What is pruning and why do you prune cannabis? Pruning is removing cannabis leaves that are damaged or unproductive so that a plant can focus its energies on producing buds. While this may feel counterintuitive, the goal is to make sure that during those first few weeks of flower, when it’s bursting with growth, is to build the foundation of the plant to promote better flower development into the future. But without proper plant management and localized airflow, your canopy can’t thrive during this crucial process.
To gain complete control of airflow during the pruning process to form denser, more cannabinoid-rich buds you need to be able to regulate environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels for more consistent yields. Watch as James Cunningham with Vertical Air Solutions guides us through the pruning process to achieve maximum airflow and light penetration.
In the previous video, we showed you a comparison between the absence of any airflow solutions in the vertical space and the presence of Vertical Air Solutions (VAS) providing laminar airflow. The VAS system provides seamless integration into your racking system, and it is built for the “long haul”. With functionality and efficiency in mind, we did not want to sacrifice vertical space, the velocity of airflow, or the ability to strategically supply conditioned air.
As growers, VAS developed this solution thinking about the potential losses that could be encountered by not controlling the environment correctly. The team was also considering the ongoing costs of maintenance in the vertical farm and teh effects of airflow to any multi-tiered canopy.
With an excessive amount of fans, your grow facility uses an excessive amount of power and negatively impacts your profit. Watch as James Cunningham heads into the Fog City Farms cultivation facility with Vertical Air Solutions and demonstrates just how different the two types of airflow are and how they greatly affect your grow.
When it comes to cultivation, strategic airflow is key. In a close proximity space, microclimates can be very easily created, and very quickly your humidity levels will shoot up to above 70% relative humidity. With a CO² injections, air circulation systems will allow you to deliver enriched air to every section of the crop to help consistently produce high-quality flower.
It’s also important to destratify any microclimates that are caused by transpiration from plants. These air circulation systems also provide air filtration that clean the room rather than aimlessly blowing around dust, dirt, and debris. Through localized airflow, growers can expect to see increased consistency, enhanced crop yields, and decreased crop loss.
James Cunningham from Vertical Air Solutions took us for a tour inside the Fog City Farms cultivation facility to test the presence of localized airflow, and the results were pretty astounding.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), especially related to cannabis cultivation, is one of the world’s most dynamic and competitive industries. Due to its rapid growth, sophisticated cannabis operators are actively looking for opportunities to standardize, optimize, and increase margins without sacrificing quality. With this in mind, many cultivators are transitioning antiquated single-level facilities into highly efficient vertical farms, with multi-level systems that are utilized from nursery to drying and then storage of the finished product.
These trends go far beyond North America and cannabis cultivation. Vertical farming continues to grow globally and is utilized across several industries and high-value crops. We are seeing a continuation of these trends and with a year full of advancements, improvements, and installations. In this article, we’ll review several advantages of vertical farming and uncover the top trends to watch.
Why Choose Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming involves stacking multiple grow levels on top of one another. In this way, a cultivation operation can double or triple the number of plants grown because they are leveraging the footprint of traditional single-level growing methods. While vertical farming typically requires more investment upfront, it quickly pays for itself with boosts to yield and profitability per square foot.
Top 4 Vertical Farming Trends
Although commercial cannabis is a nascent industry, trends are starting to emerge. They may not come as a surprise but without a full understanding of what they are and why they matter, players in the industry may be significantly affected.
Here are the four emerging trends to watch:
The rapid expansion of the vertical farming market
Increased access to institutional financing and banking services
Rapid advancement in agricultural technology and systems
Increased competition and pricing pressure
This is a simple roadmap of the terrain ahead, but now it’s time to take a closer look at each trend and what cultivation operators need to be aware of.
Rapid Expansion of the Vertical Farming Market
To get an idea of how quickly the cannabis industry will adopt vertical farming, it’s important to look at the growth projections for commercial farming of food in vertical farming systems. The vertical farming industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.2% from 2020 to 2025. In that time, it’s projected to reach a market cap of $7.3 Billion in 2025, roughly 2.5x the 2020 market cap of $2.9 Billion. 
Vertical farming’s relative growth is a sign of the rapid advancement, investment, and optimization cannabis growers are making to achieve higher yields, and better quality while lowering costs per square foot. With waves of funding and technological upgrades surfacing, legacy growers are compelled to make a choice between embracing innovation or staying their course. Innovation can be costly, but without change, cultivators may lag in output, quality, and consistency.
Another factor driving the rapid expansion of the vertical growing market is the ongoing expansion of the legal cannabis market in America. In the November 2020 election, voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voted to legalize recreational cannabis, continuing the nation’s spread of legalization. Since then, state legislatures in New York, New Mexico, and Virginia have approved bills to legalize cannabis for recreational use.
Now, in fact, there are more states that have legalized (either medical or recreational) than states that have not. Paramount to this success was the ‘essential’ designation of the cannabis industry, which allowed it to continue operating through lockdowns. Over the past year and a half, many cannabis businesses incorporated delivery options, making it an industry norm. As new concepts have been adopted, it has shown how cannabis use trends can shape the industry’s future.
According to Forbes, “Almost half of the cannabis consumers aged 21 and up have replaced or reduced their alcohol consumption with marijuana since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the results of a Harris Poll released [December 2020].”
The rise of cannabis use and acceptance is a key indicator that the cannabis industry has an eager customer base that will continue to expand. And as a result of these market trends, vertical farming operations are growing in confidence and ROI.
Increased Access to Institutional Financing and Banking Services
A point of contention for cannabis business owners has been their inability to access the same financial services as businesses in other industries. Being forced to carry cash on hand, there has been minimal action to move away from the industry’s past. However, in April 2021 cannabis businesses gained legal access to banking and financing services. Tapping into the banking ecosystem will now have a massive impact on legal cannabis business owners by providing legitimacy and opportunity for the industry to flourish.
Most importantly, this banking access opens the floodgates for investors to pour into the industry. For example, a cannabis company looking for capital to increase capacity could seek a standard bridge loan vs. taking a hard money loan, which comes with increased risk and high-interest rates. Access to the vast pools of institutional capital makes business expansion more feasible and worthwhile for entrepreneurs than alternatives like offering several private investment rounds or taking a high-interest loan.
Efforts to give cannabis business owners access to banking services started in 2019. The Senate vote was scheduled to happen in 2020, but the bill was held up due to COVID-19 reprioritizing government initiatives. In April 2021, the United States House of Representatives passed the SAFE Banking Act, which indemnifies banks from federal prosecution for working with legitimate cannabis companies. This Senate vote on legalizing cannabis industry banking was the culmination of a two-year-long effort and will benefit the industry tremendously.
Access to market-rate financing and other agricultural lending programs will propel the vertical farming industry’s growth by reducing the burden of the upfront capital required to get into vertical farming. All the equipment that we’ve outlined previously requires investment by the company, it’s investors, or sometimes more simply, through a bridge loan. Now that there is an open door to the same opportunities and programs for financial services, the industry will see an increase in new legitimate cannabis businesses making competition even more aggressive.
Advancement in Agricultural Technology and Systems
Most farmers learn right away that it’s essential to learn, master, and trust equipment. Leaps in technology have defined advancements in the history of agriculture, and vertical cannabis farming is no different. With the previously discussed industry growth attracting more investment and more competition, growers who can get a leg up through the use of technology can create a sustainable amount of market share.
Software for monitoring and managing growing conditions and equipment is an area where substantial innovation is happening. Although manual data collection and tracking are on the decline, there are many cultivators that are still using notebooks, spreadsheets, and whiteboards.
Software companies are deploying vertical farming technology and automation into cultivation facilities automating many of these tasks. These solutions are creating an environment where data-driven decision-making and crop steering are optimizing the chemo-type expression, overall yields of biomass, and active ingredients. Many of these systems and software packages enable operators to adjust growing conditions, feeding, and equipment functionality remotely. Over the past year alone, the need for these continued advancements in data collection, data analysis, and other innovations has not just been a trend but has been noted as an essential tool for success.
In addition to technological advancements, product innovation has also been on the rise. Enhancements in racking systems, such as the TRAK-FREE™ Carriage System are setting the tone for what’s to come. Utilizing a single guide rail along the back row eliminates the need for multiple tracks providing clearer walkways. Most recently, product innovations like the ELEVATE™ Platform System are also having an influence on the industry. This robust yet lightweight, modular deck allows cultivators to access the upper levels of multi-tiered vertical grow racks quickly, efficiently, and most importantly – safely. Systems like these are prioritizing safety and streamline operations for growing environments. The results of these trending innovations are proving to reduce the material and labor cost of installation and ultimately creating a better environment for products and industry workers.
Increased Competition and Price Pressure
The vertical farming industry’s projected growth will be a double-edged sword for cannabis and commercial cultivators. On the one hand, vertical farming can provide a platform that allows growers to increase overall capacity, revenue, and margins. On the other hand, vertical farming will increase efficiency and productivity, which will likely drive prices down and increase competition. The potential for huge profits breeds competition. This means that with the rapid expansion of the vertical farming market, the first-mover advantage for cultivators is dwindling. Consumers demand high-quality products at cost-effective prices. Implementing the right systems today provides a competitive advantage to meet consumer demand.
To capitalize on these vertical grow trends, individual growers need to ensure their vertical farming operation runs at peak performance. Labor is the highest cost for a cannabis farming operation. With greater competition, optimizing labor processes is becoming a main priority. Utilizing labor-saving equipment like mobile carts and racks can reduce costs while increasing production volume and quality. Every touchpoint with a plant is a contamination risk and expense, so minimizing the interactions will increase the quality of terpenes and trichomes.
As competition grows, optimization of a grow facility and its operations are vital in order to stand out in the industry.
So far, 2021 has been another breakout year for vertical farming within the cannabis industry. Fueled by these four trends, operators that embrace vertical farming, implement proven technology, and optimize through data-driven feedback will have a competitive advantage over operators unwilling or unable to implement
If you’re interested in turning your grow operation vertical and installing the best multi-level growing equipment on the market, contact Pipp Horticulture today. We will provide a vertical growing solution tailored to your facility that maximizes production and capacity.
Specifically for cannabis cultivation, mobile vertical racks can make a difference in yields and annual revenue. Reviews and word of mouth can help provide guidance when choosing a vertical rack provider, but the research should not stop there. Here are 6 things that need to be considered when evaluating the companies that manufacture, design, sell, and install these facility-transforming systems.
#1. Dedication to The Horticulture Market / Education
Are they committed? This is a question that needs to be considered immediately. A large investment of time and money is made when building and designing a facility planand all the elements that make up a system. Mobile vertical rack system technology is newer to the industry and is growing rapidly. Because of this growth, there are companies that have cut corners in order to get to the market faster. This can result in mobile vertical racks that are untested and undeveloped, all to capitalize on this dynamic market at your expense.
A provider needs to show commitment to the industry and it starts with providing value. This means producing and delivering quality products, service, installation, R&D, and innovation. To achieve the most competitive price points requires years of operational systems refinement and product development. There are few companies that will meet this requirement, and if they do, it’s time to look deeper at their commitment to the customer. Warranties, customer service, engagement with growers on a regular basis?
A mobile vertical rack supplier needs to align themselves with their customer and the needs of the ever-changing indoor farming industry. If your supplier lacks a clear presentation of their dedicated (horticulture) market knowledge base showcasing their work product, satisfied customers, product developments and industry-specific content, it may be a sign that they are not advancing in the space and are not committed long-term. Even more specifically, does your mobile vertical grow racking systems partner simply add “Horticulture” or “Vertical Grow Racks” to their list of many other markets served, or have they developed a dedicated team that is focused on this application exclusively, properly branded, and thoroughly presented. Any viable option in this space, at this time, should be able to point to numerous installations rather than repeatedly showcasing a single project.
Closely linked to no. 1 above, are they innovating? Are they leading the charge to provide growers with tools that will enhance their yields? Innovation is a word that can easily be thrown around. Everyone thinks they are innovating, but what is the true definition of innovate? The definition is: to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.This is especially true when introducing new methods, ideas, or products. As mentioned above, there are more and more players coming to the table with vertical racks but what sets them apart? PIPP Horticulture is making an effort to continuously innovate.
For example, in February PIPP announced The ELEVATE™ Platform System. Outside of its robust, lightweight, and portable deck, it was designed with the customer in mind. Innovation can come with a lot of bells and whistles, but ultimately, innovation is about the customer. When considering a vertical rack provider, look beyond the flashy and make sure that innovation is centered on the customer experience.
#3. Lead Times & Made in the USA!
Facility developers and operators are great at asking questions about price upfront and early, but what about lead times? This can be equally or even more critical to the successful outcome of a cultivation project launch. In order to avoid 2, 3, or 4 months delays, lead time needs to be considered. There are many phases of a project that need to be taken into account when understanding lead times. The first phase is the time it takes to receive the product for the build. This is a key part of the timeline when working towards the start of an operation, but what about the post-build (operational phase)? If product lead times are beyond industry standards, replacement parts, expansion orders and general support may be challenging. A trustworthy provider will design, manufacturer, ship, and install a system in a reasonable amount of time. Although current lead times have been extended for all manufacturers, Pipp Horticulture’s products and materials are USA made & sourced, therefore the transportation challenges with importing containers affecting many other manufacturers are a non-issue for our clients.
For example, Pipp Horticulture’s High-Density Mobile Vertical Racking Systems and Solutions are made in the USA and typically have a lead-time of 3 to 5 weeks. (at the moment, lead-times are extended due to economic variables in the supply chain). Based on the industry, this is considered a reasonable lead time. If a provider is making estimates that are longer, it’s worth looking at other options. It is important to also note that as a grower, after set-up or the initial installation, modifications are possible. As these occur, working with a provider that is located in the USA and has an established US-based supply chain (sourcing materials domestically) ensures quick responses resulting in quick solutions.
#4. Integrated Tray System
There are many elements that make up a fully operating vertical rack system. Items to consider vertical grow racks, carriage track systems, wire decks, and grow tray systems. For many providers, these items are separately sourced which can add a layer of complexity when developing a functioning system. There are providers that are leading the way in this space, and developing integrated tray offerings. With a tray system specifically designed to work in unison with the racks, it can enhance performance, reduce cost, and enable a more seamless purchasing, fulfillment and operational experience.
An integrated tray system does not require separated components to support the trays. The supports are part of the racks and help to optimize the integration of other critical equipment (lighting, airflow, drainage…). These components are worth the research and should be evaluated when choosing a provider.
#5. The Drive System
The days of rolling casters are long gone and technology has evolved. When selecting a new system, it’s important to ask the provider whether a ‘continuous drive shaft’ is a standard feature in their mobile rack systems. For exceptional quality and a highly functional mobile racking system, an all-wheel-drive carriage, aka continuous drive shaft, is the optimal choice.
In a system that does not have a continuous drive shaft, one end of the carriage moves before the other. This continuous friction between the wheel and the rail can destroy the equipment over time, impeding movement and ultimately leading to failure. If this is not taken into consideration the carriage movement will be difficult at best risking the efficiency of an operation.
#6. Sales, Installation & Service
There is a popular saying in the industry, “the quality of the installation & support is just as important as the quality of the product!” And it’s popular because it is true.
Start the consideration process early to allow time for research and referrals. Reach out to other like-minded cultivation companies and ask questions. Gathering information will be the greatest asset in the consideration process. Here is a series of questions that can help:
What was the installation like?
Do they provide on-demand service nationally?
What is the structure of the provider’s ongoing support?
Is their installation department managed by a dedicated corporate team?
What is their level of experience with mobile vertical racking installation specifically?
How many systems have they installed?
It’s important to know that support is available and that quality is apparent. But most of all, the customer has to be the provider’s primary focus. PIPP Horticulture is a dedicated mobile vertical rack provider with a trained and certified staff located throughout the US and Canada. With more than 40 years of experience in the mobile racking industry, PIPP Horticulture is not just a provider, but a partner. Our certified installation team and cultivation experts are driven to provide industry leaders with custom solutions that help the industry grow. Learn more about PIPP installations and our dedication to the industry by downloading one of our latest case studies: https://pipphorticulture.com/resources/
Now that you’ve made it this far, you’re probably getting a good idea of which option (drying racks or carts) might work best for your grow space. For assistance in selecting the best drying solution for your operation, download our latest e-book or contact the team at PIPP Horticulture today!
Vertical farming has taken the cultivation industry by storm. The ability to cultivate up to three times more has completely revolutionized the way we think about indoor farming. However, this farming method has come with many skeptics who are wary of making the switch from single-level HPS to multi-level LED.
Let’s address some of the most common vertical farming concerns and advise on the best steps moving forward.
Myth #1: I’m concerned about all the extra time it will take to access and service the upper levels
One of the biggest myths within the vertical farming industry is that the ease of access to the second, third, or even fourth tier of the canopy is quite difficult. Ladders alone can be unsafe and the impact on employees throughout the day can be tiring and time-consuming. In order for multiple people to properly service the second level at once, cultivators need a way to efficiently, and safely, access the upper levels.
Pipp Horticulture was driven to solve one of vertical farming’s primary challenges – how to access the upper levels. An in-house team of engineers and cultivation experts developed a solution that is now known as the patent-pending ELEVATE™ Platform System.
ELEVATE™is a modular catwalk system that creates an entire full-length walking and working aisle platform allowing cultivators to quickly and safely service the upper levels of their grow. Even before ELEVATE™, the increase in production outweighed the added labor required to service the upper levels. ELEVATE™ has taken this benefit even further.
Myth #2: We won’t be able to have people working in more than one aisle at a time
In order to have a successful and timely vertical farming operation, multiple cultivators are often needed within the same row to trim and service all the levels. Many single-tier cultivators are worried about making the shift to vertical farming due to the fear of the systems being tightly stacked near each other. Nonetheless, this is far from the truth.
With vertical farming, cultivators have the freedom to design in as much aisle space as needed. An aisle of more than 24”, such as 36”, 44”, 48”, or even 60”+ enables the users to split or share aisle space, creating multiple simultaneous access points throughout the room. Unlike typical rolling AG benches, which have limited lateral movement, Pipp Horticulturerail-based systems allow for full use of the entire aisle space. This system can be applied to one specific aisle or shared throughout multiple aisles.
Myth #3: The double-density and layers will not allow for enough airflow
It’s a common misconception within the cannabis industry that multiple levels of cultivation won’t allow for proper airflow on each tier. Airflow also plays a big role in pest and disease prevention on the grow. Many single-tier farmers have gone years with HVAC systems and manual fans on their canopy and are skeptical that the entire vertical racking system will receive the same level of airflow. However, the difference in strategic airflow can be the key to a successful harvest.
Vertical Air Solutions air circulation systems, are extremely important and beneficial in maintaining a healthy environment. The VAS system pushes filtered and CO2-infused air down the entire aisle, level by level, applying an even blanket of airflow over the entire canopy. This helps to maintain ideal humidity and temperature levels 24/7! Designed specifically for high-density vertical farms, VAS circulates the right amount of air in a way that traditional fans or air socks cannot.
Myth #4: Upper-level drainage will be very difficult
Indoor vertical farming can be broken down into three main complaints: system design, electrical structure, and plumbing/irrigation. Finding a drainage system that promotes good air porosity and nutrient retention can be difficult to find as a new grower in multilevel cultivation. But with Pipp Horticulture, it’s actually really simple.
Pipp’s bulkhead drain fitting has flex hose tubing that is simply attached to the bottom of each fitting. This is directed to the tray below and to an exit pipe below the lower carriage which simplifies the drainage. Here is a gallery for references and further detail: pipphorticulture.com/gallery.
Myth #5: The rows will be hard to move, like rolling benches but even harder because they are two, three, or four levels high
It’s easy to assume that multiple tiers of the canopy will make for heavy vertical racking systems. While the maximizing canopy is appealing, many cultivators feel maneuvering their grow across multiple tiers will be challenging. To keep racking systems light and manual labor to a minimum, a mechanical-assist mobile carriage is necessary to move the in-track system.
Pipp Horticulture’s Mobile Carriages are equipped with a mechanical assist and are incredibly easy to move, even at 60’ long and 3+ levels high! The dynamic gear ratio system and the 3-prong ergonomic handle enable easy and smooth movement of the carriages while converting fixed aisle space into a productive canopy.
Making The Switch
In conclusion, there are many myths that plague the vertical farming industry. Many cultivators have been misled and mistreated by cannabis farming equipment manufacturers, which has created a level of distrust.
However, evidence shows that shifting from single-level cultivation to multi-level can maximize production and revenue by up to three times. It’s important to do research and evaluate a facility’s scalability to ensure vertical farming is successful and stays ahead of emerging trends.
Pipp Horticulture has a team of in-house professional engineers, CAD designers, sales support, and experienced cannabis operators to provide partners with unparalleled support before and after equipment installation to ensure operational success. Experience groundbreaking innovation in vertical farming technologies with Pipp Horticulture, contact us today!
Cannabis production strategies may differ from one facility to another, but most facilities share a common goal: to produce the highest quality product at the lowest cost. One area of the cultivation cycle that is often overlooked but has great potential for optimization is the cannabisdrying and curing process.
Common Drying & Curing Processes
For many cultivators, a common drying and curing process looks like this:
Harvest, weigh, and transfer cannabis to the drying room. This is usually done with the use of bins or totes.
Then, one by one, manually hang the plants on wire, pipe, hangers, hooks and/or racking.
Once the plants have been dried, manually remove each plant and place them back into the bins or totes.
The plants are then transferred to trimmers to process the cannabis into the finished product.
Each transfer event has significant labor costs, but more importantly, they can reduce the quality of the cannabis by degrading trichomes, associated cannabinoids, and terpene content.
For many, LEAN farming and manufacturing is a goal and driver for the production process, but many can fall short due to the process above. Why?
It’s cost-intensive and it can reduce the quality and value of the product.
First Things First: Ditch The Bins
Many commercial growers use plastic bins or totes to help them harvest. A cheap and simple solution, binning plants have been a common method amongst growers. Unfortunately, it greatly increases labor requirements due to the many staff and non-value-adding touchpoints with the plants. These touchpoints also negatively impact the final quality of the product as the terpenes and trichomes are disturbed each time.
Bins or totes also present additional and unnecessary cross-contamination, workflow, and labor challenges. They need to be cleaned and sanitized after each batch or during daily use. Many facilities are not set up or staffed appropriately to properly clean and sanitize bins and totes regularly. In addition, bins and totes take up a tremendous amount of space, which is often not taken into consideration during the facility design process. Often stacked, if these bins are not cleaned or have been on the floor, operators risk contaminating their cannabis plants and dried flowers that come in contact with the inside of the bins.
Labor is the biggest cost for a cultivation operation. And as it so happens, the harvest and the post-harvest team is often the largest department by headcount.
By introducing equipment, such as drying carts or racks, operators can decrease their labor costs while increasing product quality, all without the use of bins or totes.
Optimize Your Drying Process
An easy way to tell them apart is to remember this: dying carts bring work to the workers while cannabis drying racks bring workers to the work.
DRYING CARTS ARE MOBILE BY DESIGN. Staff roll the drying carts without the need for hangers or hooks. The drying carts are then transferred to the drying room. Once the plants have dried, the carts are then rolled into the trimming room. The product moves efficiently around the facility with little to no touching of the actual plants.
DRYING RACKS differ in that staff must still bring plants to the racks where they manually hang from the rack. A mobile drying cart can still be used for the transfer to eliminate the use of bins or totes. However, what sets these drying racks apart from common drying setups is that the racks can span the full height of the room, taking advantage of not only total available square feet but cubic feet as well. There are pros and cons to both options. Ultimately, your operation’s capacity, efficiency, and labor demands will be the deciding factor.
The carts must be stored when not in use, and you’ll also need adequate space in your flower room for the carts to roll through the aisles. We recommend a minimum of 28” width aisles. If you’re already tight on space in the drying rooms and are using a trellis or cable wire, installing mobile drying racks will greatly optimize your room’s plant-drying capacity. Drying racks can help transform a tight, restricted space into an efficient one that supports your scaling business. To get an idea of how much space is required for either racks or carts, we crunched some numbers for you.
Here, you can see how much square footage of drying space is required for each equipment option. For this example, let’s consider 1,000 harvested cannabis plants. The following space is required in your drying area for each solution (the range accounts for plant size and density):
• PIPP 2-tier drying carts: 300-600 sq. ft. • PIPP 3-tier drying carts: 200-400 sq. ft. • PIPP mobile drying racks (4-tiers): 200-400 sq. ft.
You can see that the available space in the facility is the main consideration here.
If space is not an issue, the ideal choice is drying carts for the points mentioned above: lower labor costs and higher quality product.
Now that you’ve made it this far, you’re probably getting a good idea of which option (drying racks or carts) might work best for your grow space. For assistance in selecting the best drying solution for your operation, download our latest e-book or contact the team at PIPP Horticulture today!
Pipp Horticulture (a division of Pipp Mobile Storage Systems, Inc.), a leading provider of space‐saving, multi‐level mobile cultivation systems, announced the new ELEVATE™ Platform System that will be readily available for cultivators to purchase. The ELEVATE™ Platform System is a robust, lightweight, and portable deck to allow cultivators to access PIPP’s Multi-Tier Mobile Grow Racks quickly, efficiently, and most importantly – safely.
“As the leading provider of Mobile Vertical Grow Rack Systems, we took it as our personal mission to solve one of vertical farming’s primary challenges – how to access the upper levels. We continually challenge ourselves to focus on innovation and developing products with the goal of enhancing our customer’s performance. We formed a dedicated team of in‐house experts, consisting of engineers and experienced cultivators to develop our patent‐pending ELEVATE™ Platform System. ELEVATE™ is a modular catwalk system that creates an entire full-length walking and working aisle platform allowing cultivators to quickly and safely service the upper levels of their grow.” said Craig Umans, President and CEO of Pipp.
The ELEVATE™ Platform System is a modular catwalk system and was designed to integrate with PIPP’s Bulk Rack Shelving Systems without any modifications and can be installed on new or existing mobile vertical grow racks.
Today cultivators are implementing and utilizing vertical farming systems and grow room equipment more than ever to maximize production capacity and maintain a competitive edge. For the foreseeable future, vertical farming and the associated technologies will continue to revolutionize and shape the production of cannabis and other high-value crops. For something so revolutionary, it’s quite simple. Vertical growing provides many advantages when done successfully.
The benefits of vertical farming include maximizing your production capacity within a fixed grow space, increased margins as production increases, and the ability to increase production with limited downtime rapidly. Using this previously unused vertical grow space is one of the easiest ways to improve total production capacity. However, effectively utilizing the majority of your space requires some upfront investment, strategic planning, researching options, and budgeting properly for grow room equipment expenditures can be the difference between success and failure. Like any large investment, you need to plan what you’re buying, why you’re buying it when to buy it, and how it will yield a return on your investment (ROI).
In this article, we’ll look at sourcing the right equipment and systems that will effectively integrate to create an optimum controlled growing environment that is efficient, productive, and free of costly miscalculations and constraints.
Why You Need to Select the Right Grow Room Equipment
If you’re going to flourish in the competitive cannabis industry, you’ll need to maximize crop yield and quality. Every square and cubic inch of canopy matter, and ensuring that every inch of plant canopy is operating with minimal downtime while receiving optimal inputs is vital to maximizing production capacity. To do this, you’ll need expertise and proper planning to calculate and integrate systems to achieve maximum results. “Saving a buck”, taking shortcuts, and miscalculations can easily bottleneck or shut down operations altogether.
Investing in the right equipment is the closest thing to crop insurance that you can buy. Putting this type of care into your facility and equipment selection translates into a better product, and overall, more efficient and profitable operation.
How the Right Vertical Farming Equipment Can Boost Your ROI
In an increasingly competitive industry, maximizing your ROI is the key to long term success. Vertical farming is one of the best paths to achieve this, beginning with choosing the right vertical farming equipment. Making the right decisions and investing intelligently in your operation boosts your ROI in several ways.
First, it allows you to fit more plants into your grow space, increasing the quantity of your overall crop yield. Second, automated servicing across multiple layers of plants can reduce your labor costs resulting in a lower per-unit production cost. Finally, producing more grams lowers your fixed cost per unit. All of this combined lowers your total cost of goods sold (COGS), thereby increasing your bottom line and boosting your ROI.
10 Vertical Farming Equipment Necessities
#1. Vertical Grow Racks
The backbone of vertical & indoor farming is a mobile vertical grow rack system. Pipp Horticulture’s vertical grow racks help you utilize unused cubic feet by stacking multiple layers of cannabis and other high-value plants. Using vertical grow racks can offer flexibility and cost savings as you design and scale-up production by reducing the overall building square footage, deferring or eliminating expensive relocation costs due to capacity constraints, and offering flexible tiered expansion without expensive construction and permitting processes.
So, what should you look for when choosing your rack system? Strength and durability in a high-humidity environment. Your grow racks are the skeleton of your operation. The bones provide structure and accommodate all your cannabis plants and equipment, including fans, lights, trays, and irrigation. Your racking and mobile carriage should be constructed with high-strength steel and must have a high capacity to ensure as many plants as possible can fit and grow on each row. The ELEVATE™ Platform System is a robust, lightweight, and portable deck that allows cultivators to access the upper levels of PIPP’s Multi-Tier Mobile Grow Racks quickly, efficiently, and most importantly – safely. This patent-pending system was designed to integrate with PIPP’s Bulk Rack Shelving Systems without any modifications. The ELEVATE™ Platform System can be installed on new or existing mobile vertical grow racks.
You want a UV-stable, anti-microbial, and fungal-resistant finish that is simple to keep clean and sanitized while giving your cultivation space a professional appearance. Finally, you’ll want to feel confident in the craftsmanship and the ability to last a long time through consistent usage in a damp and corrosive environment.
#2. Mobile Carriages
Just as crucial as choosing the right racks is selecting and correctly installing the associated mobile carriages. If your grow racks are the skeleton of your grow space, the mobile carriages are the muscles, moving the bones around where they need to go.
This mobility is a critical function for optimizing your vertical farm’s capacity and workflow. If you’ve ever been in a library or back-of-house retail stockroom, chances are you’ve seen mobile carriages in action. Pipp’s mobile carriage offerings allow a user to effortlessly move huge racks or shelving units to maximize space and eliminate static aisles between each rack.
When choosing your mobile carriages, keep in mind that they must meet ADA compliance standards. Carriages should utilize in-track anti-tip features that provide worker safety and are often mandatory in states with seismic regulations.
You’ll also want to ensure all components are corrosion and oxidation-resistant. A mechanical-assist drive system allows for the effortless movement of each rack. Selecting the right mobile carriages helps utilize every possible square and cubic inch of space and ensures reliable performance while avoiding operational failure and downtime caused by corrosion and breakdown of cheap components.
#3. Grow Trays
Once you’ve built the framework or skeleton, it’s time to fill it out with grow trays, the organs, metaphorically speaking. They give your cannabis plants home and provide the foundation and/or mounting points for your lighting, air circulation, and plumbing. Pipp’s grow trays, designed for durability, can be used for both drip-to-drain and ebb-and-flow irrigation. Pipp trays come with UV-stability, anti-microbial, and fungal-resistance properties and feature a built-in trough for easy drainage to ensure a clean, sanitary and productive vertical growing environment.
Along with water and air, lights provide your cannabis plants the crucial input needed for cannabis to grow healthy, and vigorously, and produce high concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other actives.
Vertical farming typically utilizes LED lights on each growing tier. While this upfront investment can be expensive, the reduced installation costs and continuous energy savings (when compared to HPS lighting) lower your production cost/gram. Most cultivation facilities recoup their upfront premium within several harvests.
When selecting your vertical farming lights, you’ll want to ensure the light spectrum, intensity, and layout are adequate for your needs, typically between 750 and 1500 PPFD. Ideally, flex-wiring or “daisy chain” functionality will allow for reduced electrical work and installation costs. Additionally, you’ll want your lights rated IP65 or IP66 for wet environments, easily dimmable, and capable of providing an even distribution of PPFD across the entire fixture.
Warranty and service should also be taken into consideration when making your final decision on lighting. With all these components, we recommend utilizing proven systems with verifiable installations and operational customers willing to provide positive testimonials. Working with reputable manufacturers provides assurance and support as you determine lighting, cooling, and other crucial calculations necessary to create the ideal growing environment.
#5. Air Flow
Helping your plants thrive in a vertical growing environment requires ensuring that they get adequate amounts of clean air. Providing sufficient airflow is imperative to plant health and mitigating pests and pathogens throughout your facility. Vertical farming operations have unique air circulation needs. Due to obstructions and restrictions created by infrastructure and the multiple tiers of cultivation, microclimates can form if the design and execution is not done correctly.
Adapting to these challenges is critical for ensuring adequate airflow and thorough fresh air exchanges. You must provide a grow room air circulation system on each level of plants that’s capable of supplying consistent conditioned air to the canopy and sub-canopy across the entire run, with minimal variation. Some airflow systems like Vertical Air Solutions provide additional capabilities, including air sanitization and Co2 enrichment.
Your HVAC system is metaphorically like the lungs of a vertical growing system. It brings in fresh air and expels used air through the ventilation system, keeping the air clean, moving, and well-regulated within the set temperature and humidity parameters to ensure your cannabis plants thrive. Keeping your HVAC clean and sanitary allows for regular, fresh-treated air exchange and prevents the growth of mildew, mold, bacteria, and other pathogens in the air.
When choosing your HVAC system, it’s essential to determine the adequate cooling and heating loads specific to your production plan. In addition, you must consider the irrigation rates and dehumidification need to remove excess transpiration.
Most cultivators elect for redundancy in HVAC equipment to ensure continuous operations if one or more systems are down for service or malfunctioning. Also, consider maintenance and servicing these systems, are parts and service personnel nearby and readily available. It is a standard best practice to keep a backup of spare parts prone to breaking and/or have extended lead times.
#7. Irrigation and Fertigation Systems
Similar to previously discussed vertical farming equipment components, irrigation and fertigation systems, and corresponding controls require design, installation, and commissioning to provide coverage for current and future plant layouts and plant feeding strategies. Consistent water and nutrients are essential for cannabis plants. Proper irrigation and fertigation arrangement could be the difference between growing weak plants and producing robust and cannabinoid-rich harvests through various crop steering techniques.
Several well-established companies are operating in this sector, providing irrigation and fertigation systems and controls to commercial farmers worldwide. Utilizing proven providers with cannabis experience will ensure proper functionality and integration. Automated irrigation systems are an excellent way to achieve efficiency, reduce water consumption, and reduce costly and grueling labor often associated with manual fertilizing and hand watering. Be sure to select irrigation and fertigation components that are compatible and integrate with your other grow controls, sensors, and monitors.
#8. Grow Sensor and Monitors
One of the most high-tech evolutions in cannabis growing is the proliferation of grow sensors and monitors and the robust data now available to growers to help make data-driven solutions. These tools offer both a macro and micro view of your entire grow operation, with in-depth analytics including air temperature, soil temperature, pH, humidity, VPD, lighting, and substrate moisture, among others.
Digitally analyzing your cultivation space allows expert growers to combine their earned expertise with insights located in a simple digital dashboard to optimize vertical cannabis growing conditions. When selecting these components, they must have open API and integrate with other systems and controls to provide real-time alerts and provide feedback to modulate other components that maintain set parameters.
#9. Mobile Carts
With a solid infrastructure of vertical grow racks, mobile carriages, and grow trays in place, your vertical farm setup is starting to take shape. While space maximization and optimization have been our main focus throughout this article, we’ve yet to address one of the critical activities of all cannabis operations: harvesting and drying plants.
Now that you’ve optimized the cultivation areas, it’s only right to extend these concepts into the processing and drying areas to maximize the space and create efficient workflow and processes. Pipp’s mobile cannabis drying racks quickly move from flowering rooms to processing and drying areas, making for an efficient, gentle, and sanitary transition from harvest to drying. It’s a smart idea to invest in a few other general mobile carts for storage and transportation to keep the team safe in the grow space, as accidents are more likely to occur when someone is carrying around large loads of gear or plants.
The ideal drying cart is designed and constructed for durability and flexibility to accommodate hanging plants or bucked cannabis to dry/cure/process harvested material. Carts should be adjustable and have various trays or hanging options like cantilever-style finger attachments allowing for custom configuration based on specific plant structure, process, and intended use. Additional features like nesting bases, security cages, and anti-microbial and fungal-resistance coatings are available.
#10. Storage Lockers
Cannabis growing operations have to ensure the safety of their employees, communities, facilities, and product. This is a multi-faceted challenge that requires keeping close track of everything that enters and exits the building. Government regulators must quickly identify the quantity and quality of your product down to the gram. Given this scrutiny level, it’s key to create processes and procedures that prevent product diversion and maintain a sanitary production facility.
Developing in/out flow controls, employee clean-up rooms, sanitation, and cleanliness policies, and investing in high-quality storage lockers, like those produced at Pipp are great ways to ensure safety and provide workers with the peace of mind that their belongings are safe. Various options, including multi-tier, see-through, and coatings, are available.
Common Vertical Farming Equipment Mistakes
Now that we’ve reviewed the main components of a vertical farming system let’s address some of the most common vertical farming equipment mistakes.
Believing the investment is out of budget and seeking cheaper and inferior options.
Financial constraint is the most common reason for choosing a suboptimal solution. But don’t let a lack of cash limit your options. Securing capital without traditional institutional lenders can make capitalizing a cannabis operation challenging. However, as the industry develops and becomes more mainstream, funding and leasing options for cultivation equipment are becoming more readily available with terms equivalent to those provided to other sectors. Working with Pipp’s team to create a phasing plan for purchasing and installing growing equipment can help defer some capital expenditures to future expansion phases.
Undercutting the operation by miscalculating and skimping on equipment.
By miscalculating or buying less output or capacity than required for optimal performance, you may overextend and wear out undersized equipment, severely impeding your operation from fully maximizing and capitalizing on the advantages of vertical farming. Upfront investment in adequate infrastructure supports operations that generate profit, providing funding for future expansion as demand increases.
Failure to design grow space for vertical farming.
Vertical farming success hinges on strategic planning, calculations, and design. Getting the Pipp Team involved early in the design process can significantly augment your overall production capacity. While the equipment can dynamically move around your grow space, calculating ideal room sizes and configurations that maximize your canopy can increase production capacity by up to 55%.
How Pipp Horticulture Can Help
This piece was an informative and helpful review of vertical farming vs. conventional farming and the various components that integrate to create an optimized cultivation facility. Though we covered much information, there is much more detail and nuance that sets up and operates a vertical farm. When you are ready to learn more and begin planning a vertical grow, Pipp Horticulture can help you with expert advice and industry-leading vertical farming equipment.
We offer the best in vertical grow racks, mobile carriages, grow trays, mobile carts, and storage lockers to optimize your vertical cannabis growing operation. Contact the Pipp Horticulture team today for a complimentary consultation to maximize your facility’s potential.
For the past several years, Pipp Horticulture’s mission has been to help cultivators across the globe save time and money by creating a more efficient grow facility and helping streamline operations. Pipp has not only developed a product line that was purposefully designed to serve the cannabis cultivation market, but they added experienced cultivators and industry experts to their team to continuously improve their services and develop products that positively affect canopy output and facility operations.
While focusing on this mission and to meet a broader range of customer requirements and price points, Pipp engineered their new, patent-pending TRAK FREE™ Carriage System. The revolutionary advancement of the TRAK-FREE™ Carriage System is the single guide rail along the back of the system rather than multiple tracks in the walkway. This system not only saves time and money on materials and installation but also helps cultivators: improve efficiencies of standard operating procedures and safety measures, reduce potential floor impediments, and effortlessly move other necessary equipment like carts, racks, and ladders around the grow room.