With a boom in demand for CBD oil and marijuana, cannabis producers need efficient ways to increase production.
It should come as no surprise that today’s cannabis industry is thriving. In 2020, legal marijuana sales hit a record of USD 17.5 billion, and that number is only rising for the foreseeable future. Another cannabis product, CBD oil, is seeing even steeper market growth, with projections showing that it will grow another USD 29.9 billion by 2025.
While the high demand is good news for cannabis growers, it comes with a hitch. Producing a high-quality cannabis product is a lengthy, multi-step process that requires careful monitoring and delicate handling to avoid waste. For years, this process has been done largely by hand, and automated solutions are only beginning to emerge. This places cannabis growers under a lot of pressure to find efficient, cost-effective ways to get their product to market quickly.
Fortunately, while many cannabis growers have yet to automate, that doesn’t mean automation is a bad fit for the industry. In fact, there are several factors that make cannabis an ideal candidate for automation. The following are eight key points in the production process where automation can make a difference.
While cannabis can be grown indoors or outdoors, many cannabis cultivators have preferred indoor growing conditions due to the finer control over environmental conditions and the possibility for extra growing seasons. And for indoor gardeners, vertical farming is the best way to maximize space to get the highest crop yields for the smallest footprint.
At Eagle, we’ve developed automated systems that can plant crops in vertical towers, monitor growth, and clean and replant towers after harvesting.
When cannabis plants have reached maturity, they are harvested by either cutting them off at their base, or cutting off the topmost branches first, and the bottom branches a few weeks later to give them more time to mature. While this sounds simple, the trick is in the timing. It can be difficult to judge the appropriate harvest time without careful monitoring. The ideal time is when the trichomes (the sticky, resin-producing glands on cannabis flowers) turn from clear to milky or cloudy.
While this may sound like a difficult task to automate, modern vision systems can be programed to detect indicators of maturity on plants. A system that could visually inspect plants around harvest time and cut portions which are ready for processing could save labor while also improving product quality.
3. Drying and curing
After harvesting, cannabis plants go through a lengthy period of drying and curing. The initial drying process takes about a week, and requires careful temperature control to ensure the plants are neither too moist nor too dry before they are cured, which takes an additional several weeks.
Throughout this process, careful climate control is essential, both to help the plants dry correctly, and to prevent crop loss due to rot or mold. Automation can not only help move plants in and out of storage, but can monitor the storage conditions as well.
Bucking is the process of removing the leaves, stalks, and stems from the cannabis flower, which has the highest concentration of cannabinoids. Done by hand, this process is tedious and time-consuming. However, an automated bucking machine can both remove the flower from the dried plant, and also grind the bud for optimal CBD extraction.
5. CBD Extraction
There are three main ways to extract CBD from a cannabis plant: ethanol extraction, CO2 extraction, and oil extraction. No matter what method is chosen, traditional factory automation techniques can help move product through the extraction process.
Once CBD has been extracted from a plant, it can be added to a range of consumer products, from oils to creams to edibles. The popularity of these products has been a driving force behind the cannabis boom, and many automated solutions exist for traditional production methods.
Cannabis consumers have shown themselves to be savvy customers. Many go out of their way to search for products that are high in quality, even if it means paying a premium. Testing CBD oil for purity and potency is an important step to help producers verify the quality of their product.
Automation helps ensure consistency at all stages of production, but when it comes to testing, it affords an efficient and reliable way to demonstrate your commitment to high standards.
8. Hemp Biomass Management
Waste is an unavoidable part of agriculture, whether it comes from lost crops due to pests or inclement weather, or as a result of growing an entire plant just to harvest the buds. While vertical farming can significantly lower crop loss, it’s simply not possible to grow and harvest cannabis without producing a large volume of excess biomass.
Fortunately, the leftover stalks, seeds, and leaves can all be transformed into useful products, including biofuel, fiber products, and oils. Automation can be used not just to produce these products, but to gather, package, and ship biomass to the appropriate facilities for processing.
Agricultural automation lowers production costs and keeps crops from going to waste.
To produce high-quality cannabis products, cultivators need systems that can accurately monitor their crops while also handling their product with delicacy and care. While these may seem like difficult tasks, the reality is that modern automation solutions are not only capable of handling these procedures, they can often do so more efficiently and with less waste than traditional growing and harvesting methods.
At Eagle, our experience in the agriculture industry includes work with vertical farming as well as traditional agriculture. We are also automation experts in the consumer goods manufacturing space, and in developing automated logistical solutions to get products from one location to another. If you would like to discuss how automation could aid your cannabis business with us directly, contact us today.
Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI