Site Selection

Site Selection for a New Cannabis Grow Facility

Site Selection for a New Cannabis Grow Facility

Site Selection

Your team is gearing up to build a cutting-edge cannabis cultivation facility, and you’re collaborating with a design team to ensure meticulous planning and execution every step of the way. Proper site selection is one of the most crucial decisions to make in the early stage of the process. Taking a thoughtful approach to choosing your site can prevent costly upgrades and compromises later on. 

So, how do you identify that ideal site for your facility?

As Pipp Cannabis Operations Specialist Anders Peterson said in a recent webinar, it helps to move methodically through a checklist of sorts, covering utilities, structural support, climate considerations, and fire code compliance. Schedule meetings with all your stakeholders to confirm that your checklist aligns with local regulations and business goals.

Let’s get into it…

Initial Site Considerations

#1: Utilities

Before committing to a location, assess the available utilities. After all, you need a great deal of power to run your operation, and you’ll want to consider any long-term expansion plans for your business.

Peterson said that, in most cases, your team will need to augment your site’s power capabilities. “More often than not, you’re going to have to run additional power to these facilities, sometimes gas,” he said. “Most commercial buildings today just don’t have the infrastructure that indoor grows need. That’s why it’s good to locate a building close to a denser area that has a pretty established grid.”

Conduct a thorough load assessment to verify the availability of three-phase electrical connections for HVAC systems, grow lights, and irrigation. 

If natural gas is required for heating or CO2 enrichment, consult with local utility providers to determine whether extending existing gas lines is feasible. 

For water supply, perform a pressure test to ensure the system can meet the demands of irrigation. 

Action Item: Obtain blueprints from the utility companies for an accurate understanding of the current infrastructure.

Vertical Farming

#2: Structural Support

Bear in mind that most commercial building roofs weren’t designed to support controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Get out in front of that problem as early as possible. 

“Most of the roofs on commercial buildings aren’t designed to support the heavy HVAC equipment required for indoor cultivation,” Peterson said. 

Have your team perform a roof load analysis to check the live load capacity and consider ground-level equipment installation to reduce pressure on the roof. Plan space around the building for generators, chillers, and fans without obstructing parking or delivery access. Work the space from all angles (building needs, people needs, plant needs). 

Action Item: Hire a structural engineer to inspect the roof and foundation for load-bearing capacity.

Pipp Horticulture

#3: Climate Impact

The local climate will affect your HVAC system’s efficiency. Now, your business may be tied from the get-go to one climate over another. (Let’s say you’re bound to the state-licensed market in Ohio, for example, or Connecticut. California may be another story entirely.)

Extreme temperatures, humidity, and seasonal changes can greatly impact HVAC efficiency and performance. Consult historical weather data to adjust HVAC system sizing and ensure you can maintain ideal room conditions. 

Action Item: Obtain historical climate data and cross-reference with HVAC specifications to confirm equipment performance under expected conditions.

Specific Site Selection Factors

#1: Floor Condition

Multi-level mobile racking requires a strong foundation. “You need to make sure that the foundation is good and well-suited for that application,” Pipp Product Manager Del Rockwell said. 

Core drilling can confirm the slab’s depth and uniformity for supporting mobile racking. Cracks or uneven surfaces can undermine stability. If flaws are identified, consider resurfacing or replacing the slab with high-strength concrete. 

Action Item: Commission a geotechnical survey and core drilling to verify the slab’s condition and calculate necessary repairs.

#2: Column Spacing

Column spacing impacts mobile racking layouts, so get a good sense of the literal square footage available on the floor.

“Column spacing … can cause a lot of issues with laying out the racking.,” Rockwell said. 

Plan for a minimum 40-foot span to minimize obstructions and provide ample support for overhead systems. Conduct a structural analysis to ensure the columns can withstand extra loads from HVAC equipment and irrigation piping. 

Action Item: Create or study detailed blueprints indicating column positions and calculate load capacity before designing the rack layout.

Cannabis Growers Using Pipp Horticulture at Culta

#3: Ceiling Height

The ceiling height must accommodate multi-level cultivation tiers. “Ceiling height can absolutely cut off your headspace and eliminate some cultivation tiers,” Rockwell said. 

Ideally, the ceilings should be at least 16’ to accommodate multi-level racking. But they can be installed in spaces with as little as 10’ high ceilings and tighter spacing between grow levels. 

Confirm the clear height for multi-tier systems and assess whether mezzanines or beams will obstruct usable space. Plan for ductwork, lighting, and irrigation systems to maximize growth potential. 

Action Item: Use laser measurement tools to map out the usable height for each rack tier, adjusting for overhead equipment.

Fire Code Compliance

#1: Local Regulations

Engage with the local fire marshal early to ensure the facility adheres to local fire codes. Local community communication is paramount in those early days.

“Try to do everything you can to make that a smooth interaction,” Rockwell advised. 

Network with other cultivators who have successfully navigated the local fire codes to identify common issues and best practices. 

Action Item: Schedule a preliminary consultation with the fire marshal to review plans and obtain feedback on compliance strategies.

#2: National Standards

Monitor the progress of NFPA 420, the National Fire Protection Association’s new standard for cannabis cultivation. Sign up for proactive email updates, too. Stay updated on regulatory changes to ensure your facility is compliant. 

Action Item: Sign up for the NFPA newsletter to receive updates and download relevant guidelines.

Conclusion

Planning a new grow facility requires collaboration between experts, clear communication with regulators, and careful analysis of utilities, structural support, and fire safety. 

By considering floor conditions, column spacing, ceiling height, and HVAC loads early in the process, facility managers can minimize delays and create a highly efficient and compliant grow facility that thrives.

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Pipp Horticulture at Freedom Green

Why Vertical Farming Is Important in Urban Real Estate Markets

Why Vertical Farming Is Important in Urban Real Estate Markets

Pipp Horticulture at Freedom Green

At least two trends are converging for the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry: a slow commercial real estate crash in major American cities and broad inflation on input costs. Cannabis growers especially need to get as much bang for their buck on their indoor cultivation facility, and urban settings are perhaps a surprising source of possibility now. 

Following the pandemic, major cities like Washington, D.C., New York City and Denver hoped to flip newly vacant office space into residential units. That hasn’t entirely worked, partially because of consumer inflation concerns. 

That opened an opportunity to rethink warehouse and office space in the light of a rising CEA industry

For cannabis growers, these spaces can be especially appealing

In most cases ( depending on state law), cities provide proximity to retail distribution and broad customer bases. To facilitate cannabis cultivation and other CEA practices, these areas tend to already have robust infrastructure, which is essential for the high energy and water demands of this industry. 

With the U.S. cannabis market projected to grow from $115 billion in adult-use sales in 2024 to $170 billion in adult-use sales in 2028, there’s a wave of new businesses on the threshold of licensure or expansion that may thrive in more urban environments. 

Here are three benefits (and challenges) of building out an indoor cultivation space within urban city centers.

The Benefits of Vertical Farming in Cities

#1: Maximizing Space Utilization

A primary hurdle to this type of CEA development has long been cost. In mid-sized and larger American cities, commercial or industrial real estate is often expensive and limited in availability. This is changing in the post-pandemic real estate market, but those long-standing challenges have often kept cannabis businesses, strapped for cash early on, from setting up shop in city environments. 

Vertical farming addresses this constraint by expanding overall canopy upward, doubling or even tripling the actual grow space. For businesses acquiring land or real estate that may not be as expansive as an industrial footprint in a more rural community, vertical farming lets growers exponentially increase their production capacity in a given room. 

This spatial efficiency is crucial in densely populated areas, making vertical farming particularly appealing to city planners and developers looking to attract new business to their jurisdiction. 

Buckeye Relief, based in Eastlake, Ohio, just east of downtown Cleveland, built out a new facility and eventually saw the need to expand upward. Early on, the Buckeye Relief team ran into environmental trouble with an original site, so they pivoted to a 10-acre plot of land offered by the city of Eastlake. It fit the company’s needs for the medical cannabis market, but expansion would be inevitable. 

Mobile racking on the company’s initial single-tier setup helped them achieve their expansion to a second tier within the existing footprint of their facility. Future footprint expansions are one thing, but growing up and adding vertical tiers to a given production facility can provide significant returns. 

Now, the company runs two tiers of production space, and they are preparing for the rapidly expanding customer base that will come from the greater Cleveland area once adult-use sales begin (following legalization in November 2023).

Two Level Grow Benches by Pipp Horticulture at Freedom Green

#2: Reducing Environmental Impact and Water Use

Vertical farming in a closed environment allows grow teams to cut back on water and nutrient use, generally. Water use efficiency is especially important in more urban neighborhoods, where resources are under constant pressure from the dense populations they support. 

Research is ongoing on this topic, but vertical farming has proven in some studies to reduce water usage significantly. In one 2023 study, vertical farms reduced water use by 28% to as much as 95% compared to greenhouse environments in the same region.

Pipp Horticulture at Sozo

#3: Shielding Your Crops from Tricky Environmental Conditions

In environments like California and its hyper-competitive cannabis market, growers across the state are competing with small outdoor farms. Those smaller farms can reap serious benefits from a photoperiod perspective; nestled in Humboldt County groves, many farms achieve optimal microclimates and draw ideal sunlight for their plants. They’re also exposed, of course, to the elements and a rapidly changing climate.

Vertical indoor farming can surmount a lot of those challenges. 

James Cunningham, CEO of Fog City Farms, told us in a recent podcast episode, that moving into the vertical farming segment provided his company with a competitive advantage–and a space to accelerate research and development ideas. 

“You can achieve a consistency that you can’t achieve in other growing platforms,” he said. “The distance between your light bars and the [light] throw, and intersecting lighting patterns is so consistent throughout the space that you get very consistent [plant] development.” 

Those conditions are ideal for businesses developing end products for a brand, which is a paramount concern right now in cannabis. Consistent products and engaging delivery on retail shelves are must-haves in most cannabis markets. 

Fog City Farms is based in Watsonville, Calif., just outside Santa Cruz, and it is a fine example of this mid-sized city real estate market opportunity.

The Challenges

Of course, the story is not all rosy. The cannabis business is nothing if not complicated.

Setting aside the bevy of production challenges in cannabis cultivation just on face value, the prospects of acquiring real estate and setting up a vertical grow offer their own unique roadblocks that must be overcome:

#1: Zoning

Zoning regulations will vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but, nonetheless, indoor cannabis cultivation has always faced an uphill battle.

While the density of cities will place your cultivation business near its retail base, there’s a trade-off. Most zoning regulations come with buffer language and even limits on the number of cannabis businesses that may be allowed to operate. 

That buffer language often includes certain distances that businesses must place between their facility and schools, daycares, or churches. In a city environment, this is difficult. 

As far as the limits on cannabis businesses, some cities do not necessarily distinguish between dispensaries and cultivation operations; a city that allows a lot of dispensaries to open up shop may leave few, if any, cultivation licensing opportunities on the table.

As more cities recognize the economic benefits of supporting urban agriculture and cannabis industries, there may be a shift toward more accommodating policies. This is a great example of where active cannabis businesses can get involved with local legislatures and regulatory bodies to bring about some change for the industry.

#2: Community Engagement

Speaking of working with local government, it’s important for businesses planning on acquiring real estate in a city to remain mindful of the existing community. 

As with all business development issues in cannabis, the surrounding community of people must be considered. This is partly due to the slowly dying stigma that accompanies the industry and also partly because cannabis is broadly seen as an industry capable of delivering tremendous returns to the local community. 

To fulfill that promise, business owners who run vertical farms in cities must listen to their neighbors’ questions and comments.

Pipp Horticulture at Freedom Green

#3: Conversion Costs

New builds are possible and perhaps even ideal when considering a footprint in a major city, but retrofitting an older warehouse is a common enough development plan for cultivation businesses. This is where the real estate opportunity lies, as mentioned earlier. 

However, as the commercial real estate market cools in some cities, brokers and business owners must be very knowledgeable about what they’re looking for in a building. Retrofitted spaces will deliver all sorts of unique challenges and costly work. A cultivation facility, especially one that’s set up vertically, has very specific requirements tailored to its operational needs, making the adaptation of existing structures complex and often costly.

When operators consider moving into a pre-existing building, they frequently encounter the need for substantial upgrades to accommodate the specialized infrastructure of cultivation operations. Notably, these facilities require elaborate setups for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and irrigation systems. 

These systems typically involve heavy equipment and extensive piping, which are often mounted on or suspended from the roof. Upgrading the HVAC system is one of the most important processes in a retrofit project, as highly sterile vertical grow environments demand great efficiency (as opposed to whatever types of businesses the building may have housed previously).  

Also, consider a closed-loop recycled water system, which can generate the resource conservation benefits mentioned earlier. This is a significant upfront cost. 

One pivotal problem arises because most conventional roof structures are not engineered to bear such heavy loads. This mismatch means that the roof must often be structurally reinforced to prevent integrity issues.

Conclusion

In summary, the intersection of declining commercial real estate demand in cities and rising agricultural costs opens a valuable opportunity for vertical farming in urban areas. Although high property prices and complex regulations pose challenges, repurposing vacant office and warehouse spaces offers a promising solution for CEA. Vertical farming systems can capitalize on existing city infrastructure to maximize productivity and minimize environmental impact.

Urban vertical farming makes efficient use of limited space and allows growers to be closer to dense consumer markets, reducing transportation costs and spoilage while boosting food security. By adopting vertical farming practices, producers can create sustainable, technologically advanced cultivation facilities that meet changing regulatory standards. This approach aligns with global trends toward urban resilience and sustainability, providing economic growth while meeting consumer demand for fresh, eco-friendly, and locally sourced products.

Repurposing commercial real estate for vertical farming can transform city landscapes, offering a sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective solution that helps address food security and climate change challenges.

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Beyond Dancing Leaves: Quantifying Cultivation Airflow

Beyond Dancing Leaves: Quantifying Cultivation Airflow

Airflow System for Cannabis Plants

Setting the Stage

“As Pipp Horticulture’s Director of Horticulture, one of the most common issues I help cannabis growers and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) producers with is improving airflow within the crop canopy. Interestingly, several of those conversations follow this script:”

Grower: “I’m not getting enough airflow.”

Anders: “Ok, what airflow do you want to get?”

Grower: “Well, I want to see my leaves dancing.”

Anders: “But what does that mean? Leaf dancing is not a quantification.”

Despite how sophisticated indoor farming has become over the last decade, with many sensor and control system companies investing heavily in data collection and analysis tools, most growers still rely on subjective visual cues to determine whether enough air is flowing through their plant canopies. Even if these groups have an interest in quantifying this cultivation parameter, many control systems aren’t set up to do so, as they are often designed for outdoor farms or greenhouses where air speed is out of the grower’s control. Instead, most controllers prioritize parameters such as air and soil temperature, light, humidity, CO2 concentration, water, and nutrients.

Even with the right control systems, CEA growers can encounter limitations with the airflow sensors themselves. Many commercially available airflow sensors are designed to measure outside wind speeds for greenhouses and outdoor farms. As such, most are not sensitive enough to get an accurate reading of indoor airflow speed targets. Airflow sensors for indoor farms should be able to accurately measure airflow coming from all directions in the targeted velocity ranges.

As a scientist and data-driven cultivator, I’ve spent the last several months studying airflow. During this time, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for quantifying airflow in plant growth environments. Like most things in CEA, measuring airflow requires a decent understanding of the available tools (and their limitations), as well as the time and desire to collect and analyze data over months. By moving from subjective assessments, like the level of perceived leaf dancing, to precise measurements, growers can maximize the expression of their crop’s genetic potential, grow healthier plants, and increase their bottom line.

Use the Right Metric: Airflow, Not Flow Rate

Measuring airflow requires growers to determine the speed at which air is moving through or across their plant canopies. For the airspeeds we are targeting in indoor cultivation, the most appropriate units of measurement to use are meters per second (m/s) or feet per minute (ft/min). (Miles or kilometers per hour (mph/kph) are better metrics for measuring much higher airspeeds, such as those found outdoors.)

Airflow velocity can (and should) be measured across multiple points in a cultivation environment. For example, growers may be interested in knowing the air velocity coming out of a ventilation duct or fan as well as closer to the canopy top, or even within the canopy, to understand how equipment layout influences how air moves through the space. While air speeds may be adequate near ventilation equipment, vertical racks, plant density, and other factors can impede that flow where it is most needed.

It is important to avoid conflating airflow, a velocity measure, and volumetric flow rates, measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM is commonly used for measuring the capacity, or flow rate, of fans, blowers, and HVAC systems, along with the flow rates through ductwork. This figure can help growers determine the system requirements needed to achieve their desired amount of air changes in a given period. CFM can be calculated by multiplying the velocity of the air (in feet per minute) within a defined area.

Unless growers are measuring within a defined space, like in a piece of ductwork, growers should always be using feet per minute or meters per second when discussing airflow. Various academic sources cite a target airflow speed of between 0.5-1 m/s (~100-200 feet per minute) at the canopy top for most crops. For leafy greens, growers can target the lower end of the range, while tomato crops can be pushed to the upper range.

Due to the generally high light levels and transpiration rates, cannabis plants may require even greater airflow speeds to maintain optimal plant growth. Anecdotally, targeting 1.25 – 1.5 m/s (~250-300 ft/min) at light levels between 1,000-1,200 PPFD will better homogenize the leaf surface temperature, facilitate gas exchange, and prevent moist air from stagnating. In vegetative growth, speeds of 0.5-1 m/s generally are sufficient. Essentially, the higher the light levels on your crop, the more airflow is needed to balance the energy transfer within the plant and within the grow room.

VAS 2.0 | Airflow System

How to Measure Airflow in Indoor Farms

While there are limited tools specifically designed to measure airflow in CEA environments, technologies from other industries and use cases can be used as we wait for better purpose-built solutions.

INFRARED (IR) THERMOMETERS

Infrared (IR) Thermometers

Indoor farmers and greenhouse operators may already be using infrared (IR) thermometers to monitor their crops leaf surface temperature for VPD calculations. These heat-sensing devices can be used to get an indirect airflow measurement by detecting differences in leaf surface temperatures across the plant canopy in a given grow room. Areas of the canopy with higher leaf surface temperatures than the rest of the room can indicate a lack of sufficient airflow in those zones.

IR thermometers can provide qualitative information about airflow patterns and speeds within a space but do not offer precise airflow readings needed to optimize growing environments. Nevertheless, this data is better than making decisions based on human senses or dancing leaves.

Beyond Dancing Leaves: Quantifying Cultivation Airflow

Cup/Vane Anemometers

Cup or vane anemometers use a mechanical system to measure airflow. Cups or fan blades pushed by wind spin on an axis, and the number of revolutions per minute determines the wind speed. These systems are common in outdoor farms and can be affixed to the top of greenhouses to capture outside wind speed.

While handheld models exist, cup or vane anemometers are generally not sensitive enough to measure the lower air velocities we are targeting in indoor cultivation. Furthermore, these handheld devices only provide accurate readings when held vertically and are not useful when measuring top-down or bottom-up airflow in vertical farms.

HOT WIRE ANEMOMETERS

Hot-Wire Anemometers

Hot-wire anemometers are handheld devices generally used in the HVAC industry to measure in-duct airflow. A small wire sticks out of one end of the device. That wire gets heated and cools off as air moves around it. The voltage required to heat it back up to setpoint is correlated to the amount of air velocity going across it. These are currently some of the best handheld devices that growers can use to measure intracanopy airflow.

Unidirectional hot-wire anemometers are more readily available and come at a lower price point, but require the user to point the device in the correct direction and can only take airflow readings from one direction at a time. (These units will have an arrow indicating how the user can align the wire against the airflow direction.)

However, airflow is hardly ever coming from one direction in cultivation environments and is instead quite turbulent. Also, in multi-tier grow rooms, cultivators often use a combination of side, bottom-up, and/or top-down airflow systems (like Pipp’s In-Rack Airflow Systems) and can find it difficult to get an accurate airflow reading using unidirectional hot-wire anemometers. Despite coming in at a higher price point and having fewer options available on the market, omnidirectional hot-wire anemometers can measure airflow coming from multiple directions. This makes them ideal tools to measure canopy-level airflow in indoor farms and greenhouse environments.

When using either unidirectional or omnidirectional anemometers, operators must take multiple measurements across the top of their plant canopies. By taking measurements at various points in their cultivation areas, growers can map out where the dead zones are and begin to optimize their airflow maps by adjusting fan positioning and intensities. By averaging these multiple readings, growers can determine the room’s plant canopy airflow velocity. This metric can be correlated with other cultivation parameters within the automation and control systems to optimize their cultivation strategies.

Beyond Dancing Leaves: Quantifying Cultivation Airflow

Airflow Sensors

Growers whose automation and control systems can measure and data log airflow can install air velocity sensors within and around their plant canopies to get a true understanding of how air moves through their crop.

Airflow sensors require some labor to install and commission but offer the most in-depth insights into intracanopy air movement. Similarly to measuring air velocity with handheld hot-wire anemometers, it is important to place sensors in different locations in cultivation rooms to get a better sense of the room’s airflow, including at different heights within the canopy and across all grow tiers.

Key Takeaway

By moving beyond subjective readings like leaf-dancing that leave a lot of room for interpretation and adopting strong quantitative data collection and analysis practices, growers can not only build optimized, resource-efficient facilities but can also gain peace of mind that they are doing everything they can to grow healthy, productive crops.

For more tips on measuring airflow, be sure to head to Pipp’s YouTube page and see Fog City Farm’s James Cunningham explain how to use an environmental meter. You can also check out our other vertical farm optimization videos on our main channel.

Air Velocity vs Air Volume

Air Velocity
Air Volume

Definition

The distance air travels in a given amount of time (i.e. how fast the air is moving per unit of time).

The amount of air flowing past a specific point in a given amount of time (i.e. how much air is moving past or through a specific point per unit of time).

Units of Measurement

  • feet per minute (ft/min)
  • meters per second (m/s)
  • miles per hour (mph)
  • kilometers per hour (kph)
  • cubic feet per minute (CFM)
  • cubic meters per hour (m3/hr)
  • liters per minute (l/min)

Examples of how it is used in Indoor Cultivation

  • Measuring the air speed across or within your plant canopy.

  • Assessing the effectiveness and distribution of your airflow systems in maintaining a consistent environment.

  • Determining the air exchange rate of your grow room
  • Validating the capacity and flow rates of your HVAC and airflow systems

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[CHECKLIST] 10 Safety Tips in the Grow Room

[CHECKLIST] 10 Safety Tips in the Grow Room

Pipp Horticulture at Candre

Grow Room Safety Is Key

The indoor cannabis cultivation environment is an exciting place, one brimming with life and growth. You’ve no doubt hired a supremely talented team to run the operation, but general reminders about grow room safety are always welcome.  We have compiled 10 simple but essential tips for maintaining high safety standards in your grow rooms. These tips are meant to be regularly applied, as safety is an ongoing process. Encourage your team to consistently review and adhere to the safety protocols for your grow room.

1. Check Your PPE on a Regular Basis

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protects employees from exposure to hazardous substances, plant allergens, and other physical injuries. PPE may include items such as scrubs, Tyvek suits, gloves, hair nets, beard nets, shoe covers, protective clear glasses, and masks. 

Regular PPE inspection checks and immediate replacement of worn, compromised, or damaged PPE are vital to maintain high safety standards. Doing so will ensure that workers are adequately protected against potential risks from fine plant particulate matter. In addition to protecting employees, PPE, when used correctly, can reduce the risk of spreading biological contaminants, pests, and diseases.

The correct use of PPE not only complies with health and safety regulations but also fosters a culture of safety and sanitation within the workplace. Creating a culture with a strong foundation in safety is critical for any operation.

▢ Conduct regular PPE checks and replace any worn, compromised, or damaged equipment immediately.

Cannabis Cultivators Using ELEVATE by Pipp to Access 2nd Level Multi-Tier Racks

2. Understand Stability with Mobile Racking

Mobile racks and multi-tier cultivation have been accepted by most commercial cultivators as they allow cultivators to maximize the total canopy of any given room compared to single-tier cultivation. Any time an employee is working off the ground, whether it be on a ladder, platform, or lift, it is important to be properly trained and mindful of all associated safety protocols set in place by the company.

Staff training is important to prevent unnecessary injury, even on something as routine as moving mobile racks back and forth within the grow room. It is important to always visually inspect the top and bottom of the open mobile aisle before moving any racks to ensure it is free of any employees who may be working in the aisle. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for employees to work below the canopy on rolling stools, squatting, or sitting on a bucket, and they may be hidden from plain sight if looking for heads above the canopy. ***Pro Tip – Use magnetic high visibility flags that can be easily attached to the end of the racks to indicate workers are present. 

Make sure that employees understand how to engage locking mechanisms on all mobile racking units when not in use to prevent unintended movement. Mobile racks are available with an Anti-Tip Track, as well, which is required in seismic zones. Employees should never climb up on racks or trays. 

Implement a checklist for periodic safety checks of your mobile racks’ wheels, tracks, and locks.

Two Level Grow Benches by Pipp Horticulture at Freedom Green

3. Understand Weight Distribution and Load Capacity

On a similar note, make sure employees understand and adhere to the weight limits of the platform cat-walks and the racking system, as it is crucial to prevent employee injury and/or damage to the equipment.

Regular inspections should be conducted to ensure that racks are not overloaded and that employees are using the equipment correctly and safely. After any employee safety education training, ensure employees thoroughly understand the training through exercises such as tests and/or “train-the-trainer.” Once the training is completed and the employee has passed any tests, it is important to have the trainer and employees both sign their names on a training document that acknowledges that the employee understands the training and the risk when safety procedures are not adhered to. 

Pro Tip: Safety training is not a one-time event. Employees should be re-trained annually or even more frequently if unsafe work is observed. 

Document all safety training. Ensure employees are adequately trained, tested, and have signed off on receiving and understanding the training. 

Label your racking units with maximum load capacity.

4. Monitor Your Electrical Connections with Thermal Imaging

 

Given the extensive use of electrical equipment in cannabis cultivation, electrical safety is important to prevent fires, shocks, and equipment failures. Proactive inspections help identify potential hazards early. This protocol helps maintain electrical systems safely and efficiently. 

Lights can overheat if not properly installed or if the electrical infrastructure is overloaded. Implementing monthly inspections allows for the early identification of potential hazards, such as frayed wires, loose connections, or overloaded circuits, which are common issues that can lead to serious accidents. 

During these inspections, use a thermal imaging camera to detect hot spots invisible to the naked eye, indicative of electrical overload or failing components. This proactive approach minimizes downtime and protects both the workforce and the investment in cultivation infrastructure.

Perform monthly inspections of all electrical equipment and wiring, looking for signs of wear or damage.

5. Develop a Chemical Storage Protocol

Proper chemical storage and handling are essential to prevent spills, contamination, and exposure to toxic substances. Establishing a clear protocol, including a spill response plan, and reviewing it regularly with the team minimize the risk of accidents. All flammable chemicals should be clearly labeled and stored in an approved lockable flammable cabinet. All pesticides and fungicides should be stored in a dedicated and lockable cabinet and be separate from any cleaning and/or sanitation chemicals. Isopropyl alcohol spray bottles and bleach spray bottles are commonly used across cultivation facilities. These spray bottles should be clearly labeled with the date, chemical name, and any dilution ratio.

Create a chemical storage and handling protocol, including a spill response plan, and review it with the team quarterly.

Cannabis Growers Using Pipp Horticulture at Culta

6. Stretch! (Seriously)

Consider a 5-10 minute group stretch at the start of each shift. Ergonomic practices like stretching help prevent injuries common in cultivation tasks that involve repetitive motions, bending, lifting, and prolonged standing. This is also a great opportunity to communicate any important information to the employees about priorities, goals, challenges, or issues to be aware of. 

This simple yet effective routine can significantly reduce the incidence of work-related discomfort and injuries, enhancing productivity and employee satisfaction. It can also be a simple way to add some fun team-building to each day’s work.

Stretching can also elevate team morale. The high demand and repetitive nature of cannabis cultivation can place significant stress on employees, potentially impacting their mental health, morale, and productivity. Establishing a supportive workplace culture through simple activities that encourage a pause in the workday hustle can also prevent burnout in addition to enhancing team morale.

To reduce the risk of injuries, implement a 5-10 minute group stretch for the team at the start of each shift.

Mobile Grow Racks by Pipp at Culta

7. Prepare for Emergencies

You never know what can happen in a dynamic environment like an indoor cultivation facility. 

Conducting emergency response drills, including fire evacuation and first-aid scenarios, is critical to ensure staff are prepared for any potential emergencies. 

These drills, ideally held twice a year, help familiarize the team with emergency procedures, improving the speed and effectiveness of the response to actual incidents, thereby minimizing potential injuries and damage.

If employees are allowed to wear headphones or earbuds during their shift, it is important to implement a one-ear-only rule, which allows employees to keep one ear free of any music, podcasts, etc., so that in the event of an alarm, they can hear it and react quickly. Some cultivation rooms can be very loud from HVAC and other noisy equipment; it is important to have not only audible alarms but also visual alarms like strobes that can help make employees aware there is an issue. Walkie-talkies are a helpful and economical tool for prompt communications on a daily basis, but especially during an emergency.

You can also get more specific with these trainings down to the individual level. Conducting regular first aid training and emergency response drills empowers employees to act quickly and effectively in case of accidents, injuries, or health emergencies. Having a well-trained team can make a critical difference in minimizing the impact of such events, making this an essential component of any safety program. Making first aid kits easily accessible throughout the cultivation facility and ensuring that all employees know how to use them is also crucial.

Hold emergency response drills twice a year, and make sure your first aid kits are well stocked and easily accessible.

8. Place Sanitation at the Heart of Your SOPs

Daily end-of-shift cleaning routines for all tools and workspaces are essential for preventing the spread of pests and diseases within the cultivation facility. This might seem obvious, but it helps to put those routines on paper and communicate them clearly to all team members. This regular sanitation practice maintains a clean and safe environment for plants and people alike. It’s also a good habit-forming practice, which can encourage greater awareness of safety precautions throughout the rest of the facility. 

Establish daily end-of-shift cleaning routines for all tools and workspaces to maintain a hygienic environment.

9. Ramp Up Security

Regular audits of access control systems ensure that only authorized personnel can enter sensitive cultivation areas. This practice will safeguard against theft, contamination, and unauthorized entry. 

Rigorous security measures maintain the integrity of the cultivation process while protecting valuable genetic material and preventing diversion.

Audit access control systems quarterly to ensure only authorized personnel can enter cultivation areas.

Multi-Tier Grow Racks by Pipp Horticulture at Culta

10. Communicate With Your Team

Monthly safety and operations training sessions keep the team informed about the latest cultivation techniques, safety protocols, and regulatory compliance. Although those topics may not change monthly, each one involves a great deal of detail. Minor aspects of safety protocols or regulatory language can be overlooked as time goes on, so frequent communication is important to keep them top-of-mind.

Ongoing education empowers employees with the knowledge and skills to perform their tasks efficiently and safely. This fosters a proactive and safe workplace culture for all. 

▢ Organize monthly safety and operations training sessions to keep the team updated on best practices and safety protocols.

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4 Strategies for Even Light Distribution in Vertical Grows

4 Strategies for Even Light Distribution in Vertical Grows

Pipp Horticulture at Culta

The Right Lights for Your Grow

Any cultivation business’s expansion into vertical farming is a complex challenge. One of the main goals is to achieve optimal light distribution on each level of the grow. 

We  are here to address the interplay between light physics, plant physiology, and technological innovations. Those elements work together to deliver light to the tiers in your grow room, and it’s on your team to ensure that the light falls evenly and helps all plants grow as healthy as possible. 

Before we get going, is your business considering an expansion to a vertical environment within your facility? We’ve got helpful tips for building out a multi-tier grow

Light Physics in Plant Growth

Pipp Horticulture at CultaThe Inverse Square Law

At the heart of understanding light distribution lies the inverse square law, which says that light intensity decreases proportionally to the square of the distance from the light source. This means that light gets weaker the farther it travels from the source, and this weakening happens faster than you might expect.  This principle is important to understand in vertical grow environments. In vertical rooms, the variance in distance between light sources and plant canopies across tiers can lead to significant disparities in the actual amount of light received by plants. The measurement here is photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD), which conveys how much light that’s actually used for photosynthesis is hitting a given square meter of space every second. You want an even PPFD across your room.  Growers can and should use mathematical modeling to predict intensity falloff and adjust light placement and intensity accordingly, ensuring more uniform PPFD across all tiers.

Light Intensity and Canopy Dynamics

Diving deeper, the Beer-Lambert Law provides a framework for understanding how light is absorbed and scattered within the plant canopy.  This absorption, influenced by the actual number of leaves on a plant, significantly affects the light available to lower canopy levels. By trimming and shaping the plants, you can make sure light reaches all levels, especially in tight, vertical growing spaces. Watch your plant’s leaf area especially up top, closer to the light source.

Lighting Technologies for Precision Cultivation

Pipp Horticulture at CultaTailoring Spectra with LEDs

The rise and advancement of LED technology has allowed growers to focus on precision in the garden. LEDs let growers manipulate light spectra to influence plant growth and development. 

By adjusting the spectral output, growers can elicit specific plant responses, optimizing growth rates, morphology, and secondary metabolite production (think THC, for instance, or a terpene like myrcene). Implementing LEDs with adjustable spectrum capabilities allows for dynamic light management tailored to different growth stages or specific plant strains.

Pulsed Lighting: How to Enhance Photosynthesis Without Adding Thermal Stress

Pulsed lighting has the potential to increase photosynthetic efficiency by delivering high-intensity light in short bursts, reducing thermal stress on plants. 

This technique, based on the understanding of photosynthetic saturation points and non-photochemical quenching, can be particularly beneficial in vertical setups where managing heat accumulation is a challenge. Consider running a trial on pulsed lighting with an R&D crop.

Architectural Design and Cultivation Techniques

Pipp Horticulture at CultaOptimizing Vertical Rack Design

The structural design of vertical racks should facilitate spatial efficiency and optimal light exposure. Both goals should be top-of-mind when implementing a new racking system.  Incorporating inter-reflective materials and strategic geometry can amplify light reach and uniformity. Choosing materials that scatter light instead of reflecting it directly can prevent bright spots and make sure light is spread out more evenly. Consider matte white paint, white plastic, or fabrics, and foils designed for grow rooms; these materials help bounce light around the grow space more evenly than shiny, mirror-like surfaces.

Advanced Canopy Management for Uniform Light Absorption

Techniques such as apical pruning, lateral spreading, and the implementation of rotational systems ensure that all plants, regardless of their position, receive adequate light.  Leveraging plant phototropism by periodically adjusting light source positions can promote more uniform growth across the canopy. By doing so, your team makes use of plants’ natural tendency to grow toward light sources, helping them grow evenly. Tune into Cultivation Elevated Episode 17, while host Michael Williamson sits down with Corinne Wilder, VP of Global Commercial Operations at Fluence, to discuss how LED technology has shaped vertical farming.

Integrating Supplemental Lighting and Precision Monitoring

Pipp Horticulture at CultaAddressing the Lower Canopy Challenge

The deployment of side and intracanopy lighting addresses one of the primary challenges in vertical cultivation—ensuring sufficient light reaches the lower tiers. These systems must be carefully calibrated to complement top lighting, avoiding over-saturation and ensuring that light intensity and quality mimic natural conditions as closely as possible.

Harnessing Data for Light Optimization

The implementation of advanced light sensors and environmental control systems enables real-time monitoring and adjustment of light conditions. Data analytics can be used to fine-tune lighting schedules, intensities, and spectra, based on the dynamic needs of the crop and the specific characteristics of the vertical environment.

Navigating the Future of Light Optimization in Vertical Cultivation

As the science of cannabis cultivation evolves, so do the strategies for optimizing light distribution in vertical farming systems. 

The integration of advanced lighting technologies, strategic architectural design, and precise cultivation practices offers a pathway to maximizing yield, efficiency, and product quality in these complex environments. 

Growers equipped with a deep understanding of the scientific principles governing light and plant interactions and a willingness to embrace technological innovations are well-positioned to lead the charge in this new era of cannabis cultivation.

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European Cannabis Laws: What Is the Latest?

European Cannabis Laws: What Is the Latest?

Pipp Horticulture Vertical Grow Racks at Trichome in Israel

Where Is Cannabis Legal in Europe?

In mid-February, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed into law a medical cannabis legalization measure. It was just the latest in a series of incremental cannabis reforms dotting the European landscape. 

Pipp Horticulture at CanneraldUkraine’s medical cannabis law will take effect later in the summer of 2024; in the meantime, Parliament will draft more specific regulatory language. Imports will be a critical source of the country’s cannabis supply, echoing other European countries’ paths to a legal market.

As the global perspective on cannabis continues to evolve slowly but surely, Europe emerges as a promising frontier for businesses.

With a patchwork of regulatory environments and an increasing acceptance of medical and adult-use cannabis, Europe presents opportunities and challenges for industry stakeholders looking across the pond.

Statista Market Insights places the expected 2024 value of the European cannabis market at US$10.2 billion–with a growth rate on the order of 14.32% over the next five years. 

Tune into Cultivation Elevated Episode 22, while host Michael Williamson sits down with Sia Baneei of Grow Motion, a Swiss cannabis cultivation company, to delve into the intricate world of the European cannabis industry.

For cultivators and retailers who have experienced the dynamic growth of the cannabis industry in the U.S., the European market may be the next big venture. Let’s explore the landscape of the emerging cannabis marketplace in Europe, highlighting the potential for growth, regulatory considerations, and how businesses can position themselves for success in this new terrain.

European Cannabis Laws: An Overview

Europe’s cannabis market is in a state of flux, with countries at various stages of legalization and acceptance.  Nations such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Portugal have made significant strides in cannabis reform, setting the stage for a burgeoning industry. Let’s take a tour. 
Pipp Horticulture at Trichome

Germany

Germany made global headlines in late February when the lower house of Parliament legalized adult-use cannabis in a limited capacity, the first legalization measure of its kind for a country of this size in Europe (Germany follows Malta and Luxembourg in legalizing cannabis on the continent). 

The vote clocked in at 407-226, and arrived only after several years of ping-pong between a hardline “no” stance on legalizing cannabis and a willingness to draft actual regulatory language. In 2024, the willingness to open the door to cannabis reform won out.

While cannabis will be legal for those 18 and older (and legal to grow), lawmakers declined to take up a taxed-and-regulated marketplace for now. The legislation does allow for cannabis “clubs,” which will provide a space for up to 500 members to buy cannabis grown at home by other adults. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the broader idea in Germany is to “fight the black market” and provide a measure of safety to cannabis use. “Whatever we do, we can’t carry on like this,” he told lawmakers, according to the Associated Press. “You can stick your head in the sand … but we won’t solve a single problem that way.”

Germany came into this year a leader in medical cannabis already, having legalized it in 2017. The country established a government-controlled system for cultivation, prescription, distribution, and imports, creating a significant market for medical cannabis products and associated equipment.

The Netherlands

Known historically for its liberal stance on cannabis, The Netherlands has tended to informally allow the sale of cannabis in coffee shops. In recent years, lawmakers have kicked the tires on plans to regulate the supply chain more formally. 

The state launched a pilot program to legalize the sale of adult-use cannabis  in December 2023, greenlighting coffee shops in the cities of Breda and Tilburg to sell cannabis grown by one of two licensed cultivators.

That marks the second European country to embark on a pilot program. The first country was… 

Switzerland

Switzerland arranged a trial program for adult-use legalization in 2023. The country’s Federal Office for Public Health initially greenlit six pilot projects (three of which are already selling cannabis legally to Swiss citizens). More of those projects are expected as the program picks up momentum.

A federal commission stated in 2023: “Cannabis must be controlled, legally accessible, but not be promoted.” That’s a fine line to walk for small businesses interested in growing an audience and developing a brand.

“The cannabis business in Europe is very, very difficult,” Grow Motion’s Sia Baneei said in a recent Cultivation Elevated podcast episode. Grow Motion is a licensed cultivator in Switzerland’s high-CBD cannabis market. “We live in Switzerland, and the rent for our facility is very, very expensive. That’s why we wanted to get the maximum of our facility and why we made the decision to work on three layers [in a vertical farming room design].”

That’s another challenge that businesses will face in Europe, perhaps more so than in areas in the U.S.: Real estate is at a premium, and industrial space is simply more limited than it is in the rural stretches of, say, the Ohio cannabis market. A mobile vertical racking system can go a long way toward maximizing grow space while maintaining safe and easy access to plants, solving critical needs in cramped quarters. Pipp Horticulture at Cannabor 

Portugal

Having decriminalized all drugs in 2001, Portugal has taken steps toward a regulated medical cannabis market and is seen as a potential hub for cultivation due to its favorable climate. Companies of all sizes have set up shop in Portugal, using the state as a formidable base of operations for corporate headquarters and cultivation sites. 

As of the end of 2023, the majority party in the federal government was developing a task force to closely look at cannabis legalization prospects. That party is not alone; support for broad legalization measures has increased across the government in recent years. 

Somai Pharmaceuticals founder and CEO Michael Sassano told Business of Cannabis, “Discussions like Portugal’s decision to move forward with studying to legalizing adult-use cannabis and other discussions around legalizing medical cannabis are being taken up by most EU countries more progressively than ever before. Much has to do with the potential U.S. rescheduling to Schedule III and the German descheduling of a narcotic. Global winds are changing fast, and Portugal is still very much at the top of the list as a potential new country moving towards legalizing cannabis”.

The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic announced its intention to legalize cannabis, but that plan does not include any real tax-and-regulate system that would allow sales. The country decriminalized possession for personal use in 2010, meaning that this current plan would effectively reiterate the status quo and apparently add provisions for cannabis use in social clubs. After a show of political support for a regulated market from some political leaders, this “compromise” plan leaves licensed corporations and suppliers mostly on the sidelines. That said, we anticipate more information to come in 2024. 

The lack of a formal market structure will be hotly debated this year. 

“The existence of a commercial and strictly regulated market with licensed growers and stores is a basic prerequisite for the successful reform of anti-cannabis laws, as is evident all over the world – from Colorado to California to Canada or Switzerland and the Netherlands,” CzecHemp manager Lukáš Hurt said in a translated press release. “Thanks to regulation, it is possible to significantly reduce the revenues of the illegal market and at the same time obtain funds for effective drug prevention and education.”

France

France began a medical cannabis experiment in 2021, offering free products to thousands of patients. The trial program was expected to sunset in the spring of 2024, but for now, the Minister of Health is open to a plan that will gradually transition that arrangement to a more formal (yet still “temporary”)  medical cannabis regulatory structure for the next five years. 

This plan is in flux, so we anticipate learning more soon, but France has shown a willingness to broaden its access and industry sophistication with this news. 

The UK

While not a member of the European Union, the UK has also made strides in step with its neighbors. Following its 2016 departure from the EU, the UK legalized an extremely tightly regulated medical cannabis program; the UK’s National Health Service has not developed this program much further than allowing limited prescriptions.

That said, the industry is livelier in the UK than it might seem; the country ranks among the largest exporters of medical cannabis products in the world. 

Across Europe, the recent shifts towards decriminalization, and even recreational legalization in some jurisdictions, signal a broader change in societal attitudes towards cannabis. 

This evolving regulatory landscape presents a fertile ground for innovation and investment but requires a nuanced understanding of each country’s legal framework.

Navigating Regulatory Complexities

The demand for medical cannabis in Europe is on the rise, driven by an increasing body of research supporting its therapeutic benefits and a growing awareness among the population. This uptick in demand signals a burgeoning market for cannabis-related products and business solutions.

Pipp Horticulture at CanneraldHowever, the path to expansion is not without its hurdles. International treaties and the U.S.’s own complicated relationship with cannabis will complicate any expansion plans for growers or retailers with an eye toward Europe.

The continent’s diverse regulatory landscape means that what works in one country may not apply in another. For businesses looking to enter the European cannabis market, understanding and navigating these regulatory complexities is paramount.

Compliance with local laws and standards for the cultivation, storage, and distribution of cannabis products is critical, underscoring the need for adaptable and compliant solutions. To succeed in Europe, suppliers must tailor their offerings to meet the specific needs and regulations of each market.

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5 Best Practices for Your Cannabis Mother Room

5 Best Practices for Your Cannabis Mother Room

Pipp Horticulture Cannabis Mother Room

Be Good to Your Mother(s)

Your indoor cannabis cultivation facility is operating within a highly competitive market. While the point of harvest may seem like the most important link in your production process, you may want to revisit the management of your cannabis mother room. That’s where your business houses its real long-term value. 

The mother room is where your team nurtures the mother plants, which, of course, shape the future of every plant you’ll grow. These mother plants are carefully selected cannabis plants kept in a vegetative state and not allowed to flower. The primary purpose of maintaining these mother plants is to provide a consistent and reliable source of clones or cuttings. These clones are genetically identical to the mother plant, ensuring uniformity in the traits and quality of the plants grown from them, such as potency, flavor profiles, and growth characteristics.

An efficiently managed mother room ensures a steady flow of high-quality clones to fill the other rooms in your facility. 

Your yield and profits begin here.

Mother Room

A successful mother room strategy blends the precision of genetics with the art of cultivation, ultimately developing a shield for your business against the unpredictability of nature. In a market that values both diversity and the reliability of old favorites on the shelf, the ability to sustain and replicate specific cannabis strains with accuracy is invaluable.

So, what goes into a successful cannabis mother room?

A robust mother room operation employs advanced environmental controls, precise nutrient management, and rigorous hygiene protocols to ward off pests and pathogens, ensuring that each clone represents the best possible start for the next generation of plants. We’ll explain five helpful best practices to bear in mind below.

These tips will streamline your team’s cultivation process and cut back on the risk of crop failure. This level of control and efficiency translates into faster turnaround times, higher yield potential, and improved product consistency, ultimately contributing to a stronger market position. 

The success of a commercial indoor cannabis cultivation business is intricately linked to the performance of its mother room.

[#1] Double-Stacked Cannabis Mother Room Racks

Let’s get into the actual layout of your cannabis mother room. How are these plants supported? Where are they located within the room?

More often lately, our team has seen cultivators double-stacking mother plants and maintaining them for shorter lifespans (as opposed to running a single-level layout with plants that might be sustained for longer time periods). Some cultivation businesses might prefer to hold onto mother plants for upward of a year or more, but the shorter lifespan encourages more supple cuttings and a more agile cultivation team in general. This also limits the risk of pest and pathogen spread. 

In a 2023 webinar, Pipp’s Director of Horticulture, Anders Peterson said that double-stacking has proven benefits.

Pipp HorticultureGenerally, I’ll keep my younger mothers on the top level, which is typically a shorter elevation, as far as its height,” he said. “The bottom elevation, which will be taller in height, … can hold my more mature mothers.” 

Maintaining younger mother plants in your cycle balances the diversity of the room and allows for higher quality: We’ve noticed grow teams getting a significant increase in “A-grade” cuttings versus the older mother plants. Double-stacked mother rooms help house additional genetics in a smaller space, allowing you to allocate square footage for flower production.

READ MORE: See how much revenue you could be generating by going vertical!

There’s a balance, of course, in serving the market with tried-and-true genetics that will sell easily and providing dispensaries with more cutting-edge cultivars that might be a bit more experimental or nuanced in their demand curves. A diverse, double-stacked mother room lends some of that flexibility to your business.

PRO TIP: Good ventilation is essential to prevent microclimates within the tiers. Use oscillating fans and ensure your room's HVAC system is capable of circulating air effectively throughout the stacked racks. Proper airflow helps to maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels across all levels, minimizing the risk of mold and pests.

[#2] Optimal Environmental Conditions

Pipp HorticultureYour facility runs on the efficiency of its environmental control system, but you must add a layer of redundancy by personally checking on the actual variables (temperature and humidity, foremost) on a regular basis. Automated systems are fine and increasingly prevalent, but your team should not solely rely on them. The value of the plants in your cannabis mother room is simply too great. Reliable handheld sensors (for variables such as temperature and relative humidity, among others) can be used to double-check and verify the automation and control platform data.

This may go without saying, but it’s worth underscoring the importance of daily touchpoints with your mother plants. In between cuttings, the maintenance of your plants is absolutely critical. 

Keep your mother plants in veg by maintaining an 18-hours-on/6-hours-off lighting schedule. Inspect and clean all light fixtures to ensure optimal output–and do whatever you can to prevent light leaking in from the hallway. In fact, implement a rotation schedule for light bulbs to maintain consistent light intensity and spectrum. 

That point about equipment maintenance is especially important in your mother room. Here’s a quick checklist of items you’ll want your team to manage on a clear, regular basis:Pipp Horticulture

  • Check the efficiency of your ventilation system on a regular basis. Effective air circulation is the backbone of maintaining stable temperature and humidity levels in your mother room, (i.e., maintaining stable genetic lines!) and warding off mold and pests. Change your HVAC filters on a regular basis.
  • Check the sensors in your mother room to ensure accurate temperature and humidity monitoring. This goes back to that idea of redundancy and the human touch; you can’t rely solely on your automated data feeds. To maintain the accuracy of these systems, regular calibration should be part of your maintenance schedule as well. This ensures that your plants are always growing in the ideal conditions they need for optimal health.
  • Check on your airflow system in this room. If your ventilation system is in good shape, your fans will achieve even air distribution for your mother plants, keeping their veg cycles in a state of stasis. If you’re looking to give your plants an extra boost, consider implementing a CO2 enrichment system. This step requires the ability to closely monitor and control CO2 levels to avoid any potential harm to your plants.Pipp Horticulture
  • Establish a consistent watering schedule that’s responsive to the visual cues your mother plants give you. Paying close attention to their appearance and growth stage will guide you in adjusting their water and nutrient intake. 
  • To that end, daily inspections of your mother plants are critical. Be on the lookout for any signs of stress, pests, or disease. Regular pruning not only helps in controlling plant size and shape but also encourages healthy growth.
  • Lastly, do not overlook nutrient management in your mother room. Each strain and individual plant may have its own specific nutritional needs, and that’s paramount to the proper maintenance of the genetic line. By implementing a tailored feeding regimen and regularly testing the soil or hydroponic solution for nutrient content and pH levels, you can adjust your feeding strategy as necessary. Early detection of nutrient deficiencies or excesses, along with prompt treatment, is fundamental in maintaining the health and productivity of your mother plants.

[#3] Strict Sanitation and Hygiene Protocols

Pipp Horticulture Cannabis Mother RoomPerhaps more than any other room in your facility, the sanitation of your cannabis mother room is of critical importance. This is your genetic bank vault, after all.

Set up a daily surface cleaning routine for this room, and keep your team members up-to-date on SOPs. This includes entry protocols (and possibly uniforms and footbaths). 

On that topic: While we all enjoy giving tours to curious news media and to interested stakeholders, you should never tour visitors through a mother room. Allow only a limited number of staff into your mother room. Protect it at all costs!

Use only one pair of pruning shears per mother plant, and don’t cross-contaminate them. The risk of hop latent viroid (HpLVd) is ever-present in facilities, and a pathogen like that could decimate your mothers (and thus your bottom line). Regularly sterilize all pots, trays, and other equipment used in this room. Any equipment relating to the mother room should not be used anywhere else in your facility.

To ensure a sense of uniformity across your plants and across time, develop a pruning schedule to manage plant size and shape. Training team members in proper pruning techniques is crucial to ensure they promote healthy growth without stressing the plants.

That pruning plan leads us to…

[#4] Cloning Procedures and Record Keeping

Pipp HorticultureCloning: where the true magic happens in your facility.

Follow a consistent cloning schedule, and make sure you’re building this schedule on sound reasoning (take your six-inch cuttings and rootings at the right time to maintain plant health). Document all records associated with each plant and its clones. Those records will inform later improvements in your mother room.

Observe the quality of those clones over time. How are they performing as they move through growth cycles? Those plants’ health will help you understand your mother plants’ health. Investigate and address right away any declines in cloning efficiency or quality.

PRO TIP: Implement regular data backup procedures to prevent loss of valuable genetic and cultivation records. Ensure that your digital tracking system has robust security measures in place to protect sensitive information and comply with regulatory requirements.

[#5] Regular Training and Education

Lastly, like most other activities in the cultivation space, work in the mother room is an ongoing education. Encourage your team to stay informed on the latest cultivation and genetic trends in cannabis.

Even in cultivation team meetings that don’t specifically address the mother room on the agenda, try to connect what’s happening in the mother room to broader developments in the business. Make sure that all employees are aware of what genetics you’re maintaining.

Coordination with the flowering team and sales staff is crucial for managing a cannabis mother room; you don’t want to be cutting clones of a cultivar that is not selling, or for a cultivar that is piling up in your finished product storage room. 

Mother rooms dictate the flow of product to the rest of your facility and ultimately to your sales channels.

The mother room team can greatly influence the culture of your business; and promote a culture of shared knowledge across the facility. Make sure that your mother room team is keeping other cultivation teams informed on any changes at the individual mother plant level.

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How to Build a Flower Room For an Indoor Cannabis Facility

How to Build a Flower Room For an Indoor Cannabis Facility

Pipp Horticulture

What You Need To Know About Your Cannabis Flower Room

The flower room is the soul of the indoor cannabis facility. It’s where all tours with business partners and excitable local press corps members ultimately culminate, garnering wide-eyed looks of excitement. It’s where all the best traits of a cannabis cultivation company are on display. But those moments only scratch the surface of those rooms’ capabilities. The flower room is where a cultivation business turns plant material and ambition into revenue and growth.

Pipp HorticultureWhile “yield” has remained a cornerstone metric for cultivation businesses’ success since the dawn of the industry, this basic fact is only becoming more pertinent. Price compression, oversupply, rapidly evolving consumer demand trends: There are factors at play that demand new efficiencies coming out of the flower room. Yield is more important than ever, and your team can achieve great metrics by dialing in flower room design and operations. The design phase is a perfect opportunity to consider your broader flower room strategy, of course, but you can implement new efficiencies as you learn more about what works for your business. 

So, what sets any cannabis flower room apart from one another? Aside from the people working in those rooms, there are several fundamental aspects of good flower room design that must be accounted for in the early planning stages–and optimized on a regular basis once operations have commenced.

Consider:

  • Spatial Configuration and Plant Density
  • Integrated Environmental Control Engineering
  • Proper Air Flow and HVAC
  • Light Mapping and Design
  • Irrigation and Fertigation Infrastructure

Get those core concepts wrong, and your team will miss out on opportunities for stratospheric growth and output. Get them right, though, and you set yourself up for success. After all, what comes out of your cannabis flower room is all about what goes in. 

Spatial Configuration and Plant Density

Pipp HorticultureEnvironmental controls, efficient HVAC equipment, sufficient lighting: We’ll get into those technological aspects in a moment. Even more important than your software and hardware, however, is the actual floor plan of your flower rooms. People need to walk through these rooms scouting plants, cutting down plants, transporting plants, and ultimately turning over the room entirely for the next cycle. That’s a lot of movement! And your plants must be spaced evenly to ensure healthy, consistent growth and optimal yield for your business. You want to get the most out of your room, but not to the detriment of individual plants’ health. Your airflow and lighting plans will have given you a good base from which to arrange the actual benching in your flower room. How many plants can you sustain, given your equipment?

Consider mobile vertical racking systems to maximize this density while preserving the room’s foot traffic flow. You won’t waste an inch of space by adding mobile carriages  to your vertical racks, which eliminates fixed aisles between each rack. Mobile carriages will also provide a degree of flexibility when it comes time to expand your canopy or revisit your floor plan outright. Even the best-laid plans in indoor cultivation will be amended as your team hones their operation. By investing now in a more mobile solution, you’ve just bought yourself some serious room to grow in the future.

Plan to fill out those vertical racks with grow trays that allow you to seamlessly connect the technology that we’ll get into in a moment: your lights, your airflow, your irrigation. Picking the right grow tray might seem like a small step, but it’s a fundamental part of your workflow.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Design your own grow space with Pipp’s Room Generator Tool!

PRO TIP: Different genetics result in different phenotypes. If you’re considering a fairly diverse portfolio of cultivars, implementing  vertical racking will allow you to place smaller plants higher, leaving more room on lower racks for taller plants. This height disparity can get very tricky when you’re managing airflow and lighting across a single plane of benches.

Integrated Environmental Control Engineering

It’s not enough anymore to have functioning environmental controls. The competitive nature of the cannabis marketplace insists that operators implement some form of integration and automation into their systems. Your team needs real-time data. As you design and build your flower rooms, you must plan for this integration.

Pipp HorticultureThe cornerstone of a successful cannabis flower room is its environmental control system. We’ll get into the specifics of HVAC, lighting, and irrigation shortly, but first, we must point out the importance of linking these technologies. Automation and data analytics go hand in hand with the actual horticultural practices of your flower room. 

Your team will be in and out of your flower rooms, scouting individual plants, but so too will your environmental control systems analyze real-time data and identify trends among your crops. How are your plants responding to subtle changes in lighting or airflow? Which individual plants are receiving too much or too little light at a given moment? That data, as one minor example, is critical to understanding your flower room. By leveraging this data, growers can fine-tune their environmental parameters for optimal yield and quality.

So, where should your team begin? Develop your flower room design around programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that automate environmental inputs on a real-time basis. Ensure that your sensors are appropriately placed around the room to provide those PLCs with a comprehensive data set. Most data collection can also be conveyed via a given software provider’s app, allowing you and your team immediate access to real-time data and, of course, to sudden emergencies. This data can and should inform your cultivation decisions. Understanding that app should be an important part of your cultivation team onboarding process.

Every plant coming out of your flower room represents a small portion of your company’s bottom line. The data you’re receiving about how those plants are growing can help your team make decisions about what to grow and what to sell (and when to sell). This data collection allows a savvy cultivation team to draw a competitive flower room edge.

Proper Airflow and HVAC

Pipp HorticultureAirflow is critical to a cannabis flower room, where microclimates lurk and threaten the health of your plants. This is especially true in a vertical growing environment. While all inputs are critical in your flower room, airflow may be the one variable that can be the most limiting if you fail to execute for your facility’s and plants’ needs. 

Good air circulation can go a long way toward preventing the spread of more nefarious problems like pests and pathogens. Your HVAC system must exchange the air in your flower room several times per hour, balancing clean oxygen and CO2 levels for optimal plant growth. This means that your HVAC system will be working constantly in the background, so efficiency in your hardware is key.

Use HEPA filters in your ventilation system to remove any airborne pathogens. Indoor cannabis cultivation spaces, no matter the square footage, must be paragons of cleanliness and sanitation. If you’re designing a room as part of a new build, you can incorporate this from the start. 

Retrofit projects come with much more pressure on this particular point. Make sure the actual room you’re planning as a future flower room has the HVAC and ventilation capabilities to house flowering cannabis plants safely. Always bear in mind that we’re talking about plant material grown for human consumption. 

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Vertical Air Solutions’ patented In-Rack Airflow System provides uniform airflow in a multi-layered rolling rack platform.

Establish a regular maintenance schedule to keep that ventilation system as clean as can be. Delegate specific maintenance responsibilities to team members on a rotating basis so that everyone can dial in their understanding of the system. When it comes to energy efficiency, HVAC is one place where you can really invest for long-term savings. Work with your equipment provider to identify energy-efficient units and map out the cost of those units over time.

PRO TIP: Manage heat load from other pieces of equipment (more on lighting in a moment) and measure the capacity required to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level in the room. Variable-speed fans can provide the flexibility needed to maintain those levels throughout the day.

Light Mapping and Design

Lights get the spotlight in cannabis cultivation, and perhaps deservedly so. A good cannabis flower room design will include light mapping projects as the buildout gets underway–and well into operations. Where will you place your light fixtures for optimal plant growth? How will you know which setup is ideal for your crop?

As you’ve noticed thus far, a keyword in flower room design is “consistency.” You can use software to map a room’s light intensity. This will give you a more refined picture than simply using your own eyes to gauge your room’s setup. You need to understand how much light a given plant is going to receive from all light fixtures that “touch” it. These programs coordinate each spot’s given light intensity by measuring light from as many as nine angles around the plant. This will give you a better sense of the uniformity of your light distribution. Much like you can avoid microclimates with uniform airflow, you can avoid hot spots with uniform lighting. 

Get familiar with the calculator for photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) and ensure that you’re covering the canopy. Within that coverage in your flower room, you want to recreate the sun’s own diurnal rhythm as closely as possible. While your veg room will operate on something close to an 18/6-hour cycle, your flower room will be on a 12/12-hour cycle of darkness and light. (Consider, too, the potential power of inter-canopy lighting.)

PRO TIP: Be mindful of light pollution streaming in from hallways. It might not seem like a big deal when so many more consequential investments are being made early on, but photons leaking in from the hallway can have an outsized impact on your plants’ health. As an added precaution, consider using green light spectra (near 530nm) in the hallway outside your flower room(s) to limit any problematic spillover effects. 

Irrigation and Fertigation Infrastructure

Freedom GreenIrrigation and fertigation are critical aspects to your flower room design and to the finished flower you’re harvesting. Perhaps nutrient recipes are more proprietary than light maps. Nonetheless, anyone working on designs for a new indoor facility’s flower rooms or for a series of retrofitted flower rooms must consider the source of water and the delivery of that water (and those nutrients).

Once again, consistency will drive this facet of your flower room plan. Automated drip irrigation systems or hydro setups can deliver uniform amounts of water and nutrients to each plant with minimal interruption to the floor plant mentioned in the previous section. You don’t need hoses lying around your flower room; you need solutions. 

Within those systems, make sure your environmental controls include monitoring of pH and electrical conductivity (EC) to continue that consistent nutrient delivery. Overwatering, underwatering: Nothing good comes from being imprecise with your irrigation system. 

Cannabis Flower Room Efficiency Checklist

  1. Pipp HorticultureRegularly check and maintain the HVAC and ventilation systems to ensure the CO2 supply is working correctly. Systematize this process as part of your team’s SOPs.
  2. Inspect your lighting fixtures, first through your environmental control data and then by physically examining any units that need maintenance. Clean them regularly.
  3. Same with your fan units: Keep the room’s air moving efficiently by maintaining fans and air filters regularly.
  4. Maintain a highly detailed sanitation protocol.
  5. Ask your cultivation team members what they think about the literal floor plan: How easy is it to get their jobs done within the flower room(s)?
  6. Check your irrigation and fertigation systems for any unexpected issues, and ensure your plants get the right amount of nutrients.
  7. As a senior-level management team, periodically review how well your flower room is running and look for ways to save energy and resources.
  8. Ensure all team members are well trained in your company’s flower room safety SOPs and regularly review and update operational procedures.

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Harvest AZ utilizing VAS Airflow Solutions for Cannabis with Pipp Grow Racks

5 Things US Cannabis Operators Need to Know About GACP & GMP

5 Things US Cannabis Operators Need to Know About GACP & GMP

Pipp Horticulture

Setting the Standard

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are vital quality assurance standards ensuring product consistency and safety across industries. They prevent errors, safeguard worker health, and protect the public. GMP is essential in pharmaceuticals, food, cosmetics, and more. This blog explores GMP principles, the absence of GMP guidelines in the US cannabis industry, and how businesses can prepare for future regulatory changes. We’ll also discuss GMP’s influence on architectural design and introduce Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) for medicinal plants, emphasizing GMP’s continuous pursuit of manufacturing excellence.

1. What is GMP?

GMP, or Good Manufacturing Practices, is the quality assurance process in product production that ensures product consistency and quality. GMP guidelines and compliance are critical for quality assurance, worker safety, and protecting human health. GMP prevents errors and inconsistencies that cannot be eliminated through quality control of the finished products and consumer goods. With GMP, it is possible to be sure that every unit of medicine or consumer goods manufactured is of the same quality as the units of medicine tested in the laboratory.

Key Principles of GMP:

  • Creation and enforcement of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
  • Comprehensive documentation of all procedures and processes.
  • Validation of SOP effectiveness.
  • Development and implementation of efficient working systems.
  • Development of employee competencies.
  • Regular maintenance of systems, equipment, and facilities.
  • Prioritizing cleanliness to prevent contamination.
  • Ensuring quality is central to the design, development, and manufacturing workflow.

2. Why are there currently no GMP guidelines for cannabis in the United States?

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends guidelines for anything food, cosmetics, drug, or pharmaceutical-related. These guidelines consist of processes, procedures, and documentation that ensure manufacturing consumer goods are consistently produced and controlled according to set quality standards. Unfortunately, as the federal law currently states, the use, sale, and possession of cannabis containing over 0.3% THC by dry weight remains illegal as a Schedule I drug type under the federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970, despite laws in the majority of states that have enacted legislation permitting exemptions for various uses, including medical, industrial and recreational use. 

Because cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug type (sadly, the same category as Heroin and MDMA), federal agencies, such as the FDA, have not developed GMP guidelines for licensed and compliant cannabis operators. As a result, state lawmakers and cannabis business owners are forced to navigate this new and rapidly evolving industry without any standardized guidelines. 

On August 29, 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). However, in the near term, this recommendation is unlikely to significantly impact the cannabis industry because the Drug Enforcement Agency must now conduct its review and decide whether to follow the HHS recommendation. It also does not legalize cannabis. State-licensed cannabis businesses will still be operating in violation of federal law. However, in the long term, the FDA could provide specific guidelines or subject cannabis to existing regulatory authority.

3. What can cannabis business owners do to be
GMP-ready as legislation changes in the future?

Cannabis operators can get critical insights into what GMP guidelines may potentially look like in the future for the US from global cannabis companies that are certified EU-GMP. Some of the differences between EU-GMP and US-GMP are that the EU-GMPs require manufacturers to have a pharmaceutical quality system (PQS), encompassing a broad range of quality management activities. The US-GMPs emphasize the establishment of a quality control unit (QCU) and use quality systems but do not have a specific requirement for a PQS.

Basic Requirements of EU-GMP:

  • All manufacturing processes are clearly defined, systematically reviewed in the light of experience, and shown to be capable of consistently manufacturing medicinal products of the required quality and complying with their specifications.
  • All critical steps of manufacturing processes and significant changes to the process are validated.
  • Appropriately qualified and trained personnel.
  • Adequate premises and space. 
  • Suitable equipment and services.
  • Correct materials, containers, and labels.
  • They approved procedures and instructions by the Pharmaceutical Quality System.
  • Suitable storage and transport.
  • Written instructions and procedures in unambiguous language tailored to the provided facilities.
  • Operators undergo training to ensure the correct execution of procedures.
  • During manufacture, operators create records manually or use recording instruments to demonstrate that they followed all steps required by the defined procedures and instructions, ensuring the expected quantity and quality of the product.
  • Any significant deviations are fully recorded and investigated to determine the root cause and appropriate corrective and preventive action implemented.
  • Manufacturers retain production and distribution records in an understandable and accessible form, enabling the tracing of the batch’s complete history.
  • The distribution of the products minimizes any risk to their quality and takes account of Good Distribution Practices.
  • A system is available to recall any product batch from sale or supply.
  • The team examines product complaints, investigates the causes of quality defects, and takes appropriate measures to prevent the recurrence of defective products.

4. How does GMP impact architectural design?

GMP can significantly influence the layout of a cultivation, extraction, and manufacturing facility and the selection of construction materials and equipment. The industrial architect must design the facility per the GMP regulations when applicable. Facility design for a GMP-compliant warehouse includes having designated areas for raw materials, finished goods, quarantine products, rejected products, etc. The warehouse must be dry, clean, and well-lit. The storage conditions shall be as per the material requirements.

Features to Incorporate in Facility Design:

  • Design and construct the facility to ensure hygienic production conditions.
  • Building materials, when applicable, should be easy to clean and sanitize.
  • There should be no way for the entry of insects, pests, birds, vermin, and rodents.
  • The facility should be spacious.
  • The facility has to be at a location where there are no fumes. The design should prevent any fumes or infestation of the product.
  • There should be covering on walls and floors, and surfaces should have cleanable surfaces.
  • The facility area should be free of cracks and open joints to avoid dust collection.
  • There should be segregation between departments and, in some cases, bio-secure vestibules for changing out personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • The facility infrastructure design should have a dedicated HVAC system based on area classification.
  • The facility should have a flexible layout.
  • The design must provide well-lit, ventilated production areas with air control facilities.
  • Design the drainage and plumbing system to prevent backflow and ensure adequate sizing.
  • Avoid open drains.
  • The construction process should not cause any negative impact on the environment.
  • The facility should have a provision for secure, hazardous, and inflammable materials as per the regulations.
  • Design a proper fire protection system.
  • Piping, electrical fittings, and other utilities should not create a recess.
  • Provide coloring and direction of flow on service lines.

5. What is GACP?

The World Health Organization (WHO) developed GACP, or Good Agricultural and Collection Practices for medicinal plants, in 2003 to enhance the safety, efficacy, and sustainability of medicinal plant material used in herbal medicines in the market. Specific to the cannabis industry, GACP consists of the practices used during agricultural production, which includes processes and procedures in the following stages: Tissue Culture, Mother/Stock, Propagation, Vegetative, Flowering, and Harvesting. Typically, the drying stage and all manufacturing after drying is where the transition happens from GACP to GMP.

Main Objectives of GACP Guidelines:

  • To contribute to the quality assurance of medicinal plant materials used as the source for herbal medicines to improve finished herbal products’ quality, safety, and efficacy.
  • To guide the formulation of national and regional GACP guidelines and GACP monographs for medicinal plants and related standard operating procedures.
  • To encourage and support the sustainable cultivation and collection of medicinal plants of good quality in ways that respect and support the conservation of medicinal plants and the environment in general.

Key Takeaway

GMP compliance is a continuous journey, not a destination. Regular audits, swift identification of potential deviations, and corrective actions are all part of this process. Embracing a culture of continuous improvement and having a team that understands and implements the principles and components of GMP are the first steps towards ensuring ‘Good’ Manufacturing Practices become ‘Great’ Manufacturing Practices.

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Best Practices For Multi - tier Cannabis Cultivation

Lessons Learned – Best Practices For Multi-Tier Cannabis Cultivation Speaker Session at Cannabis Conference

Lessons Learned – Best Practices For Multi-Tier Cannabis Cultivation Speaker Session at Cannabis Conference

Lessons Learned – Best Practices For Multi-Tier Cannabis Cultivation Speaker Session at Cannabis Conference

Knowledge is Power!

Have you ever wondered if your facility is ready for that next phase in your process or if multi-tier cannabis cultivation is your calling? Our expert team presented at this year’s Cannabis Conference in Las Vegas, discussing lessons learned in the industry and best practices for multi-tier cannabis cultivation.

Listen as Michael Williamson, Director of Cultivation, Anders Peterson, Director of Horticulture, and Del Rockwell, Product Manager at Pipp Horticulture, examine the design of a space, such as keeping in mind room layout and how to incorporate your HVAC to have consistent airflow, while sharing tips and tricks on how to manage your canopy operation best and creating a harvesting strategy to stay consistent.

You will want to take advantage of this opportunity to hear from industry experts to learn something new you may want to incorporate into your daily routine!

Watch full session below!

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