The tendency for many cultivation start-ups—especially those new to horticulture—is for the head grower to wear many hats.
Although it’s tempting to have your team’s cultivation expert advise on everything under the sun, few are qualified to do so.
Your master grower is not your master electrician. Unless your grower has an engineering degree, leave the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing decisions up to experts in those fields.
Even if your grower could do it, why take the chance?
For decades, cannabis growers have fulfilled these roles to limit the number of people that knew about their illicit operation. But now that US states are legalizing commercial cannabis cultivation, entrepreneurs can take advantage of the same professional service providers as any other industry.
To avoid complications, have your grower first meet with management to determine the company’s cultivation strategy.
This plan will dictate how cannabis will be grown and processed within the facility.
Once there is conceptual agreement on this strategy, move forward by involving the other trades, but ensure that your grower is privy to all planning discussions and design meetings.
This will help guarantee that no engineering decisions made in the architect’s office negatively affect the company’s ability to execute its cultivation strategy.
Any potential red flags will be immediately apparent to your grower and can be addressed while things are still in the planning phase.
Here are some examples of best practices for utilizing everyone’s strengths:
- Have your grower provide the optimal day and night temperatures for each room that will be holding plant material. Request both optimal and acceptable tolerances. Then, have your engineering team come back to you with a design and equipment plan for meeting those ranges. For example, the ideal temperature range for most flowering cannabis plants is 76-82 degrees Fahrenheit, but the crop can tolerate temperatures from 68-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Insist that your grower select the grow lights, but then provide your electrical engineers with the equipment specifications and cut sheets. These will be used to calculate the power and equipment required to supply the needed electricity. Don’t forget about housekeeping lights and green lights for nighttime viewing in the grow room. Tell the electricians how much light you need but have them suggest appropriate models and fixture placement.
- Your cultivation strategy dictates how you will grow, so have your grower estimate water usage requirements for each cultivation zone. Armed with this information, have your plumbing engineers design the irrigation system. This includes all components that bring water from your irrigation room to the plants: pumps, valves, tubing, etc. If you plan to use a recirculating closed-loop fertigation system, have your plumbers work directly with the fertigation system supplier to determine what equipment will be needed and where it will be placed within your facility.
- Have your grower determine optimal airflow rates for the crop, and have the mechanical engineers decide on the best combination of fans and air handling equipment to make this happen. The answer is a delicate balance; too much airflow can strip plants of water and negatively affect their growth, while too little airflow can cause nutrient deficiencies, lanky plants, and fungal leaf infections. Solutions will differ depending on whether the grow site utilizes single-level grow benches, multiple tiers, or mobile grow racks.
- Your grower and your mechanical engineer should determine plant transpiration rates to correctly identify your facility’s humidification or dehumidification needs. Flowering cannabis thrives best between 45-60% humidity, but plants transpire or evaporate nearly 95% of the water they receive. Most US growers need to constantly strip this moisture out of the air to prevent fungal infections, while in the dry southwest, humidity must be increased to avoid insect outbreaks and ensure proper plant growth.
- Your grower can decide room dimensions and material tolerances (i.e., walls need to be white, water-resistant, and tolerate bleach), but have your builder determine the best construction materials to use. Reiterate the temperature ranges that must be kept year-round, but let the builders determine insulating materials, wall thickness, etc.
You hired your grower to grow, and you wouldn’t expect anyone else to do their job. Likewise, it wouldn’t make sense for your grower to start filling the roles of other trades, even in the earliest stages of a start-up.
At this juncture of a young business, the recipe for success is simple: Establish a cultivation strategy with your grower and ensure they remain part of the planning process with all subcontractors and trades.
Your grower is not your electrician, plumber, or HVAC expert. And for good reason! Remember this, and everybody wins.