The global cannabis market is offering unique opportunities to cultivators, especially those implementing advanced irrigation technologies.
Cannabis crops stand to benefit from optimized agricultural irrigation technologies.
The demand for cannabis-infused consumable goods and pharmaceuticals places cannabis crops on the same level as many of the world’s other important agricultural staples. In fact, with the food, beverage and wellness sectors as central drivers of the industry, the global cannabis market is on course to reach US$166 billion by 2025, according to Euromonitor International.
Experts in the agricultural industry share the same sentiment. Curt Livesay, certified crop adviser and owner of plant nutrition crop consulting company Dynamite Ag, shared that cannabis is “the next frontier of commercial agriculture.” According to Nic Easley, founder of Colorado-based Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), which caters to companies across the cannabis supply chain, cannabis has the potential to become one of the most valuable commodities in the US. “Whether outdoors, greenhouse or indoors, all it takes is the right knowledge and expertise. If you can grow other crops properly, then you can grow marijuana.”
The overall market for precision agriculture technologies is expected to reach US$10.55 billion by 2025. According to Research and Markets, irrigation represents the largest submarket for these precision agricultural technologies. As a water-intensive crop, the global cannabis market represents an attractive opportunity for precision agricultural technologies capable of yielding high-quality plants.
Quality irrigation essential for cannabis crops
First domesticated in Central Asia around 6,000 BCE, cannabis is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Across centuries and cultures, the cannabis plant has been farmed as an agricultural product, providing generations with food, fiber for textiles and medicine for a variety of illnesses. However, cannabis’ distinctive biological assets set it apart from many other agricultural crops.
“Mainly, what differentiates cannabis crops from more classic crops such as tomatoes, corn, apples and rice is the fact that the cannabis plant contains a large variety and concentration of active pharmaceutical ingredients,” Ohad Haber, CEO of agricultural technology company Water Ways Technologies (TSXV:WWT), told the Investing News Network (INN). “There are hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in each cannabis flower, making it so unique and desired amongst various industries.”
The unique properties of the cannabis plant are also what has held back commercial development of the crop in the modern era compared to the selective optimization of other agricultural products. The psychoactive properties of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have attracted many recreational users to the plant for as long as its buds have bloomed, but have also led to the plant receiving a negative reputation. Worldwide government restrictions on cannabis have crippled scientific studies regarding the plant’s medicinal effects and the best practices for cultivation and selective breeding for cannabis crops.
“From a macro standpoint, cannabis selective breeding is one of the industry’s main goals in an era of increased legalization,” said Haber, whose company has launched an internet of things (IoT) controlled irrigation and fertilization system for cannabis cultivators and growers known as CANNAWays. “Because the plant has only recently gained enormous attention globally and been freed from many restrictions and regulations, this territory is relatively behind compared to other crops in the agricultural world. These days, cannabis producers and researchers aim to narrow down the gene pool to only selected strains that fit the demand of pharmaceutical companies, just as it was done years ago with other crops to fit the needs of farmers, the food industry and other industries.”
Precision irrigation and agricultural techniques
In terms of agricultural production, cannabis has similar requirements to other crops in terms of water, fertilizer and light. However, unlike other crops, cannabis requires a much higher amount of irrigation and fertilization, as well as more precise growing systems in order to provide uniformity throughout all plants and to adhere to local regulations and protocols.
“Cannabis is a water-intensive crop, and optimizing water input through precision irrigation systems can help maximize crop quality and yield as well as reduce costs and increase profit margins,” said Haber.
Not only is cannabis a water-intensive crop, but the plants grow best when water is applied over a longer duration of time and evenly distributed above the root base. Like many plants, moisture control is important to growth, crop yield and product quality. Not enough water can result in smaller plants and nutrient deficiencies. Too much water can also have a negative impact, including root rot and root dieback.
“(Under-watering) may also lead to reduced growth and yields as photosynthesis is restricted when plants shut down stomata to conserve moisture. Water-stressed plants may also be more prone to pests and diseases and other physiological disorders,” Dr. Lynette Morgan, a horticulturist and a partner with Suntec International Hydroponic Consultants, said. When it comes to hydroponic systems, Morgan believes overwatering is far more common than underwatering, and it can cause significant plant health concerns. “The number one cause of Pythium and other root rot pathogen infection is roots that have become damaged by oversaturation and the subsequent root suffocation this causes,” she said.
In order to maximize plant growth and protect against water stress and oversaturation, advanced automated irrigation systems provide precise amounts of water and nutrients. Through advanced monitoring technology, cannabis farmers can maintain moisture balance throughout the life cycle of the grow.
Recognizing the opportunity in the emerging cannabis market, agricultural technology companies are optimizing their products and services for a new era of cannabis farming. For example, Water Ways Technologies’ research and development team developed one of the world’s first customized Internet of Things cannabis irrigation and fertilization systems through its US$500,000 partnership with Kibbutz Gan Shmuel and Cronos Group (NASDAQ:CRON,TSX:CRON). The CANNAWays system was launched for commercial use in July 2019 and allows for higher yields and consistency for cannabis grows while reducing energy, water and fertilization costs.
“Working in such a new industry challenges the company to create innovative solutions, and sometimes improvise, based on experience acquired from past projects and recent collaborations within the cannabis industry, as well as years of experience in the field of agriculture,” Haber said. “CANNAWays reduces water waste and maintains consistency in crop health through smart management tools such as remote sensors that can monitor moisture levels, automatically collect data and make rapid irrigation adjustments to ensure all plants are optimally watered and fertilized.”
In addition to water, proper nutrients and safe pest control are also important components of successful cannabis cultivation. Agricultural biotech company MustGrow Biologics (CSE:MGRO) is working to develop and commercialize its unique natural biofumigant that acts as a fertilizer, nematocide and fungicide. MustGrow’s organic solution uses the mustard seed’s natural defense mechanisms to protect plants from pests and diseases. The company also recently signed a partnership with Triage Plant Services to deliver nutrient technology solutions for hydroponic applications that improve nutrient utilization in support of early growth and optimal flowering.
Cannabis is an agricultural industry first and foremost, which means that many of the established practices and principles used on other crops can be adopted and improved upon. As the global cannabis industry expands, there are multiple avenues of opportunity for agricultural technology companies developing innovative agricultural technologies to reap the greatest value from cannabis crops.
This INNSpired article was written according to INN editorial standards to educate investors.
INN does not provide investment advice and the information in this article should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any security. INN does not endorse or recommend the business, products, services or securities of any company profiled.