“Given the limited amount of pure-play cannabis stocks available for U.S. investors, it comes [as] no surprise that millennials are concentrating in these positions.”
^ In an email to Fortune, Matt Hawkins, managing principal at Cresco Capital Partners, shared his thoughts on Aurora Cannabis’ recent No. 1 ranking on the trade and investment app Robinhood’s most-held stocks list, ahead of Apple (No. 4) and other major companies. The app is especially popular with millennials and Gen Z users. Source: Fortune
“While we remain happy with our investment in the cannabis space and its long-term potential, we were not pleased with Canopy’s recent reported year-end results.”
^ In a June 29 earnings conference call, Constellation Brands Inc. Chief Executive William Newlands said his company was not pleased with the fourth-quarter earnings of cannabis producer Canopy Growth Corp., in which Constellation holds a 38-percent ownership stake (with options for up to 50-percent ownership in the future). On July 3, Bruce Linton announced he had been fired as Canopy’s CEO. Source: Marketwatch
“Phylos bridged the divide between the cannabis community and rigorous science and made that science accessible and compelling to many. And then it torched that bridge.”
^ Robert C. Clarke, cannabis researcher and Cannabis Business Times columnist, shared his thoughts on why he resigned from the Phylos Bioscience Scientific Advisory Board in the wake of the company’s announcement to start a breeding program. Source: Cannabis Business Times
While magnesium (Mg) is sometimes a forgotten element, sulfur (S) is actually ignored. Few fertilizer bags even list the amount of S provided. Typically, it is only listed as an ingredient, and the main amount of S supplied is from the associated sulfate (-SO4) attached to the micronutrients. This low amount provided as part of the micronutrients is generally insufficient to meet plant demands.
One reason S has not received much attention is because atmospheric S has been readily available due to the burning of high sulfur coal. In the 1966 book, “Sand and Water Culture Methods Used in the Study of Plant Nutrition,” author E.J. Hewitt states that in the United Kingdom, S deficiencies are rarely seen within close proximity to cities or towns due to the use of household coal-burning heating units. With the increased use of low-S containing coal and natural gas for electricity generation, the amount of atmospheric S available to plants is diminishing. To compensate for this shift, agricultural applications of S-containing fertilizers such as potassium sulfate (K2SO4), calcium sulfate (CaSO4), and magnesium sulfate heptahydrate (MgSO4.7H2O) have increased.
With greenhouse cannabis production, we require fertilizers to be readily water soluble. Sulfate-based fertilizers such as K2SO4, CaSO4 and MgSO4.7H2O easily precipitate out of solution into insoluble forms. The primary culprit is CaSO4, which is gypsum and commonly used as wallboard in building construction. So the S fertilization strategy must be customized to meet the demands of the greenhouse environment.
Evaluate Your Fertilizer Program
The first step in determining if you are providing enough S is to evaluate your fertilization program. Sufficient levels of S usually are not provided by the irrigation water. (In most cases this is ideal, for S in the hydrogen sulfide form (H2S) is associated with the rotten egg smell.) Ideally, fertilizer and the corresponding substrate S levels should be in the 50 to 200 ppm range. Assuming the availability of a baseline level of atmospheric S, the critical lower target range should be above 25 ppm S. Higher levels of S generally are considered to be non-toxic, but there is a limit above ~300 ppm. Elevated S levels can inhibit the plant’s ability to uptake both boron (B) and molybdenum (Mo). The key for plant nutrition is balancing all the factors that impact uptake to optimize growth.
Because S concentrations are typically not listed on most fertilizer bags, you will need to send a fertilizer solution sample to a commercial lab to obtain a complete analysis of the S and the other elements contained in your fertilizer. This is an invaluable test that should be done to ensure that your overall fertilization program is on track.
Sulfur Deficiency Symptoms
Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) plants can develop symptoms of S deficiency, but the occurrence is much lower than, say, a nitrogen (N) deficiency. Sulfur and N deficiencies have very similar leaf symptomology. The key is observing where on the plant the symptoms first appear. Nitrogen is a mobile element, which means when the plant senses that N is low, it will remobilize N from the older leaves to the younger growth. That is why N deficiency symptomology of total leaf chlorosis (yellowing) initially appears on the older, lower leaves. (Note: With advanced N deficiencies, the symptomology will work its way up the stem into the middle section of the plant, which can confuse the diagnosis.)
Sulfur is a partially mobile element. In most S-deficiency situations, symptoms of leaf yellowing will appear in the middle section of the plant on the recently matured stage of leaves (Fig. 4). This is the case when N is also amply provided. If at the same time, N levels are inadequate, S deficiency symptomology can overlap in lower portions of the plant in the same region where N symptomology will appear. This makes diagnosing the situation more challenging and reinforces the need to submit a tissue sample to a commercial lab for complete nutrient analysis to confirm your diagnosis.
The typical progression of S symptomology begins as an overall pale discoloration of the middle zone leaves (Fig. 2A). This yellowing is associated with a drastic decrease in chlorophyll concentration in the leaf due to the plant’s inability to synthesize key amino acids. The pattern of how the chlorosis first appears on the leaf will aid in diagnosing S deficiency. Typically chlorosis first appears at the leaf base and progresses outwards toward the leaf tip (Fig. 1). As symptoms progress, the overall level of yellowing intensifies (Fig. 2B&C). With advanced conditions, due to the lack of chlorophyll, sun burning of the leaves will result in the appearance of necrotic spots. Plant growth will also be stunted (Fig. 3). In general, the S sufficiency range for cannabis is between 0.17 percent to 0.26 percent as suggested by Bryson and Mills in “Plant Analysis Handbook IV.”
The fix for S deficiency is easy. Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) can be applied at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 gallons of water (2.4 kg/1000L). Apply this as a 5 percent to 10 percent flow-through leaching irrigation. This will stop symptom progression but will not reverse any severe leaf chlorosis or necrotic spotting. For regions that lack sufficient S in irrigation water and S is not part of the regular fertilization program (i.e., 20-10-20 does not contain significant amounts of S), monthly applications of Epsom salts at the rate of 1 pound per 100 gallons of water (1.2 kg/1000L) is the common production practice to green up plants and avoid deficiencies. (Also note, avoid mixing Epsom salts with calcium (Ca)-based fertilizers, as this will result in an insoluble precipitate forming in the fertilizer container.)
Symptoms of S deficiency readily develop on cannabis. Growers need to increase the amount of S available from the irrigation water, and provide supplemental S to the plants as needed to avoid further deficiencies.
Brian Whipker, Paul Cockson, James Turner Smith & Hunter Landis are from the Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
Cannabis producers in California must send their products to independent labs to ensure they comply with state testing standards for contaminants, potency and other critical factors. When the state’s Phase 3 testing regulations came into effect in December 2018, many of these labs closed down or became backlogged as they upgraded systems, which created testing bottlenecks and product delivery delays.
The situation left me wondering, “How could producers overcome these challenges if they had unlimited funds?”
My answer would simply be to approach the testing lab and propose that I purchase a “platinum package” that would ensure it always tested my products first. Products without this “platinum package” would be set back and not tested until mine were completed, thus giving my company a first-to-market advantage over competitors.
It’s a practice that would be considered legal behavior for all parties involved because there are no laws against paying for expedited services. Shipping companies do this every day.
Expanding on the scenario further, I asked myself, “What if those companies that chose aggressive strategies began paying distribution companies a royalty or percentage of sales in the form of incentives to distribute and push one product over a competitor’s or pay a distributor to not carry a competitor’s products?”
This is another common strategy performed by corporations every day. For example, soft drink producers often have exclusivity agreements with restaurants or retailers to only sell their brands. It’s the reason why you might only see Coca-Cola or PepsiCo products at a particular establishment. These are not considered predatory practices but rather are tactics used to gain and measure market share.
Exclusivity deals to carry certain brands or product lines are becoming more frequent in the cannabis industry, especially with the rise in celebrity-supported brands. But exclusivity often goes both ways: A retailer signing a deal to carry an exclusive brand may be prevented from carrying other brands outside of that distributor’s network.
How can a cannabis company operate, let alone survive, when it is at the mercy of a distributor?
A Look at Other Industries
Again, aggressive distribution strategies are not uncommon outside of the cannabis industry. Take the Luxottica Group, an innocuous enough sounding name that few have heard of, yet many people use their products regularly. They own sunglass brands such as Ray-Ban, Oakley and Persol, among a host of other well-known names. In the past three decades, Luxottica also acquired major eyewear retailers such as Sunglass Hut, Target Optical and Pearle Vision. Its wholesale distribution network, which also includes LensCrafters and EyeMed in North America, “covers more than 150 countries across five continents,” according to the company’s website.
If you are an independent sunglass manufacturer attempting to ask Sunglass Hut to carry and sell your product, you would receive a “no” because it only distributes its own products. The same goes for independent stores and distributors that have a relationship with Luxottica because, just like with sodas, most independent retailers are forbidden from selling a competitor’s products lest they lose the right to sell Luxottica’s products. Simple, legal, strong-arm tactics.
This is how I expect most publicly traded cannabis companies to operate. Let’s not forget that most of those companies are owned and run by business executives who worked for corporations where such practices were just considered “smart business.”
What does all of this mean for cannabis retailers or dispensaries? What would prevent a billion-dollar producer from paying or incentivizing a seller to push its product and provide preferential shelf space? What will happen to smaller companies that have limited market access and longer lead times for lab results? How can one small company compete against such tactics?
Grow Up the Chain
I fear smaller companies can’t compete in this environment without trying to vertically integrate their operations as much as possible. Having a distribution permit will allow a grower to distribute its own products. Some states allow producers to have ownership in retail operations, but this is not realistic for many.
Ultimately, it is the wish of those who desire to control as much of the market as possible—or at the very least all things concerning their products and profits—that the industry play out this way. Their goal is to generate millions of dollars from initial public offerings, which many are already doing successfully. They intend to use these funds to purchase existing cultivation facilities and dispensaries in multimillion-dollar deals. In fact, many major cannabis companies have already successfully vertically integrated their businesses wherever it’s legal. (For instance, the largest dispensary in California during the past two years is producing cannabis in its own greenhouses.) In states or countries where it isn’t allowed, some have diversified and separated their corporations, so one entity owns one segment of the supply chain, and others own the rest.
There are incentives for businesses to sell self-produced products over third-party products, the first being access to their own product for a lower cost as opposed to purchasing from an outside entity.
Companies that produce and sell their own products also eliminate purchasing costs, including labor and man-hours to sell, log and track such purchases. This model of operations will become more prevalent as larger companies purchase and absorb smaller companies that are struggling to compete, or that hold incredible potential for the purchasing company’s plans, all of which is currently taking place very successfully.
When I mentioned this topic to a friend, he stated the future is rife with doom and gloom. I asked if he would prefer a head-in-the-sand approach or to know of and anticipate current and potential market shifts prior to them being beyond his control. Smaller companies that have some sort of vested interest in all aspects of the business from production to sale—whether it’s a contract with a lab for fast testing or having part ownership in a facility where it’s legally allowed—will improve their chances in an increasingly competitive market.
Kenneth Morrow is an author, consultant and owner of Trichome Technologies. Facebook: TrichomeTechnologies Instagram: Trichome Technologies email@example.com
An integrated environmental control system (ECS) is the best tool you can have for making science-based cultivation decisions, hands down. Integrating all your equipment under one system, not just your temperature and humidity controllers, but also lighting, water treatment, irrigation, CO2 enrichment systems and alarms, provides better data, tighter control, increased energy savings and reduced waste.
Some systems will analyze your harvest statistics and record labor tasks to improve productivity. Such systems use anticipatory logic to make predictive changes to your climate, particularly important in a dynamic greenhouse environment where sunlight changes every few minutes on a partly cloudy day. This allows you to focus on growing your crop rather than worrying about your climate. For example, whereas non-integrated equipment may require several adjustments per day as conditions change, the greenhouse that my team managed only needed adjustment seasonally (four times per year).
ECSs store and display data to allow you to fine-tune your programming. They warn you when things go wrong via audible alarms and call-out texts, emails or phone calls. Lastly, with experience, a grower can learn to diagnose equipment problems using data graphs, often long before an alarm condition is reached. Because of their capacity to amplify the skills of a good grower, I recommend to my colleagues that they invest in the best ECS system they can afford.
Here are some tips on getting the most out this vital tool. Many of them pertain to greenhouses, which are more challenging to control than indoor grow rooms but are becoming a greater percentage of cannabis cultivation space each year, according to Cannabis Business Times’ “State of the Cannabis Cultivation Industry” report.
1. Do your homework. When selecting a system, you need to make your best judgment about which companies will be around five years from now. No matter how good the system is, if the company that built it goes belly up, you will no longer have access to upgrades, service or spare parts. I’ve seen this happen at two multi-million dollar research facilities: the first at an agricultural chemical company, the other at a Big Ten university.
Another mistake I’ve seen more than once is believing a system designed for controlling offices can control a room full of plants, especially a greenhouse. If you’ve never spent time in a greenhouse, you’ll be surprised at the rapid cycling rate of equipment—things are turning off and on all the time. This just doesn’t happen in an insulated, opaque building occupied by people. Ask your network of colleagues about the systems they’ve worked with. Find growers using the systems you’re considering. Don’t stop with just one opinion, and I promise you that patterns will emerge that will allow you to make the best selection.
2. Perform routine equipment checks. The curse of all automation is the complacency it breeds. Unlike the failsafe engineering of an aircraft, the ECS does not have a sensor on each piece of greenhouse or grow- room equipment indicating that it is functioning. It sends the signal to turn it on or off, but that’s all it knows. It is up to you to make sure the fresh air damper actually does open and close or the greenhouse exhaust fan hasn’t slipped a belt and is no longer spinning. Training staff to recognize improper functioning and performing routine maintenance checks is vital.
3. Don’t skip the training. Too often, even though you were offered a certain number of hours of free training on your system, in the rush and excitement of starting a new facility, this training gets dropped. This is true especially when you realize just how little daily input these systems require. Other times the vendor may not voluntarily provide it unless you insist. Put this training on the calendar, tell everyone of its importance, and try not to be interrupted during it.
4. Build in lightning protection. When lightning struck my ECS’s outdoor weather station, the charge traveled down the wires to the individual greenhouse controller that the weather station was wired to and fried it. Luckily, the charge did not travel further upstream destroying others, as a fail-safe was built in. Inexpensive communication chips were designed to fail when overloaded, protecting the boards of other controllers.
5. Plan for future equipment. When designing your system, have at least one spare standard electrical outlet controlled by the ECS. This will allow you to quickly add equipment later, such as an extra dehumidifier, or maybe something that hasn’t even been invented yet.
6. Add the ECS to your preventative maintenance schedule. Create a maintenance plan and assign responsibilities to it. If the fans that aspirate your sensor boxes fail, the sensors will measure higher than the room temperature when the lights or sun heat up the box. If your system uses wet wicks to measure humidity and those wicks go dry or get covered in a biofilm, they will measure incorrectly. Grime on glass thermistors that measure temperature/relative humidity (RH) affects the reading. Weather stations need to be calibrated and checked; I once had rain get inside a supposedly sealed electronics board for an outdoor humidity probe, causing inaccurate readings.
7. Snug the wires. Make sure signal and communication wires are tightly screwed down to their terminals. For the first few months in my new facility, I chased false power-outage alarms that would only last a few seconds, until I realized that several dozen terminals across the facility were not snugged down.
8. Don’t wait for sensors to fail. When some temperature probes fail and signal is lost, they often cause an alarm condition reading such as -40 degrees C, which allows you to know exactly when it happens. However, many times I observed that the sensor reading just froze at the last measurement and the room continued heating or cooling as it was at that moment, until it was too hot or too cold and there was no alarm! For this reason, I chose to replace my sensors every two years, even though they rarely, if ever, needed calibration until the day they stopped working.
9. Never drill into the controller cabinet. ECS cabinets are sealed from the environment when the cabinet doors are closed. That being said, there are some things to avoid. Though it may seem like a good way to clean a cement-floored corridor, never use a leaf blower that will stir up dust. Keep cabinet doors closed when you’re not present, as water lines have been known to burst in greenhouses where UV light from the sun weakens uninsulated plastic pipes. Never drill into the cabinet, as the metal shavings will short-circuit electronics.
10. Use static discharge bands. When working on circuit boards, such as wiring in new sensors or changing chips for a software upgrade, always wear a static discharge band around your wrist and have it attached to a ground in the cabinet. Without this protection for the equipment, you may not even see or feel the static spark, but the resultant “ghost in the machine” damage is very hard to troubleshoot.
11. Understand what happens during a power outage. Typically, because of battery back-up, everything returns to normal after a power outage, and the programming just picks up where it left off. However, scheduled irrigation cycles may have been missed, and the ECS doesn’t know it. Therefore, in the case of a power outage, check to ensure this has not happened. Also keep in mind that some valves mechanically close or open when not powered, depending on their construction. For example, heating valves may be “fail open” or “fail close.” The ECS may not know what position the valve is when power returns. They eventually synchronize again, but it may take several hours. For this reason, it is vital to ensure heating valves are synced with the ECS following a power outage.
12. Keep spare parts on hand. Store fuses, chips, input/output boards and even a spare controller, though this can cost thousands of dollars. Trust me, you will thank me for this advice when that moment comes, which is always at the worst possible time, such as the evening before a major holiday. None of these specialty components are likely to be found in a local electronics store.
13. Affix mechanical drawings inside the cabinet door. Keep copies of “as built” drawings in each cabinet for your use as well as use by any electricians or electronics specialists you contract for a repair. Just as important is to keep charts of any modifications you made yourself, such as additions of watering valves or new sensors. Include the configuration programming and calibration of those components, as these little details are too soon forgotten. Laminate these papers to protect them from deterioration.
14. Study your climate graphs closely. Understand what normal looks like, so you can better understand abnormal. You may think that troubleshooting problems is all about observing the actual equipment, but some problems only arise under certain weather conditions, which are hard to replicate. Some problems happen invisibly, such as when a heating valve at my facility was malfunctioning. It never resulted in an alarm condition, and it’s unlikely that a human could have observed or felt it, but the temperature was being controlled poorly.
15. Create a troubleshooting binder. When there is a malfunction, print a copy of the graph, label what the problem was and how it was resolved, and create a troubleshooting binder. Until I learned to do this, I would find myself looking at a graph and knowing I had seen that problem before yet couldn’t remember what it was.
16. Expand capability on your own. Learn how easy it is to add sensors (inputs) and equipment (outputs). Your vendor can assist you by phone and send diagrams to you by email. I was able to train my students to install irrigation valves, wire them to the ECS, configure and program them. We also installed humidifiers, infrared (IR) canopy sensors, motorized light-deprivation curtains over single tables, redundant temperature probes, soil moisture sensors, PAR sensors and web cams.
17. Dial it in. The true power of integrated controls is the fine-tuning of the environment. With an understanding of programming and close observation of climate data, you will be amazed at what you can achieve. We had a researcher doing important supplemental lighting research, requiring the same daily light integral, or accumulated light, in the greenhouse across all seasons and weather patterns in our Midwestern U.S. location, where it naturally varied from 2 mols/m2/day to 50 mols/m2/day. By using two layers of shade curtains and smart control of lights, we were able to “dial in” a DLI of 12 each day with an error of just less than 2 mols/m2/day.
By properly understanding how the climate effects plant physiology, cultivators can use data from an ECS to fine-tune optimum environments or even apply controlled stresses to achieve their cultivation goals. Similar conditions can be maintained crop after crop, season upon season, for the predictability and uniformity of plant attributes. Graphical tracking and user expertise allow for troubleshooting and repair of mechanical or programming errors that might linger for weeks or months with no one the wiser. The anticipatory logic and fast cycling capability of these systems is quite literally the difference between responding to environmental conditions and creating those conditions.
Robert Eddy is director of Ag Projects for Core Cannabis in East Lansing, Mich.
Cannabis Business Times’ interactive legislative map is another tool to help cultivators quickly navigate state cannabis laws and find news relevant to their markets. View More