the temperature, humidity and VPD are very important. When the plants transpire in a completely sealed environment, humidity increases, some of which needs to be removed. Moreover, as seen in the case study, air movement is important to break microclimates.”

Next up, water quality. "Water quality is important for success. You can do your own tests on site, but sending it off to an analytical lab is advised, as they can give a more detailed breakdown." On top of that, lighting is of course of the utmost importance. "You need to monitor your lighting and adapt it to where your plant is in its life phase."

Throughout everything, Robin explains that collecting data and sharing knowledge is important for growers. "We need data to know exactly what's happening and we need instant access to that information. As a result, growers can operate on the data, making informed decisions. It's beneficial to be able to look back and reflect to see how things have changed. After that, knowledge sharing is important for the whole industry," Robin concludes.

Click here to watch the presentation.

For more information:
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