High-Tech Imaging System Provides a Deeper Dive Into the Health and Well-Being of the Cannabis Plant

May 29, 2019

There is a better, high-tech way of  making sure cannabis plants are truly healthy. Here's how.

How do you know your plants are really healthy? Just sampling plants at the perimeter of the grow doesn’t give you enough information about what may be happening in the center of the grow. Fungus and mold can be hard to detect, and the plant itself is very sensitive to even the smallest changes in its environment. Now Rob McCorkle, cofounder and COO of Emerald Metrics, tells about a better way to measure and maintain the true health of the cannabis plant, using specially developed software and spectral imaging cameras that can sense and display things that the human eye can’t see, resulting in greater yields. This can be a 24 hour, seven-days-a-week system, always monitoring the plants and giving the grower more data than previously available.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for cannabis growers?Rob McCorkle: From my perspective, it is managing the profitability, predictability and quality of cannabis in a rapidly developing and changing market space. In every market, prices will eventually pull back and it will become even more important to produce more in less space with reduced overhead. Our technology allows for targeting of resources on truly viable and flourishing plants instead of wasting time, money and energy on unhealthy plants.

Please tell us more about your company’s use of spectral imaging? What does that type of imaging show your clients? How frequently do you recommend scanning the plants or reviewing the spectral images?McCorkle: We provide a system where the grower, cloner, or investor can see real-time what the plants are doing or how they are reacting in the grow. We use spectral imaging to show plant health, disease, pests, pesticide, nutrient deficiencies, and more. Our systems can be manually operated or set to a schedule that images all the time. One specific use is through our table units designed to image clones. Our system images clones and determines which are healthiest and which are weakest, diseased, or damaged. Our system provides an immediate readout and shows specifically which clones to remove and which ones to move forward into propogation. This allows the grower to go forward with only the very strongest plants and increase yield and maximize the use of nutrients, energy costs, and labor. Growers have experienced up to 15% increase in yield using this one section of our system. Our system and dashboard are cloud-based, so volume of images is not an issue. We have some customers that image on a schedule three times a day, and we have some customers that image every 10 min. It really depends on the environment and challenges the grower is having.

If a problem is detected using spectral imaging, what are the next steps to prevent full contamination in the grow?McCorkle: We like to call it the three “C’s.”  Customers use the information we provide to take a look at the problem plant and then make the decision whether to contain, cure, or cull. Our dashboard and system display imagery real-time. However, if health falls out of the customer's threshold, or disease, pest, or a severe anomaly is detected, our system notifies the customer automatically through email alert, text, robo-call, or directly from our technicians depending on the method chosen by the customer. The key is early detection to allow time to contain, cure, cull.

What other data does your company provide and how does it benefit growers?McCorkle: Our systems are used in all stages of the grow cycle but some functions we provide are imaging clones coming into facilities to show they are strong and healthy before they come in. Similarly, we image clones from producers to demonstrate they are strong and healthy before they are sold. We image finished product to ensure it is mold free prior to lab testing. 

Our systems are very robust. In addition to the spectral imagery, we provide calculators that allow customers to calculate profit and loss real time. Working in traditional agriculture for many years, we recognized that most growers and farmers did not have a way to view their cost including labor, inputs, fixed cost against their expected yield and profit to accurately determine how to balance their budgets. The same is often true in cannabis. We provide those tools with our systems for those who desire it. 

Additionally, our systems have the ability to track the grow cycle on an unprecedented level. In addition to viewing how the plants are reacting to the environmental conditions, every aspect of the grow cycle can be tracked, including canopy coverage, canopy growth, nutrients, light cycles, inputs, changes, and more. This creates what we call a “strain analytic." Over multiple grow cycles, this dials in how best to grow the strain in a consistent, professional way. This information then belongs to the customer and creates intellectual property for our customers. 

Do you have specific advice to growers that are interested in adding specialized technology to monitor their plants, clones, or facilities?McCorkle: Overall, the general public does not recognize how difficult farming and growing truly is. Technology and experience need to combine to provide a successful outcome. Good growers and support personnel are hard to find. We believe and designed our systems in a way that augments strong experience to focus labor and time to needed functions. Technology should be built with the intent to allow customers to grow, scale and compete in this highly competitive and changing marketplace. Without the use of technology, growers will quickly get left behind in the ever-increasing competition, and will not be able to keep up with the increases in yield, quantity, and quality that other growers will find by using technology. This has been seen in all areas of agriculture and will be the same in cannabis and hemp.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?  McCorkle: We love doing what we do. When we put a system in and a grower is able to see for the first time the benefit of catching a disease before the eye could see it, or doing the math to show an increase in yield at the end of a cycle, its one of the best feelings to know our product was a part of that and worth every penny. Implementing technology can be scary at first. But once they see the benefits, our growers can’t imagine working without it.  We spent seven years convincing old-school corn, soy, and wheat farmers to use this technology. Now, it is common place. We know the benefits. We know the value. We know how to use it. We test all of our systems inside our co-located tier 2 indoor grow operation in Portland, Oregon, which gives us the know-how and the ability to know exactly what growers need and want in their technology solutions. We are not only the providers of the technology but we are customers as well.