Reducing a grow’s carbon footprint and closing resource loops can benefit cannabis companies that are interested in being more sustainable by lowering energy, input and shipping costs.
One method companies may want to explore is regenerative agriculture, which includes practices like building topsoil with polyculture cropping and no-till plantings, enhancing the biodiversity of ecosystems, and supporting biosequestration, or capturing and storing CO2.
Here are a few methods indoor growers can borrow from this form of organic ag. Implementing them can improve sustainability in indoor production, help cultivators save money, and attract consumers who prioritize sustainable products.
1. When working with soil, ensure it is nutrient dense.
Ohio-based cultivator Galenas grows vertically, and as other growers who stack know, beds are generally not an option. When using pots, if you’re working with soil, it must be expertly crafted to contain the perfect amount of nutrients in a relatively small volume to ensure roots can access what they need. Experimenting with compost-based potting soils has been successful for Galenas. Due to high and balanced nutrient levels and a rich biodiversity of microorganisms that cycle nutrients, we’ve seen increases in both yield and secondary metabolites. (For more on how to increase secondary metabolites, visit: bit.ly/increase-secondary-metabolites.) We also cut back our fertilizer inputs by more than 75%. By choosing a soil that is one-third food-scrap compost, we also are diverting tons of food waste from local landfills each year.
2. Keep your soil alive and healthy.
We focus on managing the health of our greatest resource—our microbe-rich soil. Any teas we use are either compost-derived or contain organic fertilizers, and we keep our nutrient teas less than 500 parts per million (ppm) total dissolved solids. Monitor your pH, moisture levels and electrical conductivity (EC) for stability. By focusing on our soil’s biology, we’ve been able to reduce the amount of foliar- and soil-applied beneficials, saving on input costs.
3. Reduce your energy footprint.
The energy costs of growing cannabis indoors are astronomical. We use Certified Kind, which implements standards for cannabis that are modeled off USDA Organic. Kind conducts energy audits for kilowatts used per gram of cannabis to ensure that we are continuing to improve energy efficiency year-over-year. Dragonfly Earth Medicine’s (DEM) Pure, as well as Sun+Earth, are two certification programs growers who are interested in regenerative cannabis farming can turn to for guidance.
4. Close the loops.
After we harvest cannabis, there is still great value in the spent soil. Our spent soil is donated to Let’s Grow Akron, a local nonprofit that creates and supports food gardens in communities with limited access to fresh produce. There is a plethora of both nutrients and microbiology left in the soil, which has proven to be perfect for building beds and growing nutritious organic fruits and vegetables. If your state doesn’t allow spent soil donation, contact your regulators and discuss the merits of this eco-conscious approach, and perhaps they’ll reconsider.