What Is Biosecurity?
Biosecurity refers to the measures taken to reduce the likelihood of harmful organisms being introduced to or spread throughout a cultivation facility. Just like with any other form of security, there are various levels of biosecurity, ranging from basic, critical steps, to the more involved steps that are implemented when it is of the utmost importance to minimize risks to the highest extent possible.
Importance of Biosecurity
Crop contamination due to pathogens or mold is the easiest way to lose an entire crop and the investment that was made in it. More and more states are requiring cannabis to be tested before being sold to consumers and chances are those that don’t currently require testing will eventually. Biosecurity is the best way to protect your crop from contamination.
States and cities around the country are cracking down on pesticide and fungicide use, resulting in an increasing number of cannabis product recalls in Colorado, a 13% lab testing failure rate in Washington, a 20% failure rate in New Mexico and a shortage of product in certain states.
Making the quest for pure product more difficult (and increasing the need for biosecurity measures) is the fact that there are no pesticides that are approved for use on cannabis. This is a side-effect of federal prohibition, but will still take years to change. The different methods of cannabis consumption make it difficult to verify that various pesticides will be safe for use on cannabis – food-safe pesticides have not been approved for use when the product is lit on fire and smoked, while tobacco-safe pesticides have not been approved for use on food products. Once pesticides are approved for use on cannabis, cultivators still face a potential backlash from consumers if they use pesticides as the general public views pesticides unfavorably.
Biosecurity Best Practices for Cannabis
High humidity provides the perfect growing environment for contaminants such as powdery mildew, botrytis and mold. Ideally, a cannabis grow room should never be above 25-50% relative humidity.Your dehumidification should be sized for peak watering amounts, even if those amounts are not encountered daily, to provide sufficient humidity relief.
2. Temperature Regulation
Combined with humidity levels, temperatures play a large role in creating a hospitable environment for pathogens and molds to grow and reproduce. Maintaining proper temperature and humidity levels within the grow rooms will reduce the likelihood of Bacteria growth on your cannabis plants. It is important to note that different growth stages require different climates and each of these climates should be closely monitored for healthy plant growth.
3. Standard Operating Procedures
Instituting standard operating procedures (SOPs) throughout the facility creates accountability and consistency during production and can reduce the likelihood of mistakes that lead to contamination. As part of these SOPs, anything that touches a plant should be sterilized before it touches another plant. This includes scissors used for trimming, hoses used for watering, tables that plants sit on and anything else that comes into contact with plants. Avoid using any materials that cannot be sterilized in the facility. For example, stainless steel table should be used rather than wooden tables because steel can be sterilized while wood has nooks and crannies in which contaminants can live even after a thorough cleaning.
Additionally, every action that takes place in a cultivation facility should be tracked. This allows management to go back and know exactly what happened if a problem occurs. Accountability and good record keeping are standard in food production and can be critical to minimizing the impact of recalls by allowing you to know exactly which plants and product may have been affected.
4. Air Sanitation
Poor air quality allows pathogens and mold to spread from one plant to the next through the air. Cleaning the air in your facility using a method that kills bacteria, mold and pathogens prevents them from spreading. Clean air reduces the likelihood of an outbreak and provides protection from those that may happen.
5. Room Isolation
As mentioned above, what may be beneficial to plants at one stage of growth could be detrimental at another stage. For example, the Propagation/Clone Room often needs a very high humidity environment when compared to the Flower Room. Isolating rooms prevents contaminants from spreading from room to room through the ventilation system. When grow rooms are isolated from one another, a contamination in one room effectively becomes quarantined and is much more difficult to spread to the other rooms.
6. Think About Workflow
Design the entire facility to accommodate user workflow. The less a worker has to cross through a room, the less likely contamination is to occur. Create a downstream flow to the facility by placing the Clone Room furthest from where the most traffic occurs and placing the Flower Room closest to where processing takes place. The product should physically flow downstream to the final climate controlled storage area where it will be packed and ready for market. As plants mature, their value increases, as does their likelihood of becoming infected, so interaction should be minimized in order to create the cleanest environment possible and protect your investment. The less workers have to track through grow rooms to get somewhere else, the better.
What to Avoid
1. Standing Water
Standing water becomes a breeding ground for pests and pathogens. All life requires water, and pathogens are no exception. For contaminants, their water source comes from their environment, and their food source being the plant. Without accessible water most will be unable to grow. Equip all grow rooms with drains and sloped floors to ensure any spilt water is removed from the room as quickly as possible.
2. Using Dirty Tools
This is covered under the Standard Operating Procedures section above, but bears repeating. Sterilize any tools that touch a plant before using them on a new plant. Grow rooms should also be cleaned and sterilized before a new crop of plants moves in.
3. Ozone Generators
Often touted as air cleaners, ozone generators do not actually remove bacteria, mold, viruses or other biological contaminants from the air. Additionally, ozone generators can be highly dangerous to worker health and can remove the desired odor from late flower buds. Look instead for air sanitation products using photocatalytic reactions to kill contaminants.
4. Dirty Employees
Employees can bring in a number of contaminants from outside every time they enter a facility. To minimize contamination, require employees to change into a new set of clothes and shoes that are kept at the facility and to wash their hands before touching any plants.