From the most seasoned of multi-generational farmers, to the average beginner making their first attempt at a garden, there was a point in time where someone realized there was going to be some serious labor involved. Humans have used animals, tools, and harnessed the elements; all in an attempt to automate processes and lessen the workload. But nothing quite compares to the upcoming influence that automation will have on the future of our economy, especially agricultural markets.
Over time, the process of agriculture has evolved to match the needs of an expanding population and consumer market, and cannabis cultivation has evolved right along with it. Like many of the plants we utilize on a daily basis, cannabis has gone from wild beginnings, to high-tech accommodations. Yet, while commercial agriculture has been able to flourish and prosper, the federal legal status of cannabis had rendered it largely inaccessible to large-scale production, and devoid of any meaningful automation, at least until recently.
AUTOMATION’S DEBUT IN CANNABIS
Some of the first automated innovations to America’s cannabis industry were in post-harvest processing. In the early days of cannabis in California, scores of seasonal workers would flock to the Northern part of the state to work during the harvest season. The term “trimmigrant” was coined to represent the folk that made the journey each year to make a potential windfall during the harvest season. But, as the market continued to grow and more states begun adopting medicinal and recreational programs, the prevalence of human discovery and ingenuity took hold. Trimming machines came onto the market, and were able to complete the work of several trimmers in a fraction of the time. While some operators prefer their product receive a more delicate touch, trim machines can provide a tremendous savings for the cultivator, and it’s abundantly clear the market has embraced the opportunity to utilize automation.
GETTING UP TO SPEED
As more markets develop throughout the country, we continue to see an increased usage of existing horticultural automated systems. Indoor growers have long been utilizing automated systems, but never on a scale like today. There are now automated systems for nearly every stage of production, helping companies save considerable money through increased efficiency, and reductions in overhead expenditures. This is typically seen as central control systems for HVAC and fertigation, automated blackout curtains, pot filling machines, cartridge filling machines, bag fillers, and the list continues to grow. Ancillary businesses are winning big in the race to automation, and are helping to solve the problems of producers wide and large. It’s especially important to note that many of these technologies have been around for a long time, and are just now being utilized in the cannabis industry.
As more and more growers and processors scale-up, they are being forced to address some of the issues that come with transitioning to large-scale production. As this scale-up occurs, the utilization of automated systems becomes a survival tool, as it can drastically reduce the cost of doing business. States like Pennsylvania have even gone so far as to require a central control system to monitor environmental conditions and inputs. The use of these systems allows producers the ability to measure meaningful data, and make decisions based on evidence.
THE FUTURE IS HERE
The demand to produce at lower costs will continue to push on the industry, and we can expect to see automation fill that need. Automated benching systems are now able to place and retrieve full benches of plants throughout multi-storied buildings, creating seamless and efficient production flows that provide tremendous savings. There are machines that are capable of sticking unrooted cuttings at rates no human could ever compete with, and we are just starting to realize the possibilities.
The one true area of automation that is on everyone’s mind is AI. We may have already begun to see its influence, and it’s starting at the dispensary level. Customized algorithms are now being created to help prospective patients make educated decisions regarding their cannabis choices, and it will only continue to expand from there. The influence that AI will play on this industry is hard to fathom, but it’s certainly inevitable.
As long as humans have had work, they’ve been looking for ways to make it easier. Innovators, and entrepreneurs alike, will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. Which leaves this author in a place of wonder, and child-like curiosity; for the truly great inventions, are always just around the bend.