Ask the Experts: Cultivation, Part I: What Is the Biggest Challenge in Cannabis Cultivation?

March 27, 2019

Leading cultivators and researchers from the cannabis industry—Zac Hildenbrand, Inform Environmental, LLC; Karan Kapoor, Avana Canada Inc.; Autumn Karcey, Cultivo, Inc.; and Roger Kern, Agate Biosciences—participate in this round-table discussion series on cultivation. This month they discuss the biggest challenges in cannabis cultivation.

What is the biggest challenge in cannabis cultivation?
Zac Hildenbrand: Controlling the environment conditions is always a challenge. For example, controlling pests and microbes is a daunting, yet manageable task; however, trying to prevent the occurrence of cross-pollinating is sometimes impossible. This has become more of a prevalent issue with the emergence of outdoor hemp cultivation that is conducted in the proximity of outdoor cannabis cultivation. The pollination of hemp with cannabis pollen or the pollination of cannabis with hemp pollen can have devastating impacts on an outdoor crop.

Karan Kapoor: The biggest challenge from my point of view is the lack of scientific ideas in the cannabis industry compared to the agriculture sector. Because of prohibition, cannabis science is almost 50 years behind compared to agriculture, which has led to a lot of misinformation in the cannabis industry. For example, there is not reliable information about the cannabis strains. An ongoing operational challenge in the industry is between quality assurance (QA) teams and growers. Many experienced growers who came to the legal industry don’t have an educational base to understand the quality assurance process, which leads to conflicts. Industry should spend some resources on educating these growers to understand the QA process.

The lack of a “structed breeding” approach in the cannabis industry is another problem that has led to too many cannabis strains, the majority of which might not be significantly different from each other in secondary metabolites contents and quality. Indoor breeding of cannabis has led to very week plants at disease resistance level which has led to some licensed producers having lost up to 90% of their crop because of diseases. There is a large need for developing disease and pest resistance.

Another challenge is the lack of government initiative towards research and development (plant sciences side). Still governments do not have clear guidelines on grant submission for cannabis. Cannabis does not fall completely under agriculture, food, or pharmaceuticals, but in a combination of all.

Autumn Karcey: I would say overall the biggest challenge in cannabis cultivation is producing quality and consistency while attempting to scale. Many of the methodologies used in small scale cultivation do not scale well and it becomes counter intuitive like trying to turn a liquor store into a Costco, the same rules don’t always apply. Understanding thresholds of large scale processing while not impeding on quality is key and can be a challenge for any company.   

Roger Kern: It depends. For the grower starting out, it’s a matter of matter of finding the proper strain and matching it to the proper environment. For larger growers, it’s all about efficiency: efficiency of energy and efficiency of labor. Efficiency of labor means designing your facility with a proper workflow and choosing technology that minimizes the labor involved and people’s interaction with the plants. The fewer people, the less likely for them to bring diseases into the controlled-crop environment. 

Look for part II of "Ask the Experts: Cultivation" in our July 2019 newsletter. Part II of our analytical methods/cannabis testing series will appear in May and Part II of the series on extraction will appear in June.