A case for cultivating outdoors

03/29/17
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As an aspiring licensee, one of the first questions you’ll encounter when planning your project is whether to grow indoors or outside.  This critical decision will influence everything from production costs to grow methodology and should be given serious consideration.

In the most generic terms, the distinction between growing indoors and outdoors comes down to your light source.  Any operation that utilizes sunlight is deemed outdoor, and this can range from an open field or farm plot to a more structured greenhouse set-up.  Any operation that utilizes 100% grow lights is consider to be indoor.

Due to the growing acceptance of cannabis and evolving legislation around its production, the topic of “where to grow” can now be debated.  No longer are grow operations relegated to basements and secluded warehouses to avoid detection from authorities.  However, many sophisticated operations still choose to cultivate inside for the benefits associated with growing in the great indoors.  Here are some factors that typically influence that decision:

1.   Ability to craft a visually perfect product: Within a controlled growing environment, growers can focus on crafting their cannabis masterpiece, free of weather fluctuations. This artistry has created a demand for perfection in the marketplace, as witnessed today in high-end dispensaries, whom encase beautiful buds under the same glass to that of a jeweler.

 

2.   Total control of the growing environment: Indoors, there’s no need to stress about rainy days, drying wind, or nibbling wildlife. Indoor grow operations give the cultivator 100% control over the growing environment and provide the opportunity to create perfect conditions every day of the year.

 

3.   It’s like an insurance policy against pests: Indoor operations consist of multiple growing rooms which allows cultivators to isolate insect or disease outbreaks to individual rooms.  Unlike open greenhouses that contain multiple stages of crops in the same space, indoor cultivation accommodates a pause in production after harvest that allows for complete sterilization of the room.  This decreases the chance of any insects or disease spores surviving from the previous crop to infect the new incoming plants.  
 


So… why grow outdoors?

There are many beliefs circulating that pose a compelling case for staying indoors. Some claim that outdoor flowers tend to finish “stretchier” than the more compact indoor flowers. Others are concerned that insect or animal contact may lead to a visually unappealing product and potential contamination.

Yes, any plant grown outdoors under the open sky is subject to varying conditions.  However, with a little protection (i.e. a greenhouse), many common concerns can be mitigated or completely avoided.  Greenhouse grow lights can supplement sunlight on cloudy days, helping to prevent stretchy flower growth.  Screening over vents can prevent the introduction of cannabis-eating insects, birds and even pollen.

Given the advanced state of greenhouse growing technology, it is my belief that outdoor production is the future of commercial cannabis cultivation, and here’s why:

1.   It costs much less to produce: Savings can reach upwards of 50% when compared to product grown indoors.
 

2.   It consumes a lot less energy: Bloomberg recently estimated that 9% of California’s household electrical consumption was utilized by indoor cannabis cultivations1.  As the industry expands governments will likely incentivize cultivation methods that leave a smaller carbon footprint.
 

3.   Look around: While cannabis is certainly unique, its growing requirements are not radically different any other flower, vegetable or herb that is commercially grown today.  If farmers can grow other crops successfully outdoors, so too can cannabis cultivators.
 

4.   Cannabis thrives in the right outdoor environment: Take Colombia for example, a country that has recently implemented a licensing program for commercial cultivators.  Building a state-of-the-art indoor growing facility in Colombia would be completely unnecessary and totally out-of-place.  Colombia is warm and sunny year-round with the perfect amount of light exposure for cultivating cannabis.  In addition, current regulations only permit the sale and export of cannabis oil, meaning the end user never sees the marijuana flower.  This means any imperfections in the bud is completely irrelevant - all the consumer sees is the oil.


The pressure to maintain low costs of production while growing in a more environmentally-friendly manner will force commercial cultivators to move outdoors.  Cultivators will look to current examples of other successful greenhouse crops and evolve the process with techniques specific to cannabis.  These advancements will allow the cultivator to grow high-quality cannabis at lower costs, making outdoor cultivation the future of commercial cannabis production.

Boomberg News, “As Pot-Growing Expands, Electricity Demands Tax U.S. Grids”, December 21, 2015.