National Ag Day (March 23, 2021) is an annual event organized by the Agricultural Council of America (ACA), a 501-c (6) non-profit organization, to raise awareness of the vital role agriculture plays in our society.

The AKA believes that every American:

  • Understand how food and fiber are produced.
  • Assess the role of agriculture in providing safe, abundant and affordable food.
  • recognise the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
  • Identify and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industries.

We explored how the cannabis and hemp industry is having a positive impact on agriculture, from automatic trimming to eco-friendly growing, water conservation and much more. We interviewed Aaron McKellar, CEO and President of Eteros Technologies, parent company of Mobius Trimmer and Triminator, Mark Dougherty, Executive Vice President of Operations, urban-gro, Inc. and Derek Smith, Executive Director of the Resource Innovation Institute (RII), to hear their perspective on innovation in agriculture.

Aaron McKellar, CEO and Chairman, Eteros Technologies

Aaron Green: Why is hand mowing inefficient at scale?

Aaron McKellar: Manual trimming is widely inefficient because it is time consuming, repetitive and, frankly, boring. It is difficult to keep cutting by hand, so the consistency of the final product is not reliable with a team of hand cutters.

Aaron McKellar, CEO and President of Eteros Technologies.

A hand mower can produce a good quality of about 2 or 3 pounds per day. The scalable unit, powered by one Mobius M108S cutter, can produce up to 120 pounds per hour, replacing dozens or even hundreds of manual cutters. The HR nightmare this means and all the costs associated with paying and facilitating dozens of employees (parking, restrooms, cafeterias, PPE and surgical attire, etc.) can be a real headache. And that’s for COVID.

Green: What are the advantages of automatic pruning for large growers and how is the quality of the pruning compared to manual pruning?

McKellar: Not all automatic trimmers are the same. Each of the existing machines helps reduce the need for manual cutters by removing most of the sheet metal, leaving a small team of manual polishers for finishing. To date, the Mobius trimmer is the only automatic mower on the market that has left the technology of the original machines behind and uses next-generation technology to mimic the quality of the manual mower with amazing speed.

We have growers in the top segment who use Mobius cutting machines and whose own quality control department cannot tell the difference between a flower processed by Mobius and one processed by hand. Manual polishing crews are much smaller when using the Mobius compared to first generation machines, and many Mobius users don’t touch the Mobius at all, but walk right off the clipper. To see how our technology differs from the rest of the industry, take a look under the hood.

Mark Dougherty, Executive Vice President, Operations, urban-gro, Inc.

Aaron Green: What is controlled agriculture?

Mark Dougherty: Cannabis growers know that indoor cultivation exists because they have been doing it on the grey market for years before legalisation. Through this experience, growers have learned how to handle a very valuable and difficult plant indoors. As the legalization of cannabis has become more prevalent in the United States, many state regulatory agencies have required that indoor cultivation follow strict regulatory protocols. That was 10 years ago now, and we have an industry that knows exactly what indoor environmental conditions are needed to succeed. Critical factors such as heating, cooling, ventilation, dehumidification and how best to emulate Mother Nature’s energy through lighting are all deliberately optimized.

Mark Dougherty, Executive Vice President, Operations, urban-gro, Inc.

As cannabis cultivation has driven the development of environmentally friendly agriculture, market forces and regulators have pushed for greater efficiency, lower energy and resource consumption, and environmentally friendly crops. In most states, cannabis is tested more stringently than food crops. For example, a lettuce from Massachusetts would not meet the standards for cannabis in that state. The cannabis industry has paved the way for profitable indoor lettuce cultivation thanks to rapid technological innovation and application.

Green: How can a controlled environment in agriculture help reduce pressure in the value chain?

Dougherty: By growing food closer to the consumer, it has to travel fewer miles, which means the food supply chain becomes much shorter and less susceptible to disruption. Whether you have very small grow rooms on every corner or larger grow rooms geographically close to the consumer, you can grow 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In addition, local cultivation allows the plant to better predict production – 10 boxes of greens on Monday, 50 boxes of greens on Tuesday and 5 boxes of greens on Thursday. This avoids harvesting a large crop before it is ripe and probably has to be stored in a cool place. The controllability of the controlled environment ensures a consistent and reliable contribution to the food supply chain and shortens the path to the consumer.

Derek Smith, Executive Director, Resource Innovation Institute (RII)

Aaron Green: What inspired you to publish Cannabis H2O: Report on water use and sustainability in agriculture ?

Derek Smith, Executive Director, Resource Innovation Institute (RII)

Derek Smith: In fact, if you searched for information on cannabis water consumption prior to this report, you came across a cited statistic. It was six gallons per plant per day. We knew it was a model based on an extremely illegal market scenario. From the data we saw and the conversations we had, that number appeared to be far from the truth. We have therefore established a multidisciplinary working group on water resources within our Technical Advisory Board. The goal of the Water Working Group was to develop a scientific understanding of how and how much water is used in cannabis cultivation so that growers can take steps to improve efficiency and industry leaders, governments and the media can be accurately informed about the wide range of water practices in today’s regulated market.

Green: What are the important points for cannabis producers to remember from the report? What are the key points for regulators and policymakers to take away from the report?

Smith: As hemp matures, water efficiency, as with other crops, will become increasingly important. Pressure for efficient water use will come from several directions: Reduce production and energy costs, protect the environment, meet legal requirements and simply be a good manager. We recommend that industry and regulators focus their efforts in the following areas.

  1. When growing cannabis outdoors, the water used for cannabis production must be assessed just like any other crop, and the national and local regulations that apply to other crops must be followed. Our research shows that cannabis does not consume a huge amount of water, nor does it consume more water than other crops. By applying the same standards to cannabis as to other crops, outdoor cannabis can be correctly classified as an agricultural crop.
  2. In areas where there may be a conflict between cannabis use and environmental concerns, regulators and industry should focus on 1) timing of water use and 2) storage capacity to mitigate environmental conflicts. Our results show that legal cannabis growers in many parts of the country have sufficient water to meet their needs. In areas where storage is insufficient, increasing storage should be a priority for farmers and regulators.
  3. Our research shows that there are still large differences in the way cannabis is produced. As growers continue to experiment and improve, we expect water use to play a greater role in cannabis cultivation decisions, and new plant varieties and cultivation methods will be developed to improve water use efficiency. However, more data on real-world operations and facilities is needed to guide the way to technologies and methods that deliver optimal efficiency and performance. It is recommended that manufacturers evaluate their performance and that governments consider requiring manufacturers to report on their energy and water supply. The Cannabis PowerScore can help you with these efforts.
  4. As indoor cannabis cultivation continues to grow, especially in areas where the climate is unfavorable for outdoor cultivation, we expect more cannabis consumers to turn to municipal water sources. However, it is unclear whether municipal water suppliers are equipped to deal with the cannabis industry. We suggest that the cannabis industry and municipal water suppliers work together to promote efficiencies where possible.

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