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IPM challenges in cannabis cultivation

"The hot topic in IPM is preventative care. If you see the pest on the plant, it's more or less too late. With a high-value crop like cannabis, it's important to protect it," said Franz Joseph Sima of Fluence at one of the panels at the CB Expo in Dortmund. "Unfortunately, because of all the new problems growers are facing, we need to be even more preventative and do tests. Hop Latent Viroid, for example, is one where you will most likely only see it once it's too late."

Using AI
According to Ben Niehaus of SpexAI, Hop Latent Viroid is definitely the key word at the moment. "What we've heard from clients is that Hop Latent Viroid is a $4 billion problem in the U.S. alone. Even as an experienced grower, you have to kill most of the plant, you don't know what is already infected and where it has spread. It's also not fully clear yet how the viroid spreads." With SpexAI, Ben is hoping to help solve the problem. "We are building smart spectral cameras to monitor cannabis plants 24/7 and deliver real-time data on cannabinoids, diseases, pests and more. This provides an additional set of eyes that can see more and process more information than a human can see. It allows growers to get a heads-up when a plant is experiencing problems," Ben explains.

According to Ben, the technology makes sure that growers don't have to take curative actions. "Walking around a massive greenhouse or facility, it’s a lot of work to look for small symptoms. You can easily pick up when something is really wrong, but then it’s too late. It would be very difficult to overview thousands of plants and look for a little bit of wilting on a single leaf. But for a machine, this is not an issue. Moreover, it picks up very small changes, even 2-3% changes, so you know much earlier on."

The human factor
Yet besides technology, the staff plays a very important role as well. "We see vacancies for IPM jobs all the time," says Nikita Cretu of Lumino, a cannabis recruitment company. "Often, people don't understand the importance of hiring people for IPM functions when they first get going. Especially when companies work with investors who don't come from the cannabis industry, they don't see the need for those functions. But the $4 billion loss in the U.S. due to Hop Latent Viroid is the proof. It's important to have a strong IPM team that understands the environment you're working in."

Franz adds that it's the human factor that always dictates the outcome of your facility. "Recognizing a problem is one thing, but preventing it is another one. For example, at a site in Lesotho, they planted companion plants to attract beneficial insects: rosemary, thyme, lobster claw. It's a very biofriendly way of protecting your crop. Yet it can also go the other way. In South America, a grower wanted to grow the plants outdoors with a cover crop. The cover crop attracted powdery mildew and then all the plants had it," Franz says. "It starts with little things like this that make a huge difference on how easy or difficult you make it for yourself."

Reading the plant
According to Franz, it all starts with cleanliness and hygiene. But that's not all. "Even if you start super hygienic, over time, pathogens can accumulate in a corner. Luckily, there are solutions to clean the air and take control of the root zone, for example. But the different phenotypes and strains are also important to take into consideration. They all have different needs and will need different treatments. The bottom line is: you need to be able to read the plant correctly and then react."

Sonny Moerenhout of Cultivators adds that it is indeed important to read the plant and understand the potential problems. "People sometimes think that they won’t have any problems with IPM or pesticides if they grow indoors. But it also comes down to your HVAC design. If your HVAC is using outside air to bring in fresh air, that can have consequences. An indoor medical cannabis grower had problems because they had pesticide on their product. They certainly didn’t use it themselves, but the farmer next door did use it on his potato field. Some little pieces came into the air and into the final product, so the whole batch was destroyed.”

Click here to listen to the full panel conversation.

For more information:
CB Expo