From crop cultivation to climate control, here’s a look at what it takes to plant the seeds of a marijuana agriculture startup.
The U.S. cannabis market is very promising. It’s so exciting that thousands of industry movers and observers descended upon the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition on Sept. 7 in Los Angeles, to share their ideas and developments in the cannabis space.
There was some talk at the four-day event about how American marijuana producers are behind the curve in terms of farming innovation. American investors are putting big money into cannabis retail futures, but even bigger money is going to high-tech cannabis farming in other countries. Israel, for example, has been labeled “The World’s Cannabis Research Leader” where companies like Philip Morris have made a significant investment.
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This New Economy
“Every business can touch the future cannabis economy,” says Saul Kaye, founder and CEO of iCAN, a Beit Shemesh, Israel-based marijuana startup accelerator and consultancy. “If you’re a marketer, if you’re an online guru, if you are a tech person, if you want to develop a drug, a prescription medication, if you want to develop grow-tech, everything can be developed into this new economy.”
Research in this space in Israel centers largely on developing the potential of medical marijuana and its derivatives for mass production and distribution. Such focus could lead to a synthetic with no need for agro-farming. Despite that direction, research will produce valuable bits and pieces that others may adapt to cannabis farming and harvesting.
Under the radar, bootstrapped amateur farming methods continue to rule in the U.S. However, the launch of Newport Beach, Calif.-based cannabis agricutlure startup Terra Tech Corp. the first publicly-traded medical marijuana producer, and the continued government-contracted medical marijuana research at the University of Mississippi, could lead to standardizing methods, processes and quality.
What Does It Take?
The high-tech challenge is to produce large quality crops indoors where lighting, climate and cultivation often present problems. Cultivation, growth and harvesting require close watch, continuous monitoring and pricey equipment. High-tech cannabis farming also means planning for space, soil composition, energy cost and climate control. Choices are additionally influenced by square footage, market potential and scale of production.
A large number of operations are using farm technologies that have been developed for other agra-industries, such as large-scale food production. “There are technologies in climate control, soil management, nutrient applications, integrated pest management and the like, all being used in both large-scale food production and large-scale cannabis cultivation,” said Rachel Gillette, a Denver-based marijuana regulatory compliance attorney and shareholder with the law firm Greenspoon Marder.
The High-Tech Alternative
One advanced technology marijuana-growing alternative is hydroponics. Hydroponic systems let you grow cannabis without soil. Plants are rooted in nutrient-rich water in any number of configurations. Among these are:
- Passive systems: In passive hydroponics, you set plants above a reservoir of nutritious solution, which the plant absorbs through a wick, which feeds, not smothers, them.
- Active systems: Programmed mechanical systems feed the cannabis roots.
- Ebb and flow: These systems periodically flood the root systems and then drain for 20 minutes.
- Bubbler systems: An air pump regularly percolates a nutrient solution up towards the roots systems of suspended plants.
- Drip feed: Drip tubes feed nutrients from above into the plant’s potting medium.
- Nutrient film: Water passes down a tray where it feeds a number of plants 24 hours-a-day.
- Aeroponics hydro grow: This suspends seedlings above a dark growth chamber set at 100 percent humidity to maximize the oxygen and nutrients absorbed.
Bottom line: If you plan to market marijuana in the growing weed economy, it’s imperative that you thoroughly educate yourself on the many aspects of cannabis farming. “The cannabis industry will undoubtedly benefit greatly from agricultural innovations that have been developed over the years,” said Gillette, “whether they’re developed in the U.S. or abroad.”