Smart irrigation systems are helping cannabis cultivators increase yields and improve plant health through precise irrigation and fertilization techniques.
Smart irrigation systems are enabling cannabis cultivators to increase yields through precision irrigation and fertilization.
However, cannabis is a water-intensive crop that can pose a dilemma for environmentally conscious growers in water-stressed regions. Finding contaminant-free sources of water can also prove challenging. As cannabis cultivation becomes a global industry, agritech experts are beginning to develop new smart irrigation systems designed with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to deliver high-quality cannabis crops with each harvest.
Irrigation systems for cannabis cultivation
The cultivation of any agricultural crop requires ample amounts of water, fertilizer and light. In the case of cannabis cultivation, a much higher amount of water and fertilization is required to produce a quality crop. In fact, smart growing systems are a necessity throughout each stage of the full cannabis life cycle to ensure uniformity and consistent quality from one crop to the next while ensuring wider profit margins for cannabis cultivators.
“Higher yields and lower costs offer the best route to increased profit margins. Because cannabis is a high-value crop, growers need to optimize their water input with precise irrigation systems if they want to produce quality crops at high, uniform, yields and reduced costs,” Ohad Haber, CEO of Water Ways Technologies (TSXV:WWT), told the Investing News Network. The agriculture technology company provides smart irrigation solutions to legal cannabis cultivators.
Irrigation systems and water conservation
Water usage is one of the primary environmental issues related to the commercial production of cannabis. According to Selina Lee-Andersen, partner at McCarthy Tétrault and member of the law firm’s Environmental, Regulatory and Aboriginal Group, “There are increasing calls for policymakers to consider the environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation on a commercial scale. Industry estimates indicate that a cannabis plant needs approximately 22 liters of water a day; in comparison, a wine-producing grape plant uses approximately 12 liters a day.”
For legal cannabis cultivation to truly be a green business, licensed producers must take water conservation into consideration. “In California, studies have suggested that irrigation systems for outdoor grow operations are having significant impacts on local watersheds as a result of the diversion of water for cannabis production,” said Lee-Andersen. In jurisdictions like California, where cannabis producers must obtain water permits, regulators are likely to assess the impacts of cannabis cultivation on local watersheds.
Controlling the distribution of water to cannabis crops can help alleviate the burden grow operations place on those local water resources. Controlled water application is not only more environmentally friendly, but it maximizes efficiencies in the distribution of essential inputs for cannabis cultivation. Smart water distribution systems have the potential to significantly lower costs and increase profit margins for licensed producers.
Cannabis needs clean water
Cannabis plants grow best when water is distributed evenly and over a controlled duration of time to avoid under-watering and oversaturation. While the amount of water each cannabis plant receives is important, so is the quality of that water. Cannabis plants require a constant supply of pure water. Even with all the proper facilities, financing and grower expertise, the potential for a successful cannabis grow with repeatable results can be nullified without a consistent, reliable source of clean water.
“Cannabis by nature takes one year to complete an entire life cycle. However, during commercial cultivation, this cycle is shortened to 3 months to increase productivity. To meet the demands of this rapid maturation and high yield production, commercial cannabis cultivation requires the use of high-quality water,” said Haber.
Water delivers nutrients to plants, but it can also deliver harmful contaminants. Even tap water that is safe for human consumption might not be so safe for cannabis plants. Contaminants found in source water can include hard minerals such as iron, manganese, lead, copper or zinc, which can all lead to serious nutrient deficiencies. Untreated water can also introduce other dangerous elements into the grow environment including herbicides, pesticides, fungus and bacteria.
For cannabis grow operations, water filtration helps to mitigate the risks these contaminants pose to plant quality and yield size. Today’s smart irrigation systems can help growers achieve both the right moisture balance and the ideal water purity throughout the life cycle of the grow while conserving water.
Smart irrigation and cannabis cultivation
AI and machine learning are leading to game-changing technologies across many industries today. In the field of agriculture, advancements have come in the form of smart irrigation systems that can collect real-time data from remote sensors within crops. With these high tech management tools, growers can collect and analyze that data to make informed adjustments to the system remotely from a mobile device.
“Smart irrigation systems can reduce water waste and maintain consistency in crop quality,” said Haber. “The remote sensors can monitor and automatically collect a variety of metrics, including moisture levels. This allows growers to make quick adjustments to ensure all the plants are optimally watered.”
Smart irrigation technologies can also include water treatment systems with high tech filtration. For example, one of South America’s leading providers of flowers to the floral industry was struggling to eliminate parasitic worms from the locally sourced river water used on their crops. While chlorine can be used to kill the worms, the disinfectant can also damage the plants. Water Ways Technologies was able to provide the flower producer with a chemical-free water treatment system based on self-cleaning filters and physical separation technologies to eliminate the worms.
The market for smart agriculture technologies is expected to reach US$10.55 billion by 2025, and irrigation represents the largest submarket. As an agricultural crop that requires large amounts of clean water to produce high quality and high yields, cannabis stands to benefit from new innovations in smart irrigation tech. Leading global agricultural tech companies such as Israeli-based Netafim and NaanDanJain Irrigation are offering smart irrigation products for large scale medical cannabis grow operations.
For small- to medium-sized grow operations, Water Ways Technologies has developed one of the world’s first customizable smart irrigation and fertilization system for cannabis cultivation through its US$500,000 partnership with Kibbutz Gan Shmuel and Cronos Group (NASDAQ:CRON,TSX:CRON). Known as CANNAWays, the commercially available system uses smart management tools, high-tech filtration and water recycling to produce consistent quality cannabis with higher yields while reducing water consumption. Water Ways Technologies recently received its second commercial order for the CANNAWays system. The system will be implemented in a 290,000 square foot medical cannabis cultivation facility near Haifa in Israel.
Although it requires the same important inputs of water, fertilizer and light, it’s safe to say that cannabis is unlike most agricultural crops. For licensed cannabis producers to remain competitive, they need to be able to offer a high-quality product at a low cost of production. By reducing waste and optimally delivering nutrients, smart irrigation technologies are helping cannabis companies to maintain this competitive edge.
This INNSpired article was written according to INN editorial standards to educate investors.
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