Thursday, May 17, 2018
California Blossoms into Legalization with Cannabis Cultivation Conference
The commercial cannabis industry is growing by leaps and bounds, not only in the United States but in Canada. Legalization efforts have resulted in 29 states and the District of Columbia to pass medical cannabis legislation; an additional nine states and D.C. have also made recreational marijuana legal. In Canada, legislation to legalize recreational cannabis is moving to a final vote in June 2018; Canadian citizens already have access to legal medical cannabis.
With the fast-growing industry and new opportunities in markets throughout North America, conferences have been organized to help commercial operators thrive. One of the most important cannabis conferences in recent months was the Cannabis 2018 Cultivation Conference, held March 13, 2018 in Oakland, California. Here, leading figures in the burgeoning industry shared their thoughts and insights into the commercial marijuana industry with event attendees.
Considerations in Large-Scale Cultivation
Large-scale grow operations have sprouted in communities throughout North America, particularly in western states where legalization efforts have taken hold. Some of the key considerations in large-scale marijuana cultivation operations including the concept of automating processes to help increase yields, quality, and consistency from harvest to harvest. Today’s marijuana consumers demand outstanding quality, and by adding automated systems to the grow operation, those consumers’ needs and desires can be met time and again. Examples of automation include plant feeding and irrigation systems and light delivery timing systems. These automated systems eliminate guesswork, providing plants with the optimal growing conditions and improving process efficiency across the board.
Cleanliness is also an important part of the large-scale cultivation process. At many grow facilities, employees have clothing and personal protection equipment (PPE) that remains within the facility, helping to eliminate cross-contamination from insects and fungi. Keeping the grow area clean and free of debris can also cut the chances of a pathogen outbreak; the most successful grow operations have detailed cleanliness protocols to prevent the loss of crops.
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Finally, many successful cultivators know that evolution is a natural part of industrial growth. As the markets shift from state to state and across the country, being able to change to meet consumer demands is of great importance. A flexible business model is crucial, as is understanding that regulatory considerations may evolve along with the business itself. Regulatory compliance is not a fixed target; as regulators gain more understanding of the cannabis industry, they are adding changes to the regulatory standards and practices that cultivators must follow to ensure compliance.
Tips for Success in Breeding
Several keynote speakers at the Cannabis 2018 Cultivation Conference shared their insights into cannabis breeding, especially how breeding efforts affect large-scale commercial operations. The most critical takeaway from breeding presentations at the conference is that commercial cultivators should focus on breeding and growing plant varieties that are popular with consumers. According to one commercial operator, the cannabis strain known as “Blue Dream” has dominated the commercial market. This particular strain is easy to grow, naturally pest-resistant, and can be found in dispensaries across the country. Attention to so-called “landraces”, or time-honored cannabis strains that are suited to regional environmental conditions, is another tactic that successful growers are implementing. As with any industry, learning consumer preferences can unlock new opportunities. Regional preferences may dictate the cultivation of specific marijuana strains, and here flexibility is important. Being able to bring popular cannabis varieties to market in a timely manner can spell the difference between profitability and lost opportunities.
Research into new cannabis breeds has been done without the support of the scientific community as hobbyist growers have made the transition to commercial-scale operations. Once botanists and other members of the sciences get on board with their knowledge, new strains can be developed to meet emerging consumer demands. The cannabis genome has recently been mapped, and this scientific knowledge can unlock stronger genetic profiles for cannabis varieties available to marijuana users.
Cultivators doing their own breeding operations should focus on which traits are desirable in a given strain. Developing strains that are pest-resistant can reduce crop losses, and tailoring specific strains for THC and/or CBD content can provide consumers with the varieties that meet their needs. Remembering the end user in commercial growing and breeding operations is important – growers should know their target audience and their preferences before embarking on expensive breeding operations.
Tips from Successful Cultivators
There was a huge amount of information sharing at the Cannabis 2018 Cultivation Conference. Conference attendees were exposed to the insights of dozens of major industry players. In addition to cultivation and breeding best practices, attendees were also able to learn several tricks of the trade that they could bring to their own operations. The end result is a stronger, more flexible, and more knowledgeable cannabis industry.
Collecting pollen in special pollen bags has been employed by innovative commercial growing operations. Isolating pollens from different strains can prevent undesirable cross-breeding. Some growers will protect certain branches of their plants with plastic to help protect specific breeding operations. Freezing or storing pollen for later use is another practice that ensures the success of future generations of cultivation.
The cannabis genome has experienced a narrowing over the past two decades. This is due in no small part to the practice of “clone only” hybrids and sterile cannabis strains, both of which are used in many commercial-scale growing operations. The same male breeding genetics have been used for many generations of cannabis culture, and this has reduced the diversity within the genetic profiles of plants. Smart cultivators are refocusing their efforts on landraces, incorporating the hardy growth and pest resistance into new breeds, and many growers are collecting and sowing seeds from many different cultivars to enhance genetic diversity. Tissue culture, an advanced method used in many other commercial farming applications, has also been adopted by the marijuana industry. This can preserve desirable genetics for future generations. With these tips and industry insights, commercial growers have many tools at their disposal. The industry can become stronger and more stable with the information-sharing practices exhibited at the Cannabis 2018 Cultivation Conference and similar gatherings around the world.