Dec 4, 2020

As Demand Rises, Hybrid Greenhouses Optimize Climate and Costs to Grow Cannabis Profitably

With the proliferation of legal cannabis around the world, various methods—some effective, some less so—have been used to grow marijuana. For all producers and cultivators, the consideration of where and how to grow cannabis is among the most important fiscal factors for success.

What methods a cannabis company chooses affects what clients they’re able to serve, what cannabis they’re able to grow, and—in many cases—whether they’ll be able to surmount the costs associated with cannabis cultivation in expensive jurisdictions, like Canada and the United States.

As a crop, cannabis can prove to be a difficult, variable plant to cultivate. Some crops may respond negatively to less controlled environments, developing barriers to discourage harvesting, and in less natural climates, potency can fluctuate. Some strains require precise, detailed care—while others prove to be more durable—and scientific, systematic processes are required across the board for producing medical-grade products on large scales.

As a result, cultivators have developed several methods of farming to cope with the needs, expenses and capabilities of their locations.

What are the basic methods of growing cannabis?

Generally, cannabis producers choose from three methods of farming: Indoor, outdoor and greenhouse cultivation.

In countries with expansive cannabis economies but imperfect climates for cannabis growth, indoor growing remains prominent. The only way to grow cannabis in the illegal market, some micro-cultivators and licensed producers have continued to pursue this method in legalization. Using small, focused facilities with artificial light and irrigation, growers choose indoor cultivation for its specificity of control and detail. When growing indoors, cultivators can focus their attention on a smaller number of plants, experimenting with strain varieties in small batches and yields.

However—as stressed producers in countries like Canada and the United States have proven—indoor growing remains incredibly costly.

Requiring complex ventilation, enormous energy and higher inputs of fertilizers, average estimates for establishing indoor warehouses for cannabis cultivation total around USD$830,000 for a licensed producer, costing at least an additional USD$180,000 in basic cultivation and energy costs per year.

Arguably the most unsustainable costs that threaten indoor producers have less to do with their methods of growing than their locations. In a country like the United States, the labor costs to staff a greenhouse and cultivate its cannabis can cripple a producer. The staffing for an average cannabis grower—including inventory specialists, managers, growers, harvesters, trimmers and packagers—can amount to over USD$400,000 per year per facility. In a low-cost jurisdiction like Jamaica, expenses to compensate employees at the same rates would be just 13% the cost, about USD$50,000.

For these reasons, indoor growing is generally unsustainable for producers pursuing wholesale supply and agreements with global partners.

Rather than pursuing complicated indoor systems, some producers in ideal climates choose to plant and cultivate cannabis in a more traditional farm setting, outdoors.

However, quality control in outdoor settings is difficult, and the scientific management and customization of strain varieties is unlikely. Without environmental control, outdoor growers are generally unable to supply the pharmaceutical market, since their cultivation is lacking the strict oversight and management needed to ensure total accuracy and consistency. Most of all, outdoor growers are susceptible to dangerous environmental changes that hinder a cultivator’s ability to provide consistent, high-quality product.

Other growers, particularly those with the resources to build expansive facilities, have pursued greenhouses as a method of cannabis cultivation. Greenhouses allow growers to monitor their crops on a larger scale and grow continuously throughout the year while saving significantly on energy costs. And because cannabis can prove to be a difficult plant to cultivate, complete control over the environment, natural light schedules and contaminants decreases the possibility of stress.

Greenhouses utilize natural sunlight whenever possible, reducing electricity costs while keeping the crop enclosed in a protected structure. Supporting growth and airflow, cannabis grown in greenhouses can be cultivated pesticide and mildew free, producing buds that are comparable in potency to indoor growing while cultivating on a much larger scale.

However, greenhouses with entirely regulated environments—particularly greenhouses in less ideal climates, which rely on indoor controls far more than greenhouses in locations suited to cannabis growth—pose challenges, too.

In low-light northern latitudes where winter daylight hours and cold temperatures are prohibitive to growth, year-long cultivation at lower energy expenses is less possible—and overly controlled environments can stress the plants and lead to lower potency. Most of all, producers using greenhouses in countries like the United States and Canada face the same obstacles with labor expenses as indoor cultivators.

What are hybrid greenhouses?

For producers seeking complete environmental control over their cannabis, lower energy expenses and the benefits of optimizing an ideal climate for cannabis cultivation, hybrid indoor greenhouses are innovating the possibilities for growth.

Where traditional greenhouses rely on the use of natural light but support cultivation largely through techniques similar to indoor growing, hybrid greenhouses provide complete indoor control while maximizing the assets of an ideal climate.

In a location like Jamaica—where cannabis grows abundantly—hybrid greenhouses combine the climate control aspects of indoor cannabis growth with the most important features of greenhouse cultivation: prominent light transmissive glass and vents that facilitate a controlled indoor environment while leveraging the exterior’s optimal conditions.

Many hybrid greenhouses—like the design Massive Therapeutics is spearheading in Jamaica—are made specifically for light transparency and energy retention. When the outdoor climate is ideal for production and potency, hybrid greenhouses achieve maximum yields with the abundance of the natural environment. When necessary, unmitigated control over light cycles, blackout systems, fertilization and irrigation ensures that complete scientific oversight remains paramount.

By pioneering the use of insulated metal panels (IMPs) alongside the walls of a glass house, hybrid greenhouses are able to maintain stable temperatures within a more durable structure, securing energy-savings well above other commercial cannabis greenhouses. And in a location like Jamaica, the costs to staff and run a greenhouse of this sophistication are far less—amounting to nearly one tenth the cost of doing so in North America while paying workers far above the living wage.

Why we use hybrid greenhouses to grow cannabis in Jamaica:

We’ve thought carefully about how to grow our cannabis.

In all, the burgeoning cannabis market in Jamaica and the island’s potential to lead cannabis exports is fast-evolving—allowing us the opportunity to start with a blank slate in spearheading how commercial cannabis is grown in the Caribbean.

Recognizing that Jamaica offers the open market and cost-efficient resources to build state-of-the-art facilities that utilize the climate to grow the highest quality marijuana, we’re pioneering hybrid greenhouses to cultivate cannabis cost-effectively.

Our greenhouses fully integrate a central computer system into all the equipment and growing systems within their structures, offering control, automation and oversight over humidity, CO2 levels, water, light levels, photoperiod light cycles, blackout systems, temperature and cooling. In doing so, our hybrid greenhouses collect data that can be analyzed and optimized over growing cycles. And, amid Jamaica’s ideal climate, we can grow cannabis at large-scales and high yields with predictable outcomes.

Significantly, our unmitigated control and data collection means we can consistently provide pharmaceutical quality medicine while cutting down on the costs—like cooling and lighting expenditures—that regularly plague indoor growing facilities. Because Jamaica’s climate offers ideal growing temperatures, our energy-savings supersede even the most efficient greenhouses in a country like Canada.

Key to our success, by designing an enclosed system that encompasses each stage of production, we’re also able to differentiate and individualize varied genetic strain choices within a single greenhouse, giving our customers the option to customize their crops within an individual facility.

Understanding that relative labor costs in Jamaica are far less, Massive Therapeutics is able to sustain and give back to the local communities through high wages and salaries often several times the established living wage. Most importantly, we’re able to do so while saving massively on labor costs—spending approximately USD$50,000 in expenses for greenhouse labor where a similar operation in the United States would cost a producer USD$400,000.

This is unprecedented in the Caribbean, and it’s a cost-efficient achievement that innovates cannabis cultivation for the global market. For our employees, growing cannabis in hybrid greenhouses means working within state-of-the-art facilities for high wages in a burgeoning industry. And for our customers, it means optimizing climate and costs to grow the highest-quality marijuana.