With the cannabis industry booming, there are those who believe they have both the capital and the know-how to start their own grow room.
Establishing it is just the first big hurdle though. From that point, there are MANY additional challenges of scaling a cannabis grow facility.
It’s tougher than it sounds.
Achieving success is a huge challenge in an industry where technology and knowledge are still very much in their infancy. So it’s crucial that potential entrepreneurs invest wisely and do their research.
Going in, they must consider the following:
1. Ever-Changing Markets and Regulations
To say that cannabis markets are unpredictable is an understatement. Developing markets are always rapidly evolving and there’s often a lack of supply as marihuana retailers try to meet the demand in states where cannabis is both medically and recreationally legal.
This means that grow facilities need to scale up to meet that demand. Yet it’s much more important to do this correctly than quickly. Otherwise, facility owners often end up hemorrhaging major funds on unnecessary costs to remedy decisions made in haste.
Furthermore, there is a dizzying amount of regulatory environments. In some cases, some growers won’t have their product evaluated until they’ve completed a full grow. So they start small with plans to expand once they’ve met the licensing requirement. This can result in the above-mentioned shortages.
Meanwhile, the opposite happens in markets with a lower barrier of entry for growers where licensing is more relaxed. In this environment, the market becomes saturated and this, in turn, makes the cannabis less valuable.
2. The Need to Grasp Large Scale Operations
The past several decades of cannabis legalization have created a group of master growers who have the chops to run a legitimate operation. But these were usually of the small-footprint variety. The same procedures simply don’t translate to larger-scale commercial operations.
Plus, there are additional products and services burgeoning commercial growers may have never had to consider before. This larger scale in tandem with a lack of knowledge often results in poor communication and implementation of proposed solutions that can’t deliver.
There is also a lack of comprehension among third-party suppliers. For example, equipment manufacturers don’t always have a grasp on the challenges connected with a larger growing environment. Which brings us to #3.
3. Correct Utilization of Equipment
The unique nature of growing cannabis means that just because a solution works for one growing environment, it won’t necessarily work for another one. In fact, it often doesn’t. Even solutions that were effective in the recent past prove to be insufficient for larger grow facilities.
The approach to HVAC is a perfect example.
In the past, many growers chose standard commercial air conditioners to cool their growing space. They’re cost-efficient and simple to set up. Engineers know how they work and so when designing grow facilities, they’ve tended toward them as a logical solution.
Problem is, they’re not all necessarily well-suited for growing cannabis. There are certain metrics growers rely on that these systems don’t provide. These include, but are not limited to humidity control, energy efficiency, and optimal room control.
It’s not just the engineers to blame here though. Manufacturers are only just starting to produce HVAC equipment specifically for large-scale grow facilities. This makes sense – given their reluctance to invest in research and development for a product that was illegal for so many years.
Once they did begin to manufacture specific AC for grow facilities, they were styled after those used in data centers. The belief was since they’re both isolated indoor spaces, their cooling needs would be similar. Yet, the heat in data centers comes from servers and there’s often a need to add humidity to avoid static electricity.
By contrast, the heat in grow rooms is created by lights and there is a tremendous need to dehumidify the air due to plant transpiration and evaporation from the watering system. Because of all of these factors, growers need to be aware of the best equipment and subsequently involved with every step of the implementation process.
4. Working With No Set Standards for Buildings and Systems
Think standards have been set during the past 25 years of medical cannabis? Think again. Despite the need for having a set of principles that everyone can follow uniformly, such standards are poorly lacking.
The vast majority of documented standards that engineers have relied upon are based on codes for buildings designed for humans. There is a dearth of proven standards that are sufficient to address the unique needs of cannabis plants.
What’s worse, even among those who have started figuring it out, there’s often a mentality that discourages sharing of research or data throughout the industry. Such unwillingness to share insights and information doesn’t bode well for the development of a set of standards any time soon.
Challenges of Scaling a Cannabis Grow Facility
There’s a temptation among large-scale cannabis cultivation operators to automate right from the get-go. They want to gather up brand new equipment, lights, nutrients, etc. to kick everything into gear.
Successful large-scale cannabis operators (who are not being secretive, that is) advise against this. They encourage cannabis operators looking to scale their business to keep as many variables constant as possible.
This will garner more consistent results.
They also recommend commercial cannabis cultivation software to help operators manage the myriad processes and provide important data needed to optimize operations. Having a data-driven approach provides an edge in this increasingly competitive industry.
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As a state-of-the-art grow facility, we know a thing or two about surmounting the challenges of scaling a cannabis grow facility.
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