Vertical Cultivation – Advantages VS Challenges (With Solutions)

Cannabis Industry Focused Architects & Engineers

Advantages

  • Vertical cannabis cultivation provides great flexibility because tiers are completely customizable and allow you to maximize any kind of square footage available  
  • Potentially twice the canopy space in the same building footprint
  • Shorter runs for utility feeds to rooms (i.e. power, irrigation) and while the equipment feeding each room is larger, there is a lower quantity.
  • For the most part, you are combining the systems for HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc. for multiple rooms into one which helps save on control costs
  • Higher Yields + Lower Costs Per Plant = Increased Profits
  • With vertical farming mostly taking place indoors, there is no dependability on the weather, and you can control your environment for your plants to grow
  • Water usage is minimized by using a Hydroponic Cultivation Process that only uses about 10% of the average amount of water
    • Because the water is clean after use, it allows for the water to be recycled and reused

Challenges (Solutions Included)

  • Roughly half of the room is above head level causing easy neglect and careful examination time to possibly be reduced
    • Usually, the flower on the lower racks is of higher quality because it is a lot easier to attend to
    • Solution: Easy neglect of the top rack is not always the case as it can be solved by being aware of the situation and taking a proactive approach to educate staff
    • Solution: Sometimes the easily neglected flower is not as aesthetically pleasing but is equally valuable medicinally
      • If this is the case, use the easily neglected flower in oils and concentrates instead of high-quality dry leaf buds
    • Solution: Select cannabis plant strains that are disease resistant as when half the canopy is above head level, careful examination could be reduced causing unnoticed mold and mildew outbreaks
  • Possible issues with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concerning staff safety when accessing the top rack
    • This could include falls and other height issues
      • Height restrictions are required at 6′ on a construction site where staff have to wear a harness but staff members in a cultivation facility are usually using ladders or moveable stairs
      • Solution: Best practice is to train all staff members and have the staff members sign off that they understand so they are not putting themselves at risks of injury
  • Receiving the proper temperature, humidity and amount of airflow through the racks of multiple tier grows can be difficult because of increased variability in conditions and an increased amount of plants 
    • Solution: Use temperature/humidity/airflow sensors to monitor a room
      • These sensors can even be used to monitor large spaces over 20,000 SF
  • The height of the plant is limited to the distance between the top of the potting material to the face of the lighting fixture
    • Plants could easily become overgrown in this situation in addition to becoming burned with some light types at close range
      • Solution: Select cannabis plant strains that are short-growing and on the petite side so the plants don’t become overgrown and heavily crowd the space in their tier
        • Sea of Green Theory – harvesting many small plants which have matured early in order to get the quickest production of buds available
    • Solution: Use LED lights because they do not burn cannabis plants at close range unlike many other lighting types
  • Limited to LED cultivation lighting due to the limited space, while these fixtures use less energy, they are higher in cost and provide the highest  PPFD (photosynthetic photon flux density) / PAR (Photosynthetic active radiation) levels when 6” to 12” away from the cannabis plants
    • Cultivators need to determine if they want to install a lowering system to get the most energy to the plants which also leads to additional costs
    • Solution: Hire Engineers that design around high output, economical, dimmable, modular cultivation lighting that provides high levels of PPFD/PAR alleviating the need for lowering systems

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