Can You be Profitable Growing Cannabis Vertically? Things to Consider.
As every cannabis grower knows, ongoing cultivation costs can make the venture mad expensively. The electricity bills, as well as real estate and human resource costs involved, can be very taxing. This is true across both sides of the divide. Some growers prefer horizontal growing, where the marijuana plants grow side by side under classical sodium lights, and others opt to grow cannabis the vertical farming way.
Fortunately, as is the case with most industries, science and technology have driven innovation and evolution in the cannabis growing industry. While some feel compelled to stick to the classical horizontal approach, there are those equally inclined to move on to vertical grow systems. Vertical growing ensures that one maximizes every inch of their real estate and, when implemented meticulously, guarantees increased profit.
Shift to Vertical Growing
Admittedly, the introduction of multiple LED light fittings in the market has driven the shift toward vertical growth. LEDs are more energy-efficient and produce less heat in comparison to the pioneer high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. As such, LED fittings can be positioned closer to the hemp canopy, allowing for effective space utilization.
Vertical Growing vs. Horizontal Growing
Also known as a plant factory, a vertical farm breaks some traditional indoor farm rules. For starters, as it states in its name, the plants are grown on vertical surfaces in multiple tiers.
Moreover, marijuana is not grown in greenhouses as you would expect but in re-imagined spaces such as warehouses and shipping containers. However, that’s not to say that it would be unheard of to use a greenhouse for vertical growth. It is just that the method is not the most critically acclaimed of the lot. Additionally, vertical growing enterprises tend to be present in urban settings and feature a fully-controlled environment, from LED lighting, carbon dioxide levels, and fertigation (or irrigation) to humidity.
Horizontal growth is more common in rural settings. While the method shares the same type of environmental controls as its counterpart, the gaping difference is that cannabis farming here is evidenced by the presence of horizontal layers.
Most of these farms use HID tech as their marijuana-growing light, therefore producing more heat.
Making Sense of the Multi-Tiered Vertical System
In the hemp cultivation business, most growers credit more space or rather the effective utilization of it as the reason for their switch to a vertical, multi-tiered system.
We have grown accustomed to hearing arguments that if one removes all the heat from their traditional luminaires and utilizes the three to four feet left in their wake, they could double their hemp canopy and, consequently, their yield. How accurate is this school of thought, though?
For herbs and leafy greens, we’ve got to agree that this type of thinking is spot on. The crops grow in a relatively low light setup, and on account of their canopies not producing fruit, they can sit on vertical racks that are as close as 12 inches apart. Just like that, a seemingly limited growing space doubles and even quadruples in some cases.
If we are well versed in all matters of cannabis farming, then we can also agree that this works for marijuana as well. However, this only applies during the propagation stage when the plant is both small and has minimal light requirements.
As the crop gets bushier and larger as it progresses to the vegetative and flowering stages, an undeniable challenge sets in. The grower must rethink their growth strategy owing to the large bush with a considerable amount of bud. More often than not, the only plausible solution is to opt for a smaller plant while also taking into account the rack height.
For a grower used to the sizeable budding bush, taking the smaller plant route translates to a lower yield in comparison to what they are familiar with. They may even be forced into choosing a cultivar best suited to vertical growing.
The Costs Involved
Without a doubt, the question we are all asking ourselves is, “If a cannabis grower doubles their canopy but produces less bud per square foot, would the venture be more profitable or not?” To be honest, this is a hard nut to crack, but why don’t we do the math? After all, numbers don’t lie, and this is with the assumption that doubling the canopy size translates to a yield of 25% less per square foot of canopy, as is the case for a number of growers just transitioning to cannabis vertical farming.
Suppose the current production is 40 grams per square foot and you have 1,000 square feet, that translates to 40,000 grams per square foot, equivalent to 40 kilograms. Doubling the canopy size for this LED vertical farming space but yielding 25% less per square foot means that you produce 30 kilograms for every 1,000 square feet, which is 60 kilograms per room!
While this is a whopping 50% increase in production, does it mean that one is now swimming in more profit? Naturally, there is the need to factor in the cost of production for us to make a sound case about profit margins.
Of course, energy consumption is a factor that a cannabis grower cannot ignore. In the transition from traditional farming to a vertical grow system, we should also think about how to save on electricity. Most growers switch out their 1,000W high-intensity discharge lighting for the more power-efficient 600 LED.
Basic math tells us that this is already a 40% saving on energy consumption, but is there more than what meets the eye? And the answer is a resounding yes. For vertical growing, the grower needs to at least double the lighting if they are opting for two vertical tiers, which translates to a minimum increase of 20% in wattage.
Basically, we are operating at a 20% power consumption rate increase yet yielding 50% more in production, which would be a profit-making enterprise in anyone’s book, no? The rise in revenue beats the increase in production costs, hands down.
Light Fixture Costs
Being a high-light level crop, the type of LEDs to purchase is an important consideration for a cannabis grower. Unfortunately, the most appropriate marijuana light LEDs are expensive, retailing at around three to four times more than their HID counterparts.
Undoubtedly, these costs eat into the potential increase in production and eventual revenue. However, a grower conversant with economies of scale can wade these waters with ease without having to take a big chunk off their predicted income.
LED Penetration Impact
For an enthusiastic grower, there is a lot more at play when making the switch from horizontal to vertical growing. This farmer does not abandon their HID for LED farming for the sake of it. They understand that there is the consideration of how each type of light penetrates the canopy and how it affects their yield.
It has been touted time and again that having LED lights as close as possible to your crop will lead to a bumper harvest. While there are sets of experts approving and disapproving the claim, the one irrefutable thing is that larger shadows are cast on the canopy by light fixtures nearer to them.
As LEDs have limited light distribution options compared to the highly controlled distribution of HID tech, a grower making the switch should be extremely careful on light source placement. They should opt for an optimal distance that allows sufficient light penetration into the canopy. An optimal penetration level guarantees a 50% increase in production, thus increasing profitability.
Evidently, the shift from the more traditional horizontal to the in-fashion vertical marijuana farming is fueled by the almost guaranteed increase in yields against production costs that make good business sense. In other words, what drives the transition is the promise of increased profits while maintaining or, in some cases, improving the quality of output.