Vertical cannabis farming 101

Published Jun 10, 2022 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Baramee Temboonkiat

Vertical cannabis farming is the perfect solution for those who want to maximize their yield without having to invest in a larger grow facility. Though growers with experience in this type of cannabis cultivation know that the costs associated with building an advanced setup may be high, there are many advantages that come with making the initial investment, and for many, the results far outweigh any difficulties that might arise along the way. With that in mind, we’re going to explain what vertical farming is, why you’d want to do it, and the disadvantages of this practice. We’ll also follow up with some helpful tips and tricks to help overcome any challenges.

What is vertical cannabis farming?

Vertical farming is a practice that is used to produce vertical layers of crops stacked on top of one another. Some producers use this method to grow food in challenging climates, like in areas where arable land is expensive, rare, or simply non-existent, while others utilize the practice for its many other advantages over more traditional grow rooms and greenhouses.

Advantages of vertical farming

The number one reason why so many cultivators choose vertical farming is that it is an excellent way to scale up a cannabis business with minimal space. Buying new plots of land and building grow rooms from scratch can be expensive, making them less ideal options for those operating under thin profit margins, but you might also want to consider implementing the practice if:

  • You reside in a region where the cost of cannabis is high, natural sunlight is limited, and access to energy is affordable. In these situations, it’s often more cost-effective for producers to use vertical farming instead of greenhouse production.

  • You are a grower that already cultivates indoors, and demand is increasing. Scaling up can be much faster and easier than growing outwards.

  • You’re cultivating indoors using the power of HPS grow lights. LEDs will help you to save money on electricity while also expanding your output.

Disadvantages of vertical cannabis farming

Some growers are hesitant about vertical cannabis farming, and that is because there are complexities and difficulties associated with setting up and maintaining a layered system. Luckily, most issues can be solved by having a well-designed production plan. Still, cultivators should consider the disadvantages of implementing this method in cannabis cultivation.

  • Start-up costs associated with vertical farming are high, but when the tradeoff is doubling revenue, it still generally makes sense to transition. To do this successfully, you’ll need the tools and equipment to make a return on this investment.

  • Skilled cultivation labourers are hard to find, and that’s even more true with vertical farming. Though the process isn’t much different than any other sort of growing, it is a bit more complicated, so it’s important to keep your team up to date and educated on what they must do to maintain such a crop.

  • The price charged for cannabis grown using this method must reflect the amount of work, upkeep, and investment it requires, which in many cases will mean an increase in cost passed on to the consumer. Luckily, with a focus on quality, it’s not hard to charge premium prices to make better returns.

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How to start vertical cannabis cultivation

Now that you know exactly what you’re getting into and you’re ready to get started, it’s time to look at what it takes to set up a vertical cannabis farm. Luckily, we’ve narrowed it down to four simple steps that will help to ensure you succeed.

Step 1 – Select a vertical grow system

Vertical racking, aka racks, is the foundation for this method of cultivation, and most come standard as 4x8 foot pallet racks. However, they are not all created equally, which is why it’s important to consider things like electrical, pressure, drainage, and irrigation. Most growers prefer racks that also roll for convenient adjustments, while some like stationary alternatives to prevent accidental shifting.

Step 2 – Choose your grow lights

With vertical farming, LED lights are necessary, but you will have a choice between white broad-spectrum or pink target spectrum. The most important thing is to choose the ones that will promote optimal growth. Commercial growers wanting to deliver only the basic industry standards reliably might opt for broad-spectrum, while craft cultivators are better off developing exotic buds under targeted pink lighting. For those who really want to perfect the craft, implementing spectrum control (using both types of grow lights) is always going to provide the best results, though this is the most expensive option by far.

Step 3 – Environmental controls

There are many options on the market today in terms of heating and cooling your grow environment, and in most cases, automation is necessary, which means investing in sensors as well as the tools that will do much of the work for you. For airflow, it’s essential to push air through all open areas of racing systems while drawing it out the opposite end. Many greenhouses rely on a similar setup.

Step 4 – Settle on a production method

Vertical cannabis farming allows growers to expand production, but it also limits space, so you’ll need to keep plants that are short no more than 4 feet tall. Much like with the SCROG method, this crop will stay in a vegetative state for less time. Speed becomes an invaluable commodity, so anything you can do to satisfy that requirement should be built into your production plan.

Vertical cannabis cultivation isn’t easy or inexpensive, so it’s not the ideal choice for those who aren’t fully committed to making the change, at whatever cost, but with passion, skill, and patience, it can be a successful upgrade for any type of grower.

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