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For Many Cultivators Inaccurate Lighting Metrics May Be Hindering Operational Success

For Many Cultivators Inaccurate Lighting Metrics May Be Hindering Operational Success

by Mitchell Galton, urban-gro (NASDAQ: UGRO) Director of Business Development

Cannabis is legal in some capacity in almost 40 states and consumer demand is ratcheting up –especially considering how more Eastern and Southern markets will come online in the next year. Consequently, operators in new and emerging markets are expected to accelerate go-to-market strategies to capture consumer market share as quickly as possible. At the same time, cultivators in mature markets are required to minimize input costs while maximizing production outputs as they face price compression. Neither can risk any operational inefficiencies that may inhibit the quality of their harvests.

Unfortunately, many cultivators are set up for failure from the outset because their lighting systems do not have the proper efficacy or intensity to support their operational goals or ancillary environmental control systems. While this is a common issue among cultivation facilities of any scale, it can be proactively addressed by understanding the most common pitfalls in lighting infrastructure selection and how to mitigate further risks to create an optimal growing environment.

Lighting specifications determine the requirements for all environmental control systems

Cultivation facilities must have the ability to precisely measure and control inputs–including lighting, temperature, humidity, irrigation and more– to ensure abundant and high-quality harvests. Selecting light intensity targets is often the first step in the facility’s build-out but choosing the wrong equipment can disrupt the ecosystem’s delicate equilibrium and incite a chain reaction of output challenges. 

A common example of this relationship between lighting and environmental control systems arises when operators add light fixtures that increase photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD), which raises the wattage and sensible load in the space. Depending on the type of HVAC equipment in use, this adjustment can dramatically impact the ability of that system to maintain setpoints. Alternatively, a lack or oversaturation of light intensity can cause plant damage or reduced yield, so it is essential that both cultivators and their HVAC engineers understand the exact output & specifications of any horticulture lighting fixture in their system. 

In this capital-intensive industry, cultivators cannot afford to further diminish their profit margins by risking crop failures or unnecessarily increasing capital expenditures. There is a narrow window of opportunity to engage with consumers in emerging markets and failing to deliver high-quality products or meet demand may prevent cultivators or vertically-integrated operators from successfully acquiring lifetime customers. In mature markets, businesses must be just as diligent about curtailing their margin of error as product and wholesale prices continue to decline. This requires cultivators to generate consistent harvests with high cannabinoid content to optimize sell-through rates and minimize operating cost per pound. 

Best practices for finding and vetting appropriate lighting systems for each facility

Businesses that are either retrofitting or building their facilities from the ground up should prioritize climate control when making decisions regarding lighting infrastructure. While it can be tempting to maximize lighting intensity with the goal of driving yield and secondary metabolite content, maintaining control over the facility’s climate is more important than photons will ever be. Be conscious of the plant’s optimal growing conditions and avoid choosing light intensities that negatively impact control over environmental conditions.

When it comes to selecting reliable and appropriate equipment, it’s valuable to cross-reference prospective vendors with the DesignLight Consortium (DLC), a database with manufacturer-submitted and third-party tested data. While a DLC certification is often required for rebates, these reports can also provide helpful data point when comparing fixtures. It’s worth noting, however, that these reports are often outdated or generated from a “golden sample” with better than average testing specifications.

With this in mind, manually sourcing and vetting each lighting vendor may lead to delays and unintended opportunity costs. Cultivators that want to reach the market as soon as possible should consider partnering with a construction and design partner that understands the functional needs of each facility from start to finish. Partners with specific industry insights can even catch certain oversights in the initial development stages –such as discrepancies between advertised and actual lighting performance metrics from manufacturers (report). In some cases, the equipment’s actual efficacy (PPF/Watt) was nearly 35% below the advertised data.

Steps cultivators can take to position their facilities for success

Properly understanding specific lighting metrics such as intensity, uniformity and wattage are foundational to the entire facility’s performance. However, it is equally important to ensure all systems are fully integrated and able to deliver optimal results before commencing operations. Working with a dedicated team that takes a holistic approach to facility planning, architecture and engineering design services ultimately removes guesswork and risk from the construction process.

As the industry matures and more stakeholders adopt battle-tested SOPs, it is essential to work with experienced MEP engineering and turnkey teams that utilize independent equipment testing data to ensure that the design process takes actual equipment performance and inputs into account for improved system integration. This one-stop-shop platform allows cultivators to stay on track with their initial timelines and focus on R&D or other growth strategies during build-out. 

Operating in the cultivation sector can be costly and involved due to fickle regulatory and economic factors. Fortunately, businesses can offset these potential challenges by regaining the ability to control the quality and abundance of each harvest with the support of construction and design partners that understand the nuances of proper facility lighting. 

This article was submitted by an external contributor and may not represent the views and opinions of Benzinga.


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