From grow lights and watering systems to ventilation and temperature control, there are many opportunities for automation in a commercial grow room.
Some of the most common forms of commercial grow room automation include grow lights and irrigation systems. Grow lights can either be set to simple timers or paired with LED systems via mobile apps. Automated irrigation systems make for more precise watering efforts, as well as proper nutrient distribution.
Agricultural automation represents a watershed moment in human history. The ability to engineer the environment to generate food was one thing—but automating it in a way to sustain massive population growth was another profound step altogether.
The relationship between fully modern humans and agriculture changed drastically with the advancement of technology in the field and in greenhouses. These days, agriculture depends on efficiency in order to maintain all manner of functions, including watering, ventilation, temperature and humidity control, fertigation, lighting, and more.
In the world of cannabis, cultivators know all-too-well the importance of keeping up with demand and delivering a product that’s steeped in consistency. Achieving both of those end goals often depends on bringing cultivation efforts into the 21st century—where automation is the name of the game.
What is Grow Room Automation?
Cannabis grow room automation shares the same technological principles with agricultural automation. With the agriculture industry adapting to automated innovations over the last decade-plus, it stands to reason that cannabis cultivators would follow suit and look to add automation to their operations.
Combined with a green thumb and your knowledge of cultivation, automation in your cannabis grow room accelerates your mission to conjure a successful crop. These technological tools can be used to control everything from CO2 levels to temperature, irrigation systems, grow lights, humidity, and ventilation.
Why Should Commercial Cultivation Facilities Automate Their Grow Room?
Automating an indoor grow room for cannabis is a smart investment. It gives you the ability to control the growing environment remotely, while helping you save expenses by reducing labor costs and lowering utility bills. The end result of lowering such costs is often a significant boost to revenue, as those freed-up funds can be allocated to areas such as marketing and distribution.
What’s more, it can be increasingly difficult to manage operations and workforce as you scale up. An automated cultivation system expands your capabilities, operations, and output without constant costs weighing you down.
Ultimately, a robust yield and a high-quality harvest are the ultimate money-making factors for any cultivation effort. Automation truly shines when it comes to ensuring predictable results—you can quite literally set yourself up for success with the help of grow-room automation tools, which you can program and repeat with every harvest.
The benefits of commercial grow room automation include:
- An increase in yield and quality thanks to an optimal growing environment
- Reduced labor hours connected to minor tasks such as switching off lights
- Lowered utility expenses through the optimization of key equipment
- Remote access to monitor and control all functions
- Optimize the usage of certain resources
What Grow Equipment Should I Automate?
Depending on your budget and how you manage your operation, you can automate as many or as few functions as you desire. Large commercial spaces might use highly technical, incredibly advanced growing controls monitored by AI-powered cloud-based platforms. On the other end of the spectrum, small scale cultivators might merely add a thermostat and a basic timer.
Before you start randomly employing automated processes, it’s essential to design your system so that all of the components work in concert. With that in mind, let’s go through the components of a grow room that can benefit most from automation.
The light cycle is perhaps the most important automation you can implement in your cannabis grow room. Timers are one of the staples of automated systems, particularly when it comes to lighting.
Cannabis plants require different lighting arrays, depending on the phase. For example, the vegetative phase needs a light cycle of 18–24 hours, while the flowering stage typically sees a light cycle of 12 hours on and 12 hours off. As such, you’ll need to visit the grow room many times on a daily basis in order to manage the lights.
Digital timers can be used to rig the lighting system and automate this task during different points of the grow cycle. But an even more advanced system exists with automated smart LED grow lights. Automated LED lights give cultivators the power to control lighting more accurately, while at the same time increasing sustainability and cost effectiveness of the system.
Lighting automation goes even further with light spectrum technology. There are systems available that use software to control the actual color of the LED lights, with the different lights across the spectrum promoting diverse responses in plants. Many of these systems can be controlled via an app on your smartphone.
A reliable irrigation system is also super critical to the success of your harvest. An automatic irrigation setup allows you to water multiple times a day without manually turning on or supervising your equipment, saving you time and effort.
If you’re a commercial cultivator, you should never try hand-watering your plants. Why? Well, because it’s:
- Not cost effective
- Time consuming
Installing an automated irrigation system gives growers control over the amount of water and nutrients their plants receive compared to hand-watering.
An automated irrigation system typically includes an immense reservoir stationed outside of the grow room, with a water pump that’s set to a timer. When it’s time to water your cannabis plants, the pump sends fluid through a large tube into the grow room, where it’s distributed via smaller tubes to individual plants.
Drip irrigation—the precise application of water directly to the roots of your plants—comes in forms including a spray, mist, or drip emitter. An automated drip system can be programmed so that all of your plants receive an equal amount of water at the same time, which ensures the act of watering is more precise and cost-effective.
In cannabis cultivation circles, ventilation refers to automated HVAC and dehumidification in a system that includes intake fans, exhaust fans, and filtration. An automated HVAC/D system removes water from the air of the grow-room environment, while keeping the room temperature controlled and well-ventilated.
A proper ventilation system in your cannabis grow room:
- Controls carbon dioxide. Proper CO2 levels are essential to plant growth. A ventilation system pulls fresh air into the grow room, which increases carbon dioxide levels and increases yields.
- Controls humidity levels. Managing moisture in the air encourages healthy growth by preventing pests and diseases that might thrive in highly humid environments.
- Mimics natural airflow. The constant airflow of an outdoor environment makes cannabis stems stronger. Ventilation mimics natural wind, fortifying stems for more hearty plants.
- Removes excess heat. All lights—even LED lights—emit heat. This slight temperature variation can affect the health of plants. Ventilation helps prevent heat-related plant stress.
Automating ventilation streamlines your processes, and continuously monitors and controls commercial cannabis ventilation to maintain ideal grow conditions.
Though some cultivators might call it a nutrient, CO2 belongs squarely in the climate control and ventilation conversation. It’s a key element in photosynthesis and when there’s enough light and plenty of water, increasing CO2 can drastically improve that natural plant process.
For large-scale cannabis cultivation, commercial growers can use tanks of compressed CO2 or CO2 generators in order to automate delivery and send the CO2 gas down through pipes for an uninterrupted supply to the plants. In addition to CO2 supplementation, you should use a CO2 monitor to test the CO2 levels over time. This will let you know when you need to replace your CO2 bags and if your plants are getting the right amount of CO2.
Further into the ventilation and environmental control conversation is humidity. This is one of the primary climate control aspects for any high-performance grow room. Humidity control goes a long way in managing mold, as well as your plant’s transpiration rates. Cannabis plants have a prefered level of humidity, with most growers agreeing that a range of 40-70 percent relative humidity is most ideal, depending on the growth stage.
Cannabis plants want to be warm—but they don’t want to burn and fry under blazing temperatures. The ideal temperature for cannabis plants falls generally between 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. For commercial setups, maintaining this level of temperature control is not possible with a simple window A/C unit. Instead, scaled up operations should opt for an automated central air system.
Related to a good watering system, fertigation refers to the incorporation of a nutrient feeding system into your existing automated irrigator. Automating fertigation streamlines the feeding schedule, using precise calculations to deliver the correct amount of nutrients directly into the watering system.
Automated fertigation results in:
- Optimal nutrient levels
- Efficient nutrient delivery
- Less water consumption
- Less manual labor
- Elimination of human error
Keeping the feeding process consistent in every stage of the plant’s life supports the goal to maximize yields.
The Clear Advantage of Grow Room Automation For Commercial Cultivators
Everyone wants to read a list of “pros and cons” when trying to decide whether or not to implement a new system—especially when it comes to cannabis cultivation processes.
With automation, the lone con you can interpret might be the sizable investment necessary in order to implement grow room automation. The many different components of a grow room all work together to produce a strong yield of healthy, consistent plants that can be processed into various cannabis products, all with potency levels that are deeply desired among consumers.
As the cannabis industry moves into the mainstream, cultivators must transition to automated systems akin to what is used in the larger agricultural industry. If not, you run the risk of falling behind the competition. It’s a fact underscored by the experiences of many professionals in the industry, including Rich Kwesell of Heartland Industries and Colorado’s Strawberry Fields dispensaries. The renowned grower told Cannabis Business Times in 2021 that automation is the only way to go.
“You’ve got to automate or die,” Kwesell said. “If I could have done it again, hindsight 20/20, I would have taken all these steps to automate sooner. I would have done it as fast as possible. You can drive yourself crazy looking at your analysis on each decision, but if we would have dove in quicker, we would’ve had a much bigger advantage.”