Could Automation Be the Next Big Boon to Cannabis Production?

May 14, 2020
Volume: 
3
Issue: 
4
Abstract / Synopsis: 

The advent of robotics and technology is benefitting many industries and market segments—including cannabis production. With the rise of cannabis production and its demand, production efficiency will gain importance. Robots are widely used in most production environments. For the cannabis industry, robots and other automation systems serve to lower costs, increase production, and build profitability early in the emergence of cannabis growth, harvest, and the logistics of delivering product to market.

In Ontario, Canada, test and experimentation is underway to cultivate cannabis—not only with human beings—but with robots. Such demonstration of the utility of robots and automation for cannabis, may be a longer-term harbinger of things to come in the cultivation of cannabis.

The wide terrain of agriculture lends itself not only to robotics, but to other facets of automation. Drones are widely used in agriculture. Robots are gaining ground quickly as they allow growers and harvesters to perform work that would otherwise be performed by human beings. But what about cannabis production?

The cannabis industry may be an early adopter, but expect to see more automation systems being used as the cannabis footprint takes hold in the commerce of the US and the world.

Specifically, for the cannabis industry, robots and other automation systems serve to lower costs, increase production, and build profitability early in the emergence of cannabis growth, harvest, and the logistics of delivering product to market.

“We have already seen how dramatically it can improve processes in extraction,” says Andy Rodosevich, CEO of Hemp Depot based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “Three years ago, to go from raw hemp material to CBD oil in a bottle was an entirely manual process. Thanks to automation advancements, this process is now near entirely turnkey, saving hundreds of labor hours and resulting in a more consistent product. The more automation can streamline processes as it has for extraction, the more competitive cannabis pricing will become.”

Consistency and Efficiency

Automation will enable growers to scale as demand increases in the future. As growers advance, they’ll be able to allocate more capital to automation and boost their capability and efficiency. This will also help small growers as they are able to automate, to keep pace with larger growers, and compete. It’s likely that more growers will consolidate, and through acquisition may be better positioned in the future to employ economies of scale and push production costs lower.

Specifically, automation enables growers to displace laborious tasks such as irrigation and fertilization—otherwise accomplished manually. It will allow employees typically burdened with such work, to focus their efforts elsewhere in the production chain and allow the grower to be more productive and efficient. Automation is more likely to displace jobs, than replace them.
Ryan Douglas, the founder of Ryan Douglas Cultivation LLC, a cannabis consulting firm, explains that we can expect to see automation incorporated into labor-intensive daily activities such as fertilizer preparation, irrigation, and pesticide applications. He also thinks that less frequent, but still time-consuming tasks such as soil mixing, pot filling, and plant transportation can be automated to help decrease labor costs and increase precision.

Automation will be the cannabis grower’s best option for remaining competitive and profitable in an industry that is sure to face price compression in the future, Douglas added.

“Once a cannabis operation reaches one acre in size, the business should consider automating,” said Douglas. “Facilities smaller than one acre can exist successfully as a manual operation, but employees will spend a lot of time hand watering, opening and closing vents, and moving plants. For operations larger than one acre, it will be absolutely necessary to automate the cultivation process to remain profitable on a commercial scale.”

References: 
  1. https://www.pwc.com/ca/en/industries/cannabis.html.

About the Author

Jim Romeo is a contributing writer focused on business and technology topics. He covers robotics, automation, and all things tech. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]

How to Cite this Article

J. Romeo, Cannabis Science and Technology 3(4), 42–43 (2020).