This content of this article was provided by Barry Galvin at AlphaRoot
Cannabis has been a part of human society for almost a thousand years. However, it was majorly looked down upon and used to be illegal in several parts of the world. In the 1970s, cannabis growers experimented with indoor cultivation to ensure a safer crop environment and a year-long yield.
Today, society has bypassed acceptance levels, with 88% of US citizens supporting the legalization of cannabis. Even the Governments are showing support, with 21 states raising a green flag for cannabis cultivation indoors and outdoors.
Still, almost 80% of the cannabis produced naturally comes from indoor facilities. This blog explores the risks and challenges of indoor and sun-grown cannabis cultivation and how growers can mitigate them.
What is Indoor vs. Sun-grown Cultivation?
Indoor cannabis is produced in a greenhouse or a warehouse under regulated conditions. Many growers who desire complete control over the growing environment, including temperature, humidity, and lighting, prefer this method. Indoor farming enables year-round growing, resulting in consistent and optimized production.
Sun-grown cannabis is cultivated using natural sunlight and other environmental factors to create the ideal growing habitat. Growers who seek a more natural solution and reduced environmental impact prefer this method, but harvests are limited to once per year and quality may be compromised by environmental factors.
Generally, it’s easier to spot differences between Sun-grown and indoor cannabis.
Indoor cannabis has denser buds, smaller stems, and leaves. Due to controlled growing conditions, the aroma is intense, and there are higher levels of THC in indoor cannabis.
Challenges of Indoor Cannabis Vs. Sun-Grown Cannabis
The decision between indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation ultimately depends on what the growers want to achieve.
Any company looking for higher yields and consistent products will prefer indoor setting over sun-grown, which offers a limited growing period.
Here are a few challenges that cannabis cultivators face.
1. Higher Startup Costs
The average cost of an indoor cannabis cultivation startup ranges from $325-$625 per square foot. This includes building, instrumentation, architectural design, engineering, water systems, and more such costs that are a necessity of Indoor cannabis cultivation.
In contrast, sun-grown cannabis utilizes the sun’s energy, and natural environment, which provides the perfect light spectrum for plant growth. A Statista graph shows that the median average cost to produce one pound of dried cannabis was $214 outdoors, and $472 indoors, in 2021.
This is because indoor growing requires more resources. Artificial light sources such as LED or HPS lamps, ventilation systems, water supply systems, benching, controls, and much more can be expensive to purchase and operate, and recurring energy costs impact the cost of production.
2. Energy Consumption
The second challenge every cannabis grower faces is energy consumption. Cannabis cultivation energy ranges between 6 to 580 kWh/kg for greenhouses and 4,400 to 6,100 kWh/kg for cultivating indoors.
A NY Times report found that indoor cannabis growers consume an estimated 1% of the total electricity used in the United States, which amounts to about $6 billion in energy costs annually.
Indoor facilities require higher energy for lighting, temperature and humidity control, and ventilation operations.
Maintaining a stable temperature and humid environment inside the grow room is necessary for cannabis growth, as well as injection of carbon dioxide to promote plant growth.
Undeniably, the energy consumption in indoor facilities is higher, raising another financial and environmental challenge for indoor growers.
3. Odor Control
The sun-grown cannabis has a mild odor compared to indoor cannabis, whose strong odor can be challenging to manage. Cannabis plants produce kinds of terpenes and volatile organic compounds.
Growers may receive unwanted attention or face legal repercussions if the scent is not controlled. Usually, carbon filters, air purification systems, and ozone generators are used to neutralize odors and remove harmful contaminants from the air.
Since these systems are expensive and need proper maintenance, some growers may find it challenging to bear the costs of odor control.
Note: Ozone is a dangerous oxidizing agent that can harm humans and plant tissues. So, it must only be used by authorized professionals with the necessary training.
Due to the nature of indoor facilities, indoor cannabis can be more prone to pest, fungus, or disease outbreaks, with fungus typically being the primary cause of crop failure. The primary contributor to pest, fungus or disease outbreaks, once exposed, is a poorly managed cultivation environment. It’s exceptionally important that cultivators rely on experienced designers of climate control and air sterilization systems like Surna to ensure that their environment is properly maintained to give their crop the best foundation for success.
In contrast, sun-grown cannabis growers have the benefit of UV exposure from sunlight and natural bacteria and predators to help protect their crops. They typically turn to chemical fungicides and pesticides in extreme disruption cases.
5. Security Hazards
Security is a challenge with the same severity for indoor and outdoor growers. Generally, both growers must implement security measures like surveillance cameras, motion sensors, etc.
For indoor growers, fire is a huge hazard. Since growers need high thermal and electrical energy, a minor mistake could turn into a big fire. To prevent harm, growers must maintain electrical wiring periodically, including fire suppression systems and smoke alarms.
Environmental hazards like natural disasters or extreme weather conditions can be a big challenge for outdoor growers. Growers must have practical plans for such scenarios.
Trespassing is a huge concern for sun-grown cannabis cultivators because they’re often located in remote areas. Every grower must implement proper steps to ensure their crops and employees are safe.
Mitigating Challenges – Indoor & Outdoor
Whether you’re an indoor or outdoor cannabis grower, you must stay updated about proactive ways to mitigate these challenges. You can start by redesigning your facilities to reduce risks to the crop, including redundancy and correct engineering.
Moreso, you must keep a check and balance; invest in the maintenance and standard operating procedures to avoid emergencies.
While at it, always have a strong backup plan and the right insurance. Regardless of how loophole-free your management is, incidents can happen. It’s best to have a specialized cannabis insurance plan from a reputable cannabis company. This way, you can protect your investment from unforeseen risks such as crop failure, property damage, and legal liabilities.