By Luis Merchan, President & CEO of Flora Growth Corp.
In the early days of the legal cannabis industry in North America, it made sense in many situations to try to grow cannabis both indoors, in greenhouses, and outdoors for scaling operations. As the large Canadian operators set up in the first federally legal market, many players in the industry looked to indoor and hybrid greenhouses as the "solution" to achieving consistent high-quality production at the lowest cost possible.
However, in reality, many of the original indoor and greenhouse producers ran into major environmental issues with pest control, seasonal quality control and genetic replication complications, driving up costs to unsustainable levels. As we move into an era where this plant will become a commodity, like coffee or wheat, it’s now the appropriate time to consider the expiration date on the viability of costly (an indoor facility can cost seven times as much as an outdoor) and finicky (high government-mandated taxes) indoor and greenhouse grow operations.
Indoor vs. outdoor growing: Which is the future of cannabis?
Make no mistake, there are several valuable opinions in the industry -- and indoor growers will tell you that growing cannabis indoors allows you to completely control the light source for the flower, the environment, temperature, CO2 levels, and humidity -- all the while never having to worry about the weather. One of the cons that comes with this much control? The cost. For example, in Denver, a pound of marijuana can cost up to US$750 or more in electricity alone. They will also tell you that indoor growing can produce THC with higher percentages, with a lower cost ratio for that percentage and that cost matters.
From arguments about proper light to free land, the indoor versus outdoor debate has lasted for as long as the legal industry has been growing. Legalization over just the last few years in South and North America has changed the game. Meanwhile, most experts agree: Premium cannabis consumer brands will always exist and thrive in the market -- but for bulk suppliers, won’t it be price point combined with quality that carries the day?
Outdoor cultivation may be the future of the cannabis industry, but not all outdoor cultivation is created equal. At the leading global outdoor cultivation sites, growers have been able to achieve high yields with excellent cannabinoid content, consistently exceeding 20 percent THC and CBD due to exceptional growing conditions. These conditions generally include 12-plus hours of sunlight, organic nutrient-rich soil, and ideal outdoor conditions that minimize issues with pest and pathogen control. Cultivation conditions such as these can help achieve a premium flower product.
With reduced environmental impact and experienced laborers, outdoor cannabis operations can grow for US$0.06/gram with minimal electricity costs, using natural water springs that provide water for free and utilizing the entire plant to combat waste - compared to indoor operations that can average more than US$3.00/gram.
Sustainability in Cannabis Cultivation
Outdoor cultivation has two inherent advantages that go hand in hand: the ability to scale at both a low cost and a lower environmental impact. Acres of land can be cultivated using only a handful of small, open-air propagation greenhouses that can be installed rapidly, and as required. And unlike indoor cultivation, where growers need to control temperature and humidity conditions for massive greenhouse rooms, growers can economically plant row-by-row outdoors, significantly reducing wasted resource expenditure.
Along with this lower requirement for operating and infrastructure investment comes a low impact on the environment. The cultivation process should always be innately sustainable, largely using components from nature. Natural water springs should be able to supply farms and organic, pesticide-free agronomic management systems tailored to the local climate and conditions can allow growers to achieve massive scale while having minimal broader environmental impact.
It’s important to prioritize sustainability in every aspect of a cannabis cultivation business. From social equity and sustainable packaging to water and energy-saving practices and eco-conscious certifications, it is possible to be committed to sustainability across a company’s value chain.
Companies should be able to grow at scale and produce cannabis flower with none of the products or inputs being tested on animals. Outdoor grows also can show an amazing ability to maximize return on capital invested by utilizing the entire plant to reduce waste and sensibly maintain operational flexibility to scale production and capitalize on growing wholesale and retail demand.
By combining high-quality products with a low-cost structure and sustainable practices, outdoor grow practices could represent the future as far as being the best method for cultivation. Through a clear understanding of your cultivation needs and your ability to control the outdoor elements to provide the best quality product possible, outdoor growing has the potential to make a positive impact on the environment and the future of cannabis cultivation.
Photo Via Unsplash
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