Cannabis, Soil Science and Sustainability

By Drew Plebani

Cannabis can lead the way in research and development of sustainable, medical-grade, phytonutrient-dense crop production methodologies.

The average commercial cannabis cultivator seems to be following the modern agricultural paradigm. That model is based on questionable and, one might say, ineffective soil systems management.

In the high-yield cannabis world, amidst decades of prohibition, following the lead of the modern agricultural model has resulted in the adoption of cultural practices that go something like this: Use and destroy the soil, then dispose of it once it is rendered lifeless and useless due to repeated heavy applications of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other poisons.

(Left) unimproved site soil next to (right) improved site soil. Notice the root mass developing on the right

Certainly conventional agricultural food production and the soil management systems underpinning them are faltering, evidenced by soil systems deteriorating many times faster than they are being improved. This qualifies as a failure in my book.

What will be the fate of profit margins, sustainability and medicine in the cannabis industry if we continue to follow blindly in the footsteps of chemical agriculture? Perhaps it is time to turn over a new leaf.

A little context for the discussion: scientists say the Earth has lost a third of arable land in the past 40 years, and some say soil erosion is the number one challenge facing the world today. Why? How?

Well…world agricultural production accounts for about three-quarters of the soil erosion worldwide. This steep decline in arable soil is occurring during a time when the world’s demand for food is rapidly increasing. It is estimated that the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050, and it is important to note that, the total volume of food necessary, remains relative to the nutrient density of the food.

Time for a radical solution, and cannabis can lead the way.

Currently, cannabis is the most profitable crop per land area and very likely the most resource-consumptive crop grown (due to the current legal and regulatory climate and thus limited supply vs. demand).

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, now more than ever we have the opportunity, and I believe the responsibility, to cultivate in ecologically mindful ways, improve the end product and it’s positive impacts, increase both short-term and long-term profits, decrease or eliminate waste and lower the carbon footprint of cannabis cultivation operations.

A cover crop under trellis’ with cannabis plants

Most importantly, we have the opportunity to fund, implement and lead the way in research and development of sustainable, medical, phytonutrient-dense crop production methodologies.

Only by implementing more rigorous scientific methods to cannabis cultivation can we hope to provide truly meaningful improvements in and contributions to the fields of agriculture, science, medicine and human health.

While dumpsters of potting soil continue to roll off to the landfill, complex health and human science and the cultivators truly engaged in science will continue to provide meaningful data regarding plant compounds and what factors influence the best outcome for the desired end product.

The same crop pictured above, now two weeks into flowering, using cover crops

I am willing to bet that what is best will not be coming from the business models employing antiquated, wasteful and destructive cultivation strategies, and that in due time these models will fade into distant memories.

This is the first in a series of articles, in which we will explore topics related to the pursuit of high yield, phytonutrient-dense “high brix” cannabis production.

The next article will provide a historical and geologic context to the cannabis plant, as viewed from the scope of soil biology and the progression of ecosystems and soil types, and how maximized genetic expression, through maximized soil and plant health influence the production of high quality cannabis.

About The Author

headshot Drew Plebani


  1. G. Hopkins

    Sustainable agriculture and soil care are of utmost importance and you make it very clear. Thank you!
    It is also helpful to read about the increased profit margins using regenerative soil systems and organic cultivation strategies.
    I appreciate your email so I can ask questions and get help.

  2. Jaxon bryant

    Hello there drew I hope you remember me it was a couple years ago me and you met eachother &. If you can remember me it was a couple years ago now and it was at the Redding ca airport we both just got off the same plane & we both just got back in town from the Denver cannabis cup my names jaxon you know we only chatted it up for about 10-15 min outside the Redding airport before our rides pulled up & then you gave me your business card & you had me go & follow your Instagram account I don’t Know if you remember that but I remember telling you that I had a few properties in trinity county & that’s when you told me about commercial cultivator & that you had a few locations spread out around the north state between hayfork & redding we sat & talked about you getting a booth at the cup and a little about your product/brand please get back to me and tell me if you remember meeting me & talking to me that night outside the airport I would truly like to connect with you & see if I possibly could get some consulting on my 5+ properties around trinity & Humboldt county I’m really trying to step up my organic gardening & I don’t know if your company is the one I’m looking for but I’m trying to get a professionals consulting on my soil , plants , & food I use too feed them I guarantee that My business will be much worth it to you if I end up using your nutrient line for my operations I believe commercial cultivator is the exact company That my operation needs to flourish once I get the advice I’m looking for on amending my soil building the greenhouses i have plans for & start feeding my plants the right combination of fully organic nutrients between the compost tees I am going to start brewing myself & hopefully the full line of commercial cultivators products if it is possible to get you out to my places to hear your professional opinion and get some consulting from you I know it will truly
    Give me the boost I’m looking
    For please get back to me

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