In Maine, a laboratory released a study they conducted, finding a 17% failure rate of dangerous pesticides in cannabis samples tested. The state requires testing for adult use cannabis, but not for medical cannabis. Just under 4% of adult use samples failed a pesticide screening, while over 20% of all medical samples they tested failed the same screening. Nova Analytic Labs conducted the study and found piperonyl butoxide, bifenthrin, spinosad, imidacloprid and pyrethrins in both adult use and medical cannabis samples.
Also in the Northeast, a NY Cannabis Insider investigation found labs breaking rules for reporting pesticides and other contaminants as well as companies misreporting numbers and selling cannabis that has failed tests. New York only allows outdoor cultivation to encourage environmental sustainability, but some say that rule is what is behind high microbial test failure rates. To ease the burden, New York simply removed mandatory microbial testing.
Now, Oregon is doing the same: removing microbial testing burdens because too many businesses are failing them. Back in March of this year, Oregon started to require tests for aspergillus contamination, but a legal challenge halted that rule in late August and state regulators complied, doing away with the testing requirement for now. Stakeholders in many cannabis markets, including New York and Oregon, still debate just how much of a public health risk microbial contamination in cannabis truly is.
Meanwhile in California, regulators have sent warning letters to labs threatening stiff penalties if inaccurate test results are found. While these warning letters highlight THC potency inflation and laboratory shopping, a rising concern in markets across the country, they also mention falsifying scientific data, which has been known to occur in pesticide testing results as well.
The common theme across these markets is lab testing policy at the state level and an inability of an entire industry to come to any agreement. In lieu of any federal guidelines on a national level, disjointed state policies and preventable lab testing problems like these continue.
This is the sixth and final in the series of articles designed to introduce an integrated pest management framework for cannabis cultivation facilities. To see Part One, an overview of the plan and pest identification, click here. For Part Two, on pest monitoring and record keeping, click here. For Part Three, on preventative measures, click here. For Part Four, control methods, click here. For Part Five, pest control action thresholds, click here.
This is Part 6: Emergency Response
When all prevention efforts have failed and your escalation procedures must be implemented, your emergency response document takes the stage.
It sounds obvious, but your emergency response document is your team’s guide to structure your response to an emergency. This begins with the simple definition of what is an emergency for your business. Emergencies can be to your personnel (personal injury) or your infrastructure (broken pipes/floods, power failure), and finally, a pest or pathogen outbreak that threatens the entire facility (insects/fungus, molds). Be sure to get the advice of your local service providers on the important things to put in to your response plan. This article is far from an exhaustive list, but it can get you started quickly with the basics for example purposes.
Personal injuries are the events where you would call your local fire or police resources after stabilizing trauma events. Examples are chemical exposure, cuts, lacerations or broken bones from falls or crush events, burns, electric shock or earthquake or weather events. Injury response is to assess, call for medical assistance if appropriate, provide first aid and stabilize the injured, move to safety if possible, treat the injury and after the event is over and still fresh in everyone’s mind, consider what can be done to avoid the repeat of this or similar events in the future. Work those changes into your standard operating procedures.
Emergency Response to Facility Events
Whether the event is broken pipes or flooding, power failure or interruption, fire, HVAC failure or weather event, emergencies come in all sizes possible. It is likely that you built up a plan for emergency response as part of your city permitting process. Be sure to use those experts to refine your plan to include your operations.
Broken pipes start with the basics of turning off the source feeds and fixing the plumbing. If the water is actually rich fertilizer nutrients, cleaning and disinfectant is necessary as part of the drying and mop up process.
Environmental damage from fire, HVAC or weather event, lead to immediate treatment to try and save the current crops. This would include manual watering/misting, portable heater/cooler/CO2 burners. Verifying that backup power supplies turned on as planned. Are emergency fixes sufficient to power or run the systems necessary for plant life until power is returned?
This entire paper has been about pest management, so emergency is expected to mean a pest or pathogen outbreak. We defined the escalated response actions up to the point of direct action and chemical interventions in chapters four and five. Your emergency response plan takes those actions to a site wide effort. Identify the pest and location/s that are causing the crisis, isolate the infested plants, remove the infected materials, clean, disinfect, and purify the contacted surfaces. Follow your plan and contact your emergency leaders.
Emergency Response Team
Your emergency response document identifies each of your team leaders and executives that are to be contacted in the event of an emergency. These leaders should be identified in the document with contact details and methods/on-call schedules for days and times of responsibility (after normal hours and holidays included). Someone is always on-call. The personal injury, facility and cultivation lead responsible should be identified and aware that they are the assigned resource and to treat emergencies as a priority.
We have covered an example integrated pest management philosophy from prevention through observation to limiting expansion to treatment and review. This continuous monitoring and learning process is a living document of standard operating procedures for any facility.
The attention of your team, their scouting observations, and attention to detail give you an opportunity to address and restrict any pest outbreak before it destroys your crop. Teach your operators well and reward them for their attention to your plan.
Clean and sterilize your facilities regularly. Preventing the emergence of pests will pay for the investment in a multitude of ways in both savings and profits. Plan your response thresholds and use traps to monitor your escalating protections. Target your treatments and remediations to match the threats to your harvests. As a last resort, apply approved chemical treatments judiciously to minimize the impact on non-target organisms.
Evaluate the effectiveness of your plan on an annual basis. Put your improvements to work for you to minimize your pest footprint and to increase your profits in every harvest.
This is the fifth in a series of articles designed to introduce an integrated pest management framework for cannabis cultivation facilities. To see Part One, an overview of the plan and pest identification, click here. For Part Two, on pest monitoring and record keeping, click here. For Part Three, on preventative measures, click here. For Part Four, control methods, click here. Our final chapter, Part Six, discussing emergency response, comes out next week to wrap it all up.
This is Part 5: Pest Control – Taking Action
Previous chapters have covered the many preparations you can take to protect your facilities from pest attacks and outbreaks before they get started. This chapter will summarize the concepts of pest control thresholds and the actions you can take for the painful event when you surpass those limits (and various examples). The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) recommendations provide you with a framework for these plans.
Preventative actions are part of your regular site operations; in other words, they are how you avoid problems before they happen. Just to hit this action one more time: cleaning must be fundamental to your facility. Water sanitation and changing filters must be done on schedule and frequently to avoid biofilm build up and nasty self-multiplying eco-systems.
For each of the rooms in your facility, identify the acceptable tolerance level for each type of pest that you may encounter. Define the intervention levels per room: preventative, direct action and escalated direct action. Follow your predefined procedures and defend your facility. Let’s cover high, medium and low tolerance example responses.
High Threshold for Tolerance
For example, the impact on your plants, your profits and your yields from the discovery of a white fly fluttering inside of one of your flower rooms may be very small. If this presence is late in your harvest cycle, your tolerance of this discovery may be very high. Your team could take preventative actions to clean the room more aggressively or to check your traps more frequently, but you are probably not going to want to invest in aggressive actions at that time in the harvest cycle.
Move from passive observation to the shake test. With sticky traps in place, shake or brush your plants. Do you see the bug counts increase on your test sheets?
As that infestation grows, you may set a threshold for direct action (i.e. 5-10 flies per trap per week). If you reach that level, implement a treatment action with a non-chemical microbial biofungicide to stop growth in the roots or neem oil as a direct chemical action.
When you reach your escalated threshold of 10-20 flies per trap or direct plant damage is apparent, an infestation is more serious. In that event, you may choose to take steps to directly reduce the pest population with knock down sprays of approved direct chemical pesticides like citric acid or insecticidal soaps. Be sure to use your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for breathing and contact safety if you get into this situation.
Medium Threshold for Tolerance
Depending on the timing in your harvest cycle, the discovery of fungus gnats in your grow room may trigger a medium level alarm for you. Is the location, a small example with a minimal frequency? Is this addressable with additional attention to cleaning the area and longer dry periods in the irrigation or is this the beginnings of an infestation? Fungus gnats feed off of fungus or organic matter in soil triggered from an overly moist root environment. You may choose to react with immediate cleaning at the first existence in a room. Or you could set your “Medium” level alert status to be additional sticky trap distribution at the first visible gnat. If those counts reach 10-20 gnats per sticky trap per week, begin your foliar spray regimen with Zerotol or the equivalent.
If these counts do not respond to your treatment, meaning that the next sticky trap count reaches beyond 20+ gnats per trap or visible direct plant damage, then institute your root drench protocol with a solution of BActive 1-2 times per week until the problem is under control and the counts are reduced. If the growth continues, look to approved pesticides in your area (as an example, AzaGuard Asadirectin).
Low Threshold for Tolerance
Alternatively, you may have a unified air circulation system due to facility limitations. Your air circulation may be shared across all of your mother plants, clones, veg and flowering plant areas. In that case, any presence of an airborne fungal infection like powdery mildew would have a very low tolerance of acceptance. Selective de-leafing of the infection and increased airflow are your first defense. Any visible presence beyond that would trigger a low threshold alert and immediately start a preventative action, such as carefully removing the infected plant material much wider than a few leaves and treating the area with foliar sprays like Zerotol (hydrogen peroxide plus).
If the penetration continues or expands, treatment would escalate to minimal risk pesticide follow up and observation. Chemical oils or citric acid might be in your mix in this case.
Finally, if repetitive treatments once a week are not turning the tide, increasing to once per day or even once per ON/OFF lighting cycle until the infection is controlled. At this point, you may decide to strip the room down and start over. Clearly the choice to “throw in the towel” is a total loss of the crop, but it may be the best option relative to minimal yields and failed flowers that will not sell.
Pest Control Actions
Our Integrated Pest Management recommendations paper gives you examples of what to consider for plans with white flies, fungus gnats, root aphids, powdery mildew and biofilm on plumbing or surfaces. These follow the preventative action, direct action, escalated direct action and pesticide approaches for each example. These are options to plan for water sources, root treatment, tunneling, crawling and flying phases.
In summary this week
As covered, preventative measures are your best defense. Hire expert consultants and plan these well. Escalate your response based on your scouting activity and your plan. Add your sticky traps, de-leafing, root drench, foliar sprays or knock down sprays as defined by your pest population control actions document.
For more detail on each of these treatments, you can see examples for your integrated pest management procedures in our complete white paper for Integrated Pest Management Recommendations, download the document here.
In our final chapter, Emergency Response, we will review control thresholds and example plans for a range of problems from biofilm build up to white flies and more.
Our final chapter after will describe emergency response framework and reviewing your complete plans. See you next week.
This is the fourth in a series of articles designed to introduce an integrated pest management framework for cannabis cultivation facilities. To see Part One, an overview of the plan and pest identification, click here. For Part Two, on pest monitoring and record keeping, click here. For Part Three, on preventative measures, click here. Part Five comes out next week on how to build a framework for control actions and how to monitor them. More to come!
This is Part 4: Direct Control Options
Even when the best methods are implemented and precautions are taken to protect your infrastructure, determined pests can penetrate your perimeter. Before you see crawling, hopping or flying insects, or sickly-looking plants, be sure to implement your physical protection (positive pressure airflow sealed facilities) and personal hygiene methods (shoe baths, sticky mats, & air shower entrances) to protect your crops. Equip your employees with personal protection equipment (PPE) proper gloves, masks and clothing as discussed in our last chapter, preventative measures.
When things do break-out beyond your acceptable thresholds, Direct Control Options include non-chemical microbial biofungicides, microbial bioinsecticides and direct chemical control options. Lots of big scary words there, all of which are toxic even under safe application methods and when used at recommended concentrations levels. This means training in their use and protective clothing is required. Careful application of these control options is necessary so you exterminate your pests and not your people! This seems obvious, but do not just “wing it.”
These chemical elements can be applied in diluted concentration levels, manual wipe-down application, concentrated flush frequencies, or root drench applications, foliar spray mist applications, HVAC aerial diffusions and aerial knock-down sprays. You may even choose to remove badly infected plants and destroy them completely.
Use experts when you are planning for these tools. All of these methods require handling and safety precautions. Proper breathing filters, eye & skin protection, as well as disposable gowns/hazmat suits should be used when applications are performed and until the applications have dissipated to safe levels. Be careful not to co-mingle removed plant materials. Gloves become transport and infection spreaders after use.
Please also be sure to review your harvest testing requirements and what treatments are safe for your consumers and within legal limits. No one wants to have their harvest rejected due to pesticide contamination.
Clean-up after application may be required depending on the bioinsecticide or chemical that is used. Again, always ensure the safety of your employees and take precautions.
Start the application of your control options with your site map, room assignments and scout monitoring teams. Where does air flow into and within the facility? When your scouting team count logs go beyond your acceptable thresholds, here are some options for you.
Let’s begin with cleaning your irrigation and nutrient water sources. For a walk-through tutorial for incoming water treatment, humidity recovery and nutrient water recycling, please review the video tour of Water Treatment at RAIR Cannabis to see how an expert has done it.
From the IPM Planning Guide standpoint, peroxide and acid sterilizers can be used to clear irrigation water, for surface wipe-downs or as direct plant applications. We will cover those first. Caustic sterilizers require PPE for cleaning. Forgive my image here, we were just using water.
Plant interacting interfaces, i.e. surfaces, benches, walls, floors, trays, utensils, clippers, etc. should be sterilized with every use. Methods can include direct wipe-down or scrub, concentrated or diluted sprays or room vaporizers. A good example of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) liquid would be a food grade sanitizer with 3-35% H2O2 content. Use acceptable diluted versions of these cleaners as appropriate.
A commercial example would be Zerotol 2.0 with 27% H2O2 & their proprietary acid mix. Alternatively, you can use direct hydrogen peroxide generators from commercial sources to generate your H2O2 at various concentrations. More detailed examples are included in the complete Integrated Pest Management Guide (link at the end of this article). Establish your procedures for sterilizing your rooms and tools before you introduce plants, and describe what is to be done after every harvest and room turn. Track the cleaning materials used for your operational records. You will find this useful to track operational cost over time.
Sanitizing Acids for Surfaces & Irrigation Sources
Similar to hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorous acid (HOCl) comes in many commercial forms and can also be generated onsite using purchased generators. Commercial mix examples are UC Roots, Watermax and Athena Cleanse. They come in 0.028% to 15% concentrations. Self-generators range in output from highly precise 0.01% to 1% concentrations with more examples in the guide.
OK, so enough on cleaning preparation. Here are some tools that can be used to fight back against a pest intrusion:
Non-Chemical Microbial Biofungicide for Pathogens in Soil or Fertigation Water
Microbial fungicides are available to clear nutrient irrigation systems by minimizing pathogens and improving plant resistance to infections. Some fungicide versions target root pathogens by attacking the diseases directly. Others control or suppress common water carried challenges like pythium, rhizoctonia, phytophthora, fusarium and others. Brand names include Botanicare, Bonide, BioWorks, Actinovate, Mycostop and many more. Details covered in the guide.
Non-Chemical Microbial Bioinsecticides for Larval Stages
These biological tools attack the organisms or insects at a physical or mechanical way by breaking down the pest’s nervous system, biochemistry, or structural integrity (exoskeletons, etc.). These are engineered or living organisms (bugs to attack bugs) that are developed as targeted attacks for specific pests. Brand names are BioCeres, Botanigard, Venerate, Bio Solutions and others.
Minimal Risk Chemical Pesticides for Airborne Critters
Regularly approved for used in most locales, essential oils, natural acids (like citric acid) and insecticidal soap are commonly available in every hydroponic store. These work very well as safe spray “knock-down” insecticides for crawling or flying pests. Commercial examples use a proprietary mix of various oils, citric acids or isopropyl alcohol to do their task (examples in guide). Insecticidal soaps and fungicides for surface cleaning perform a similar purpose and typically use potassium salts or fatty acid mixtures.
These tools are used to inhibit insect or fungal growth to acceptable levels. The multifaceted and commonly used neem oil comes in many commercial versions and is a naturally occurring pesticide extracted from the leaves and seeds of the neem tree. Example brand names are Bonide, Monterey, Triact and others. They range in concentrations from 0.9% to 70% concentrations. These oils suffocate living organisms or eliminate moisture to kill insects, spores or fungus at their initiation and throughout their lifespan.
Another option here are Azadirachtins. These act as insect growth regulators and disrupt the bugs natural evolution. Brand names are AzaGuard, AzaMax and others in the guide.
In summary, this week
We summarized some of the many pest control options available for water treatment, soil borne, intermediate or flying pests. We also covered various concentrations for these pesticide and sterilizer options. If you are not familiar with dilution ratios, %, PPM terms and how to apply the correct level of pesticide, you may find our plant science test kitchen blog on this topic of use here.
Chemical access and use should be restricted to employees familiar with their authorized application. PPE is very important to protect any employee that will come in contact with materials, liquids or vapors for chemical resources (gloves, boots, respirators, Tyvek (or equivalent protective wear) suits and eye protection or goggles.
For more detail on each of these treatments, you can see examples for your integrated pest management procedures in our complete white paper for Integrated Pest Management Recommendations, download the document here.
In our next chapter, Pest Population Control Actions, we will review control thresholds and example plans for a range of problems from biofilm build up to white flies and more. Our final chapter after that will suggest an emergency response framework and how to address pest outbreaks. See you next week.
Creating a healthy cannabis growing environment based on the science behind growing top-notch, medical-grade cannabis is essential for producing consistent results, assuming you start with quality genetics. Before speaking about the environment, it is necessary to highlight that quality and consistency has to first start with quality plant material. In this article, we will explore six key factors that make for a healthy cannabis growing environment and how regular testing allows growers to achieve consistency and quality. Keep in mind, optimizing these factors to the cannabis strains and environment they are grown in is a must.
Lighting is the most important factor in creating a good cannabis growing environment. Cannabis plants require specific types, wavelength and exposure times to grow and produce high-quality flower. The two main types of light that are essential for cannabis growth are blue and red spectrum light where blue is primarily dedicated to vegetative growing and red for flowering. The exposure time is necessary for non-autoflower cannabis to maintain a vegetative or a flowering plant.
To ensure that the plants are receiving the right type and amount of light, growers can use specialized grow lights that provide both blue and red spectrum light. They can also monitor the intensity and duration of light using light meters and timers. Regular testing of the light spectrum and intensity can help growers fine-tune their lighting setup for optimal plant growth and flower development.
Temperature always needs to be considered when creating a strong, healthy cannabis growing environment. Cannabis plants prefer a warm, humid environment, but temperatures that are too high or too low can negatively affect plant growth and flower development. The ideal temperature range for cannabis growth is between 70-85°F (21-29°C) during the day and between 58-70°F (14-21°C) at night.
To maintain a consistent temperature in the growing environment, growers can use temperature-controlled grow rooms or HVAC systems. They can also monitor the temperature using digital thermometers and adjust the temperature as needed. Regular testing of the temperature can help growers identify and address any temperature fluctuations that may affect plant growth and flower development.
Like other factors that require precision, humidity needs to be carefully dialed in when creating an optimal cannabis growing environment. Cannabis plants prefer a humid environment, but too much humidity can promote the growth of mold and mildew. On the other hand, low humidity can cause the plants to dry out and become stressed.
To maintain a consistent humidity level, growers can use humidifiers and dehumidifiers in the growing environment. They can also monitor the humidity level using a hygrometer and adjust the humidity as needed. Regular testing of the humidity level can help growers identify and address any issues that may affect plant growth and flower development.
Airflow and Ventilation
Proper ventilation helps regulate temperature and humidity and prevents the buildup of carbon dioxide, which can be harmful to the plants. It also helps prevent the growth of mold and mildew. To ensure proper airflow and ventilation, growers can use fans and air ducts in the growing environment. They can also use carbon filters to remove odors and other contaminants from the air. Regular testing of the air quality can help growers identify and address any issues that may affect plant growth and flower development.
Nutrients are a non-negotiable for cannabis growth and flower development. Cannabis plants require a balanced supply of macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium and iron.
To ensure that the plants receive the right amount of nutrients, growers can use nutrient-rich soils or hydroponic systems. They can also supplement with fertilizers and other nutrients. Regular testing of the nutrient levels in the soil or growing medium can help growers adjust their nutrient regimen for optimal plant growth and flower development.
Pest and Disease Management
Cannabis plants are susceptible to over 90+ pests and diseases, including insects, mold, mildew, viruses and viroids commonly infected through the environment by touch, air, water and nutrients. The most common are spider mites, aphids, powdery mildew, botrytis, fusarium and hop latent viroid. It is estimated by the United Nations that 20% to 40% of total global crop loss is due to improper pest and disease management. The cannabis growing environment is no different.
While lighting, humidity, air flow and nutrients are key aspects for a cannabis growth environment, the most common overlooked aspect of growing is proper pest and disease management. Cannabis plants are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, which can have a significant impact on plant health and crop yields. To take optimizing a cannabis growing environment one step further, here are five essentials for developing an effective pest and disease management setup.
Prevention is the first and most important step in pest and disease management. Growers should always take steps to prevent pests and diseases from entering or infesting the growing environment in the first place. This can be done by quarantining new plants or clones, using clean equipment, sterilizing the growing area, and monitoring plants for signs of pests and diseases through both visual inspection as well as testing.
Some diseases such as those caused by viruses and viroids, require molecular based testing to identify. Growers should quarantine and test any new plants or clones before introducing them to the growing area. This can help prevent the spread of pests and diseases from infected plants to healthy ones. Growers can also use biological controls, such as beneficial insects, to help prevent pests from infesting the plants. These insects can help control pest populations by preying on them or interfering with their reproduction.
Early detection is key to preventing an entire crop from being infected and scrapped. Growers need to regularly inspect their plants for signs of pests and diseases, including yellowing leaves, discoloration, spots and unusual growth patterns. Early detection can help prevent the spread of pests and diseases and limit the damage they cause, not to mention saving a business’s bottom line!
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest and disease management that involves a combination of preventative measures, biological controls and chemical treatments. IPM aims to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, which can be harmful to the environment and human health.
IPM involves regular monitoring of plants for signs of pests and diseases, using biological controls to prevent and control infestations, and only using chemical treatments as a last resort. Chemical treatments should be used sparingly and only when necessary, and growers should follow all safety precautions when using them.
Taking the necessary precautions to ensure all equipment used throughout a cultivation is properly sterilized will save growers from countless headaches. Growers should keep the growing area clean and free of debris, which can provide a breeding ground for pests and diseases. They should also regularly sterilize equipment and growing containers to prevent the spread of pathogens.
Record keeping is essential for effective pest and disease management in the growing environment. Keep detailed records of all pest and disease issues, including the type of pest or disease, the severity of the infestation, and the treatments used. Cultivators, you will thank yourselves later! This will help identify recurring issues and develop effective pest and disease management strategies.
While there are key aspects of creating a healthy cannabis growing environment, the most common overlooked aspect of growing is on proper pest and disease management, which involves prevention, early detection, integrated pest management, sanitation, quarantine, and record keeping. By taking these steps, growers can help ensure the health and vitality of their plants, produce high-quality cannabis that consumers want and preserve their business’s bottom lines.
When it comes to microbial diagnostics, there are many different methods to choose from. How do you know which ones to choose for each application? If you know how and why the different methods do what do it makes it much easier to look for and identify your target microbe of interest. Additionally learn why not all methods are created equal, and not all methods can be used for every test or target.
Hop Latent Viroid – The Pandemic of the Grow Room: Fact, Fiction & Management
Dr. Tassa Saldi, Chief Science Officer, TUMI Genomics
In this talk Dr. Saldi will provide a laymen overview of viroid biology including how viroids differ from more familiar pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungus. Dr. Saldi will discuss the various HLVd testing options and what a cultivator should look for when choosing a testing lab. Finally, recommendations regarding sample collection, ideal HLVd testing schedules and how to mitigate losses from HLVd when it is found in a facility will be reviewed.
Christopher Fox-Strauss, Accreditation Manager, ANAB
Most cannabis laboratories are familiar with accreditation as required by state regulations, but many labs still have questions about how to conform to the requirements. During this session we will focus on some of the recurring challenges and questions we are seeing in ISO 17025-accredited cannabis laboratories. We will also highlight some supplemental resources and programs to elevate laboratory performance and compliance.
Potency Inflation: The Problem, the Causes and the Solutions
Sarah Otis, Quality, R&D Manager, Anresco Laboratories
Erik Paulson, Ph.D., Lab Manager, InfiniteCAL
THC potency inflation by third-party testing labs has been an escalating feature of the cannabis industry since its legalization. In California, market forces and lack of regulation have allowed potency inflation to intensify in both its flagrancy and its pervasiveness, particularly within the last year. Two third-party testing labs in California, InfiniteCAL and Anresco, discuss how the industry got to this point, the different methods that labs use to inflate potency, and steps that can be taken to combat it.
Shawn Kruger, Senior Vice President of Product & Strategy, Avivatech
The Laboratory Information Landscape in Cannabis Testing
James Brennan, Sales & Marketing Specialist, LabWare
Eugene Olkhov, Data Scientist, LabWare
This presentation will guide attendees through the data continuum in modern cannabis testing laboratories supported by various software solutions. The presenters will describe the business and regulatory benefits of laboratory informatics and system deployment options, challenges, and financial considerations.
The current flow of cannabis testing data
An overview of informatics solutions for cannabis testing labs
Laboratory informatics and regulatory compliance
The impact of digital transformation on cannabis testing data
Cannabis Testing Regulations & Implications for Environmental Monitoring
Sarah Powell Price, Regulatory Expert for Food Safety & Cannabis for North America, MilliporeSigma
Anne Connors Weeks, Senior Field Marketing Manager, MilliporeSigma
Cannabis testing requirements are continuously evolving, as are analyte detection capabilities. This presentation provides a high level overview of the latest US cannabis testing regulatory landscape and how environmental monitoring is an essential component of safety and compliance planning.
Aeroponic & hydroponic systems can operate with little to no soil or media. This eliminates the pest vectors that coco-coir, peat moss/perlite and organic media can harbor as part of their healthy biome approach. Liquid nutrient systems come at the nutrient approach from a different direction. Pure nutrient salts (nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and trace metals) are provided to the plant roots in a liquid carrier form. This sounds ideal for integrated pest management programs, but cultivators have to be aware of water and airborne pathogens that can disrupt operations. I will summarize some aspects to consider in today’s summary.
The elimination of soil media intrinsically helps a pest management program as it reduces the labor required to maintain a grow and the number of times the grow room doors are opened. Join that with effective automation with sensors and software, and you have immediate improvements in pest access. Sounds perfect, but we still have staff to maintain a facility and people become the number one source of contamination in a grow operation.
Insects do damage directly to plants as they grow and procreate in a grow room. They also carry other pathogens that infect your plants. For example, root aphids, a very common problem, are a known carrier of the root pathogen, Pythium.
One of the most common ways for pests to access your sealed, sterile, perfectly managed facilities are in the root stock of outsourced clones. If you must start your grow cycles with externally sourced clones, it is strongly recommended that you quarantine those clones to make sure that they do not import pest production facilities into your operation. Your operation management procedures must be complete. If you take cuttings from an internal nursery of mother plants, any pathogens present in your mother room will migrate through cuttings into your clones, supply lines, and subsequently, flower rooms.
Start your gating process with questioning your employees and visitors. Do they grow at home or have they been to another grow operation in the last week? In the last day? You may be surprised by how many people that gain access to your grow will answer these questions in the affirmative.
Developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are followed by every employee and every visitor will significantly reduce your pest access and infection rates, and hence, increase your healthy harvests and increase your profitability. Procedures should include clothing, quarantining new genetics and cleaning procedures, such as baking or irradiating rooms to guarantee you begin with a sterile facility. This is covered more in the complete white paper.
Technology is a wonderful thing but no replacement for regimented procedures. Considered a best practice, professional air showers, that bar access to internal facilities, provide an aggressive barrier for physical pests. These high velocity fan systems and exhaust methods blow off insects, pollen and debris before they proceed into your facility. From that access port into your grow space, positive air flow pressure should increase from the grow rooms, to the hallways, to the outside of your grow spaces. This positive airflow will always be pushing insects and airborne material out of your grow space and away from your plants.
Maintaining Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP)
ORP is a relative measurement of water health. Perfect water is clear of all material, both inert and with life. Reverse osmosis (RO) is a standard way to clear water but it is not sufficient in removing microscopic biological organisms. UV and chemical methods are needed in addition to RO to clear water completely.
ORP is an electronic measurement in millivolts (mV) that represents the ability of a chemical substance to oxidize another substance. ORP meters are a developing area and when using a meter, it is important to track the change in ORP values rather than the absolute number. This is due to various methods that the different meters use to calculate the ORP values. More on this in the white paper.
There are two significant ways to adjust the ORP of a fertilizer/irrigation (fertigation) solution. The first is by adding oxidizers. Examples are chemical oxidizers like hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), hypochlorous acid (HOCl), ozone (O3) and chlorine dioxide (ClO2). Adding these to a fertigation solution increases the ORP of the fertigation solution by oxidizing materials and organic matter. The key is to kill off the bad things and not affect the growth of plants. Again here, the absolute ORP metric is not the deciding factor in the health of a solution and the methods by which each chemical reaction occurs for each of these chemicals are different. This is compounded by the fact that different ORP meters will show different readings for the same solution.
Another wonderful thing about automation and aeroponic and hydroponic dosing systems is that they can automatically maintain oxidizing rates and our white papers explain the methods executed by today’s automation systems.
Another way to adjust ORP is to reduce the water temperature of the reservoirs. Maintaining water temperature below the overall temperature of your grow rooms is imperative for minimal biological deposition and nutrient system health. Water chillers use a heat exchanger process to export heat from liquid nutrient dosing reservoirs and maintain desired temperatures.
The benefit of managing ORP in aeroponic and hydroponic grow systems is highly accelerated growth. This is enhanced in aeroponics due to the effectively infinite oxygen exchanging gases at the surface of the plant roots. Nutrient droplets are sprayed or vaporized in parallel and provided to these root surfaces. Maximizing the timing and the best mineral nutrients to the root combustion is the art of grow recipe development. Great recipes drive superior yields and when combined with superior genetics and solid environmental controls, these plants will deliver spectacular profits to a grow operation.
Another Hero Award
Before closing this chapter, we have many cultivators that are producing stellar results with their operational and IPM procedures, so it is hard to choose just one leader. That said, our hats are off to RAIR Systems again and their director of cultivation, Ashley Hubbard. She and her team are determined to be successful and drive pests out of their operations with positive “little critters” and the best water treatment and management that we have seen. You are welcome to view the 7-episode walkthrough of the RAIR facility and their procedures here.
Aeroponic & hydroponic systems grow plants at a highly accelerated rate. A “clean room” type of construction approach is the best way to manage this type of grow operation. Starting with a facility that is completely void of any kind of wood or materials that are porous is a good start. Cellulose materials collect moisture and encourage mold and mildew formation no matter how good the sealant.
We have seen cultivation spaces built out of dry wall over wooden post construction and studs that look sealed and solid on the outside of walls but when repaired for plumbing or other expansion work, they are black inside and covered with nasty mold that no one wants near their grow space.
Panel construction over steel frames or steel studs with skins is a safer, more sterile approach than retrofitting a wooden structure. Panel construction offers the added benefit of rapid assembly and minimal labor costs. We have seen 300 light rooms assembled in a few days so it is both very cost effective and safely sealed for protected growth.
Room Sizes & Count
If you have unlimited space, temperature and humidity management should determine the room sizes in your facility. Room sizes that are square in dimensions tend to be easier to maintain from an environmental standpoint. Long narrow rooms are good for fan airflow but tend to be more expensive from a cooling and dehumidification point of view. The larger the room, the more likely that you will get “microclimates” within the room which can challenge yield optimization.
Now, of course, many grows are retrofits of existing structures so compromises can be necessary. We have found that cultivators that have both very large and mid-size rooms in the same facility (200 lights versus 70 lights) are consistently more successful in the 70 light rooms. These “smaller rooms (~1,500 ft2) out-yielded and out-performed the larger rooms using the same genetics and grow plans. Compartmentalization also minimizes the risk in the case that a calamity (i.e. pest infestation) strikes the room. In a large room scenario, the losses can damage your operation. For this reason, we recommend 70-100 light/tub rooms as a standard.
Rooms should also follow your nursery economics. Structuring your nursery to produce just enough clones/veg plants for your next flower room avoids wasted plant material and resources. Breaking a larger space down into individual rooms means that you need fewer veg plants to fill your flower room that week. The best way to optimize this is to have a number of rooms that are symmetrical with the number 8 (typical 8-week cycle genetics).
With 8 rooms running flower, you are able to plant one room per week for 8 weeks. In the 9th week, you start over on room 1. This continuous harvest process is highly efficient from a labor standpoint and it minimizes the size of your mothers room (cost center). Additional space can be applied to your flower rooms. If you do not have infinite space, even divisors work just as well; 2 or 4 rooms can be planted in sequence for the same optimization (for 2-room structures, harvest and replant 1 room every 4 weeks for example). The optimal structure (8, 16, 24, or more rooms) enables you to optimize your profitability. If any of this needs further explanation, please just ask.
Within your room choice, movable rows or columns of tubs/lights also provides optimal yields. Tubs/plants can be moved together for light usage efficiency and one 3-foot aisle can be opened for plant maintenance. Racking systems or movable trays/tubs make this convenient nowadays.
Concrete floors offer pockets for bacteria to collect and smolder. As such, they have to be sealed. Proper application of your sealant choice is required so that it does not peal up or crack after sealing. There are many benefits to sealed floors that is discussed in the white paper. Floor drains are the equivalent of a portal to Hell for a sterile grow operation. Avoid them at all costs.
Tuning or optimizing you grow rooms for ideal flowering operation depends on your location. Our advice is that you build and optimize your facility in phases with the expectation that nothing is perfect and you will learn improvements in every phase of expansion. The immediate benefit is production that you can promote to your sales channels and revenue that starts as soon as possible to improve your profitability. This is also an excellent learning curve to apply to subsequent rooms. Our happiest customers are those that learned construction improvements in early rooms that were able to be applied to following rooms without headache. The ability to focus on one or two rooms also allows you to get the recipe correct rather than just relying on “winging it”.
Don’t Be In A Rush To Go Green
Validate your water supplies and their stability. Verify that the water in your aeroponic or hydroponic feeds that get to your plants are clean and sterile. This is much easier in a step-by-step fashion than in a crisis debug mode once production is in progress. Be very cautious about incoming clone supplies. We will talk about this more in the next chapter on Integrated Pest Management but incoming clones are a top pest vector that can contaminate your entire facility.
Warehouse Versus Greenhouse Cultivation Spaces
As we started out, controlling your environment is your most important concern. We have seen success in both indoor rooms and greenhouses. The defining success factor is controlling humidity and temperature. Modern sealed controlled environment (CEA) greenhouses do this well and CEA is somewhat of a given for indoor grows. More details on this in the white paper.
Packaging these recommendations gets you to the perfect body for your Formula 1 race car. Now, you are ready to look at some of the mechanics of protecting your operation from pesky little critters and biologicals that can derail your operation and weaken your engine.
Before we sign off this week, I wanted to highlight the ultimate build-out that we have seen so far. Of course, there are many challengers that have done this well but at this point, FarmaGrowers in South Africa has the best thought out facility we have seen. They acquired Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) & Good Agricultural & Collection Practice (GACP) certification early in their operations due to very well-thought-out designs. They are exporting to global markets without irradiation today. Certainly, many successful customers have beautifully thought-out operations and there are several upcoming facilities that offer amazing planning that will challenge for this crown, but for now. FarmaGrowers leads the pack in this aspect. See here for a walkthrough.
For commercial cannabis growers, consistent crop yields are vital to maintaining product profitability, as well as durable profitability. Since cannabis thrives under certain conditions, the more control a cultivator has over those conditions, the easier consistent harvests become.
While factors like humidity, light exposure and water may be easy enough to control in any indoor environment, other influential factors can be more difficult to control, such as mold or other contaminants. Growing in a controlled cleanroom environment ensures healthy, high-quality cannabis by mitigating some harder-to-control threats. For these reasons, growing cannabis in a cleanroom environment is rapidly becoming the gold standard in the industry.
A Closer Look at the Cleanroom Environment
A cleanroom facility is a specially designed room or modular addition designed to support a tightly controlled grow environment for crops. The design of the cleanroom relies on several design features to deter issues with pollutants, such as insects, mold, airborne microbes and dust. Even though cleanroom environments are often affiliated with cultivating certain types of crops, these facilities are also valuable in other industries, such as medicine, biology and pharmaceuticals.
Cleanrooms can be conservatively sized or massive. They can be configured to accommodate different processes, and they can be built to suit a specific grower’s preferences. However, several features are key, such as:
One fundamental requirement of a cleanroom is to control the introduction of contaminants into the space. Contaminants can be carried in on the people who visit the space. Therefore, cleanroom implementation must come along with strict protocols when it comes to employee entry into the room. For example, air showers, special gowns, masks and other measures may be required.
The Benefits of Cleanroom Environments for Cultivators
On the surface level, cleanrooms make it possible to achieve a well-controlled environment for cannabis cultivation. However, while this is undeniably important in terms of consistent crop yields and profitability, cleanrooms pose a number of broader advantages for cultivators and end customers.
Meet Laboratory Testing Guidelines and Protocols
For now, states create product testing regulations for cannabis. Most states that have legalized medical or adult use cannabis have created protocols for lab-testing products for pesticides and microbes. When batches of cannabis product do not meet state lab-testing standards, the product can be recalled or destroyed. In 2016, Steep Hill published an alarming study that showed they detected pesticides in roughly 70% of the samples they received and up to one third of all samples would have failed to meet regulatory standards. Cleanrooms reduce a grower’s reliance on pesticides.
Negate the Risk of Fungal Contamination
Cannabis is prone to certain types of fungal spores that can cause severe illness in end customers. For example, Aspergillus moldspores are common in cannabis and can lead to cases of chronic pulmonary aspergillosis. In large doses, Aspergillus mold spores may even cause liver failure due to the carcinogenic mycotoxins the spores produce in the body. Cleanrooms negate the risk of fungal contamination through proper ventilation, particulate control and positive pressure.
Create a Safer Work Environment for Employees
Employees who work in cultivation facilities in the cannabis industry face various occupational hazards. Many of these hazards are related to being in contact with fungicides, mold spores and chemical fertilizers. The exposure can result in issues such as allergic reactions, respiratory irritation and other physical threats. Cleanrooms and how they function can deter many of these risks. For example, the lack of need for fungicide use automatically lowers the risks due to lacking exposure. Further, because protective gear is required to maintain the integrity of the cleanroom, there is less of a chance an employee’s skin or respiratory system is exposed to irritants.
Cleanrooms: The Potential Future of Cannabis Cultivation
As cannabis becomes a more robust industry and regulations become more clearly defined, growing standards are bound to change. As speculations of national regulations veer closer to reality, growing cannabis industrially may even mean required cultivation facility upgrades. Cleanroom environments give growers firm control over the health of their crops while ensuring clean products for customers. Therefore, these innovative and health-forward implementations could easily become the norm in the cannabis industry in the future.
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