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So You Want to Expand That Greenhouse? Here's How

Smart tips to keep up with the demand for high-quality, low-cost bud.

This story originally appeared on Marijuana Venture

In today’s competitive market, many cannabis growers are looking to expand their commercial greenhouses in order to keep up with the demand for high-quality, low-cost bud.

The key to expansion is a strategic approach that not only allows an operation to grow more cannabis, but also reduce the cost of production.

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Expanding a grow space

It’s important to note that it’s much easier for companies to expand their greenhouse if they’ve been planning an expansion since inception — and those companies are finding greater success upon completion.

When setting up a preliminary grow space, a grower’s choice of greenhouse plays a critical role in future expansion.

“Growers can always add new structures or rooms to their operation,” says Christopher Machnich, digital marketing manager for GrowSpan Greenhouse Structures. “It goes without saying this is not a great option and can get pretty expensive. Every business should be thinking about expansion from the start.”

Selecting a style of greenhouse that is easy to expand upon will save money in the long run by not having to purchase new structures or expensive blueprints.

“A gutter connect design is really the best option,” Machnich says. “Operations can quickly expand without having to completely build a new structure. This allows operations to expand as their business dictates, and it also allows them to keep up with any growth from competitors. A good grower is going to be able to produce a cheaper product as their business scales up, so it’s important to keep this in mind as growers see their competition expand.”

Another aspect that should be considered in the early stages is whether to construct an engineered greenhouse. While an engineered structure is more costly up front, having stamped drawings for a structure can make it easier to get plans approved by municipalities. Trying to expand on a greenhouse that lacks drawings will certainly draw more scrutiny from local officials. Plus, expansion plans for existing structures without papers can sometimes be rejected by building officials because the initial structure’s integrity is not documented.

Being able to prove that the existing greenhouse meets all regional snow and wind loads, as well as any municipal regulations, will go a long way in simplifying the application process and increase the likelihood of getting the project approved.

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Automated systems

For growers that aren’t currently using automated light deprivation, there are systems available that can be integrated into existing greenhouses, so most facilities can be upgraded relatively easily.

However, growers looking to expand on a structure with an existing system can be a little more limited in their options. Some older systems are generally clunky in nature. Growers should definitely start with talking to the original manufacturer, which will know the system best and be able to say whether expanding the system is feasible or if a new system will be required.

Aside from light dep, the leading cannabis producers are embracing automation to increase efficiency and output.

Machnich says cannabis producers are “trying to squeeze every last penny out of their harvests, so growers can’t afford to not utilize automated growing systems when it’s already widely adopted by their competition.”

When automating multiple systems within a greenhouse, it’s crucial to have a versatile smart controller that ties them all together and makes it easy to manage. By monitoring and quickly reacting to environmental changes, a smart controller is going to ensure conditions remain ideal and eliminate a lot of headaches that accompany growing on a larger scale.

“It doesn’t take long for mold and disease to proliferate in the right conditions,” Machnich says. “But I would even go so far as to say that in today’s ultra-competitive markets, growers can’t even risk having crops in just less-than-ideal environmental conditions, never mind completely unsuitable conditions. Pretty much every successful grow has their environment dialed in in order to produce a top-quality product. Every operation needs to produce at the highest level year-round and selecting the right greenhouse controller is going to go a long way.”

Labor shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have also made automation more important than ever.

“With the pandemic, we’re seeing labor shortages across so many industries,” says Machnich. “Those that use or integrate automated growing systems can at least mitigate some of the stress that nationwide labor shortages have caused.”

Updating equipment

Maintaining the ideal growing environment also brings the need to update equipment used within a greenhouse. As an operation expands, every component will need to be scaled up to match the desired production. Since it’s more difficult to achieve the ideal environment for cannabis on a larger scale, the right equipment setup will help keep the balance as operations grow, and by selecting the right equipment, growers can also limit their energy usage.

Growers should select equipment that can be easily automated and integrated into a controller, and a greenhouse specialist can provide a custom layout to integrate into an existing setup. Updating equipment comes with a significant initial investment but helps growers exponentially with long-term labor and energy savings.

Optimizing the layout

As an operation’s size increases, an organized, efficient floor plan layout can help keep work running smoothly. However, it continues to be one of the more difficult issues for growers to solve.

Greenhouse design affects the number of plants that can be housed, as well as energy and labor, meaning the layout a grower chooses can have a substantial impact on their net profit. To take full advantage of their greenhouse, growers need to utilize the space to its potential. This involves maximizing the available area by reducing unused space, such as pathways. However, pathways still allow valuable space for movement, so finding a balance between used space and room for workers is a challenge during expansion.

Rolling benches offer a solution to tackling this issue. Although they are often overlooked, these benches give growers the ability to add or eliminate pathways at a moment’s notice, guaranteeing precision management and optimizing greenhouse layout.

There are also automated layout solutions, like automated mobile containers. Although not an ordinary feature of greenhouse operations, they may become more popular as growing techniques change over time. Automation itself was once an outlier in cannabis growing, but strategies changed, and it is now more prominent than ever.

Automated mobile containers offer a sensible way to organize and move crops based on growth stages and maneuver them through separated zones. As growers dictate the climate of the different zones with their smart controller, automated mobile containers carry the plants through with the touch of a button, helping to maintain a streamlined process that doesn’t require exorbitant labor.

While expanding an existing operation for increased commercial production can be a nerve-wracking endeavor, a well-planned organized approach can set growers apart from their competition. The future of commercial cannabis growth is promising, and growers looking to compete can make sure they have the best growing potential.