Written by Mike Sanchez
The 2018 Midterms were indicative of the growing acceptance of legal cannabis across the United States. This surge is changing the landscape of farming, particularly for indoor agriculture operations. The average American most likely associates growing weed to Cheech, Chong or Snoop, but the future of agricultural innovation is in cannabis cultivation.
Cash Crops Fuel Innovation
With all the big money in agriculture, cultivation innovation are following. In 2016 New Frontier Data, a leading industry research firm, published a report titled “Comparative Yield Per Acre For Grains And Marijuana” which details the comparative yield of various crops in the United States. Cannabis is off the charts -- in the millions of dollars per acre, far outpacing corn, soybeans and wheat.
Cannabis is a diverse plant that offers a lot more than big-money crops like corn or tomatoes. The plant is obviously known for its recreation fun, but cannabis has many uses. For example, CBD products are known to relieve pain. Hemp too is versatile, morphing into wellness products, sustainable clothing, and even efficient building materials. And, cannabis is a fantastic plant-based source of protein and fiber.
Technology Paves A Path Forward
Whether growing cannabis or corn, agricultural science aims to have precise control over environmental factors and nutrients in order maximize the yield of each plant while reducing the acreage and water waste. Specialized cannabis cultivation facilities and innovators are pushing the envelope even further, driving an entirely new branch of agriculture technology in response to the increased demand for the medicinal herb. Although cannabis has been grown for thousands of years, quality, medicinal cannabis is a highly sensitive crop which demands precise lighting and a delicate blend of water, humidity, and nutrients. Today, high-tech automation systems control many of these operations. And with the demand for cannabis so high, and still growing, innovators are constantly trying to make cultivation more efficient.
With the cannabis industry likely continuing to legally expand 2019, indoor and outdoor cultivators across the farming spectrum are taking advantage of the renewed interest in agriculture and farming technology. Whether it be identifying plant diseases through AI, automated harvesting, improved growing techniques or the like, the roaring cannabis economy is serving as the financial engine that is powering technological innovation in the farming sector.
For example, the last few years of record-setting California fires devastated cannabis cultivators in Northern California, are are more likely to become more common as the climate changes. It isn’t just the fire that impacts cannabis, but the smoke. In Mendocino county, a key county of the Emerald Triangle, even those plants and buds that were fortunate enough to escape the flames were contaminated due to the smoke, soot and ash from the blaze. These environmental variables are a new reality that Northern California grows must take into consideration to protect their large-scale grows. Perhaps millions of dollars worth of product could have been saved if grown in indoor facilities.
Now cannabis cultivators are looking for the technology to keep their crop safe, and must work to find cutting-edge agricultural technology to keep it up. And by popular demand, it's the cannabis industry that's pushing forward with innovative ideas that will benefit the entire farming industry.
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