Tag Archives: Testing

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3 Benefits of Conducting Genetic Tests on Your Plants

By Angel Fernandez
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durnagofacility

Many growers may wonder why it’s important to get their plants genetically tested, but the truth is that genetic testing can make growing a lot easier. Genetic analysis in plants can give a wide range of results that can help scientists solve everyday problems in plant cultivation, such as detecting diseases and identifying important traits in plant species.

Currently, three of the most important benefits that genetic testing can give growers are the ability to detect diseases, identify the gender of their plants and control the quality of their crops.

Pathogen detection

Pathogen infections can be difficult to detect and by the time symptoms are obvious, it may be too late and the rest of the crop is already contaminated. This is why DNA tests are a valuable tool for the early detection of diseases in plants. Even though plants reproduce through cloning, it’s crucial to make sure the mother plant is healthy before proceeding, as 100% of the genetic material will be transferred to the clone, including any diseases the mother plant may have, such as a virus.

There are a few ways to detect pathogens in plants, including detection and symptomatology, serological techniques for viruses and microbiological techniques for fungi and bacteria. However, another effective method is detection tests using genetic material, also known as molecular methods. These tests involve screening the plant’s genetic material for any alterations, such as the presence of the pathogen’s genetic material. These tests are particularly useful as they provide accurate results when at least part of the pathogen’s genome sequence is known. This is important as many of these genomes have yet to be fully studied and there may be new unknown variants.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus symptoms can include tip curling, blotching of leaf mosaic patterning, and stunting

The reliability and effectiveness of genetic and molecular tests are due to the use of DNA as the starting material for pathogen detection. DNA is a stable molecule that can withstand adverse conditions, such as high temperatures or low humidity. Additionally, this technique can still be effective even when the samples used are very damaged or necrotic. Due to these qualities, genetic testing is considered one of the best methods for pathogen detection.

In summary, genetic testing is the most effective technique for pathogen detection as it is highly specific, requires a small sample and provides accurate results in a short period of time.

Plant gender detection

In the case of the cannabis plant, it is naturally diploid and dioecious, meaning that it has separate male and female reproductive structures, and each one contributes a chromosome during reproduction. However, there may be mutations that result in hermaphrodite plants, which have both male and female reproductive structures.

Growers who propagate their crops through seeds must wait several weeks to identify the sex of their plants, as their dioecious nature makes it difficult to recognize the plant’s sex in the early stages of growth. This can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. However, thanks to genetic testing, it is possible to determine the sex of a plant long before it reaches the flowering stage.

The sex organs on a Cannabis plant identified.

The determination of the gender of a dioecious plant is influenced by a sex chromosome system. Male plants have an XY sex chromosome system, known as heterogametic, while female plants have the XX sex chromosome system, known as homogametic.

To identify the sex of a plant through genetic studies, DNA or RNA-based molecular markers are used with a tissue sample. These markers typically look for the male trait “Y” in the plant, as the trait “X” is present in both male and female plants. In this way, the presence of the Y chromosome can be used to confirm the plant is male, and its absence can be used to confirm that it is female.

Crop quality control

The same species can often present one or more varieties, and although they may have physical features that distinguish them, it is not always possible to identify them with the naked eye. Beyond physical characteristics, genetic traits can have considerable differences.

Molecular identification is a very accurate tool for identifying varieties

Different varieties of cannabis have been widely cultivated and crossbred, making it possible for plants to have very similar physical traits, making it difficult to identify the variety being cultivated. This is why molecular identification is a very accurate tool for identifying varieties in cases where there is uncertainty about their identity.

Additionally, some plants can produce lower or higher amounts of cannabinoids due to their genetic nature or small mutations that occurred during growth. This is how there are plants with the advantage of having genes that code for high production of THC or CBD. These outstanding traits can be detected through the selection of characteristics using analysis of molecular markers that indicate the presence of these genes in the plant, or that detect the genes responsible for synthesizing these substances and determine their respective quality.

These procedures are performed using a tissue sample from the plant and using DNA as a starting material for testing, which provides information on the genetic traits of interest and validates their function.

The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations: Climate, Cultivation & Genetics – Part 6

By Phil Gibson
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This is Part 6 and the final chapter in The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations series. Click here to see Part 1, here to see Part 2, here to see Part 3, here for part 4 and here for Part 5.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Figure 1: Precision aeroponics at FarmaGrowers GMP Facility, South Africa

Every objective has to have a vision and a vector of where you want to go and what you want to achieve. “Winging it” is okay for an innovative artistic endeavor where creativity is spontaneous and one-of-a-kind art is produced. Unfortunately, that is not how one creates a top-quality cultivation operation.

Customers expect guarantees of consistency; quality assurance means a purchase is safe to consume. Medicinal products around the world require Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification. These are really just SOPs that document repeatable procedures to guarantee that the most recent batch offers the same results as the first certified effort. This brief covers the importance of documented operating procedures for a successful grow business with high quality customer results.

Figure 2: The objective – trichome covered flowers, DanCann, Denmark

Almost nobody gets excited about discussing quality, but experienced manufacturers know that quality control reduces waste and improves operations. Everyone learns that they have to implement feedback, improvement and quality control procedures to guarantee profitability and longevity in any business.

So, what is an SOP? A standard operating procedure defines ‘a task’ to be performed ‘at a location by a person or a role on a specific schedule.’ These definitions will include role definition, responsibilities, personnel training, equipment & service procedures, material handling, quality assurance controls, record keeping, approved procedures & instructions, documentation, references and appendices, all of which define your business and how it is to operate.

Now, you might ask, we are just growing plants, is all this really necessary? The short answer is, it depends. If you expect to export globally, do business in Europe and other markets, get licensed by Health Canada or some day be approved to ship to other States, then yes. If you are a regional craft cannabis supplier, maybe not, but there are many tasks that are required to grow where a better documented process can benefit your operation and the quality of the product delivered to your consumers.

Figure 3: Flower maintenance, DanCann, Denmark

We provide a bulleted list of recommendations in the full white paper but to touch on a few highlights that every operator should keep in mind, SOPs define the following structures for your business.

Personnel training is done for ‘this task, in this way’ & ‘this role is responsible’

Job descriptions reduce misunderstandings and increase worker ownership in your facility. Documenting your activities minimizes task overlap and conflicts that can lead to no one executing on something that may be important but not urgent. You want to eliminate employees thinking “I didn’t know it was my responsibility.”

Consultants or visitors must be aware of and follow the same requirements as your employees if you are to maintain the quality of your grow. Specific training should be given to anyone that handles or works around toxic chemicals. Safety sheets are not just paper; They keep people alive.

Equipment & Service Procedures

Be direct and specific in your task definitions, i.e., “Use 5ml of soap, clean until no plant matter or debris remains.”

Figure 4: Full GMP certified facility, FarmaGrowers, South Africa

Ideally, grow facilities, equipment and access will be designed with cleaning in mind from the start. This is not always possible but it is the mark of successful manufacturing or production companies.

Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning: think sterile, food safety and consumer consumption protections. SOPs should define cleaning methods and materials. This cleaning is done on schedule and aligned to your preventative maintenance and calibration requirements. Precise results require precise structure for any long-term operation.

We recommend that you integrate pictures and videos in the instructions for your procedures and training so that nothing is left to chance or misinterpreted.

Material Handling, Containers, Labels, Quality Assurance

Personnel contamination/cross-contamination are the death of any grow operation. Do everything you can to limit stray or wandering plant material, dust or debris from migrating from one grow room or area to another. Isolation is a good way to limit outbreaks to a specific room to minimize losses.

Figure 5: Documented SOPs must be followed & reviewed regularly

If something nasty happens to one of your rooms. Good labeling enforced by your quality assurance team is a simple way to increase the likelihood that employees will do a task as intended. This adds to your repeatability as people change jobs or roles are redefined.

Approved Procedures & Instructions

Quality assurance is all about repeatability and intended outcomes. Documenting procedures and intended use enables every new employee to follow the experience of the masters and duplicate their success. Testing, sampling and logging your results along the way enables you to know that you are on schedule and on process, so you can predict your results every time.

Part of your continuous improvement approach will be to deal with exceptions that are not covered by your procedures. Learning about those exceptions and capturing your experience with an improved method will lead to better outcomes the next time around.

Documentation, References, Appendices

Figure 6: Flower sealed & ready for export, DanCann, Denmark

You’ve done all of this hard work to capture your operation, so you need a complete library of your reference work and approach that employees can access. It does your operation no good if you capture your methods and no one ever looks at them again. Training cycles and reviewing your defined procedures is key to a consistent high-quality result.

Hero Award

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMP) and Good Agricultural & Collection Practices (GACP), are all terms that will become more familiar as cannabis production joins into one global market. Professional results will be required and national or international certifications will be the guarantees that any global customer can trust that a product meets the standards they expect.

We have many customers in North America and around the world. but DanCann Pharma is the most aggressive when it comes to meeting international standards and results. Producing flower that is so pure that no irradiation is required for export, the DanCann operation is fully certified for production throughout Europe and they are sold-out of capacity for the coming year. They are currently expanding their operations in Denmark and are a solid example to follow for a well-defined repeatable operation. FarmaGrowers in South Africa is a close second in this race with multiple export certifications of their own. The future looks bright for both of these global operations.

For the complete white paper on Top Quality Cultivation Facilities, download the document here.

Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference

The Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference is back! For eight years now, we have been hosting this complimentary collection of webinar presentations, designed to help attendees better understand some of the more technical aspects of starting and operating a laboratory. We will take a deep dive into cannabis testing, potency testing, regulations, sample preparation, management and much more.
Attendees registering for this complimentary series of webinars will get access to seven veterans of the cannabis lab testing industry, who are all available for Q&A after each presentation. In addition to getting the opportunity to chat with these subject matter experts on February 21, a recording of the presentations will be made available to all who register.
Practical and educational information from experts in the cannabis lab testing industry, all on the same day and all from the comfort of your lab, home or office. Want real inside knowledge on the cannabis testing industry? Stay tuned for more and make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to find out when registration opens!

2022 Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference: December Program

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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2022 Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference: December Program

Sponsored by Avivatech & Millipore Sigma

Click here to watch the recording

Agenda

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.

TechTalk: Avivatech

  • 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

TechTalk: MilliporeSigma

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.

Click here to watch the recording

The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations: Climate, Cultivation & Genetics – Part 5

By Phil Gibson
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This is Part 5 in The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations series. Click here to see Part 1, here to see Part 2,  here to see Part 3, and here to see part 4. Stay tuned for the final piece in the series, Part 6, coming in the new year.

Genetics

With climate and cultivation methods explored, today, we cover the third leg in the primary stool, genetics. Some would say good genetics is all that you need and anyone can be successful with good genetics. We all know that this is not experience talking. Things can go wrong, even with great genetics. Here are some inputs how to pick great genetics so you have them on your side.

Hybrids & Strains

Seeds, the beginning of genetic performance

Everything successful cultivators grow is aligned to their consumer audience. This is hard to predict as the desires in your market will migrate over time as one variety will be highly popular and poof, it’s not, so constant change is necessary. Finding the right flower at the right time is the trick.

The first thing to decide in your pursuit of the ideal phenotype (or pheno-hunt) are your target customers. Assuming you’ve made the choice to go “top-shelf” for aeroponic or hydroponic flower, your variety selection comes down to filial breeder seeds or stable strains from suppliers you know.

Filial hybrids are developed by professional breeders. Two distinct inbred strains are repetitively crossed until their traits are highly consistent. At this point, these carefully inbred lines are crossed to selectively mix the two well defined sets of traits. Filial hybrids are stable and you can usually rely on the robust nature of these seeds.

Strains, on the other hand, are the cross of two strains but they may not be inbred stable filial strains. Sometimes this results in something amazing, but just as randomly, the traits can morph into something disappointing.

Our advice here is to pay the premium and start with high quality reliable stock.

Uniformity

Consistency? Will you grow one variety or multiple varieties per room and per harvest; will they grow well together? Do they grow and test out in a consistent manner (plant size, color, bud size & yield, tested terpene profiles, aroma, disease resistance or tolerance). Are you growing for top shelf flower or bulk extraction? I will focus this discussion on top shelf flower. Premium seeds from professional filial hybrids are not a guarantee, but they are designed to be stable and consistent in their growth and results targeting high performance.

High cannabinoids: 420Kingdom Grapes & Cream

Here, experience counts and reliable seed vendors tend to be well established with filial lines that are worth the investment. Once you acquire your genetics, how to leverage that investment?

Killer Genetics

What traits does your consumer want? Initial searches usually target THC or CBD levels and they evolve to special terpene profiles or pleasing aromas. Flower or bud shape, color, size, density, and stickiness are also traits that can differentiate your genetics. As a producer, you also want to target yield including tall or stretching genetics, or short and fast flowering, germination rates (sometimes they don’t) and percentage of likely hermaphroditing (seldom zero). The qualitative aspects (smoking characteristics) of your production flower that deliver a unique customer experience, both real and imagined, wrap up your brand experience.

So, as you can guess, one size does not fit all types of consumers. Very high yielders that are immediately targeted for extraction offer very different values than perhaps a smaller yielding very potent top shelf smokeable bud. It is a good strategy to plan for a handful of strains that you can bring to market so you have something that will hit the sweet-spot when you deliver your harvests.

Seeds

Seeds with documented guarantees from reliable sources eliminate the characteristic risk, and with the right testing reports, they guarantee no pathogens as well.

The challenge of seeds can be genetic variation, as discussed above, depending on the stability of the commercial breeder. This potential variance can lead to surprises and disappointment. Starting from seed also takes more time to germinate the seeds, exterminate the males, grow mother plants, take cuttings, and start the cycle. This can add 12-16 weeks to your go-green targets for your flower rooms. Be sure to integrate this cycle time planning into your production cycle.

Clones

Insourced clones are the fastest way to go green and move through veg to produce flowering plants and bud harvest. Clones are created by taking a branch cutting from a “mother” plant and typically “rooting” that cutting using an aeroponic cloning system. This clone process can take a few days or weeks depending on the grow environment and aeroponics process. A rooted clone maintains the genetic characteristics and phenotype of the mother plant.

The typical way smaller grow shops get started is through buying clones that are made from these rooted branch cuttings. The combination of mother plants, clones, and sometimes “veg” plants are gathered together in a “nursery”. Nurseries need to be stable for long periods of time to produce the veg growth necessary for cuttings. This time delay makes it harder for the nursery provider to keep the area sterile, without disease, and without pests. If the mothers carry a disease, they are likely to transfer that biologic over to the cuttings. If the media that the clones are grown in picks up root gnats, they will travel with the clones into your facility. The short answer is source your clones from professionally run operations. This trust is worth every penny.

Blue Dream clone array: AEssenseGrows

Insourcing clones allows you to avoid the cost and complexity of running a “nursery”, but this also moves the pest management and quality of mother stock and clones outside of your control zone. In other words, you depend on the clone supplier for both healthy plants AND availability. No clone available from your supplier means no flower in your grow rooms. Your production revenue depends on the reliability of your clone supplier in many ways.

In some grow operations, the nursery is extended to cover the vegetative growth stage of cannabis plants or “veg.” In other approaches, a flower room is occupied for an additional week or two for veg growth. We at AEssenseGrows are strong advocates of running all cloning and vegging activity in a vertical aeroponic nursery in parallel to your flower rooms

Mothers, clone, and veg stages all grow with a vegetative growth light schedule (18 hours on, 6 hours off). The typical process is to take a cutting from a mother plant, place that in an aeroponic “cloner” for 10-12 days until a healthy set of roots is formed for the cutting. That clone is then typically pinched off at the top of the plant at which point the veg stage can begin. Light intensity is gradually increased and the plants are typically vegged for an additional 2 weeks, at this point, you have a bushy veg plant that is ready for a 12/12 light cycle and flowering.

In aeroponics, all of this is done in nursery space. If you choose to use soil or grow media approaches, a series of increasingly larger buckets or rockwool cubes are needed to manage the veg stage and the transition to flower. This can be done in a dedicated veg room or for the first week or two in the flower rooms

Tissue Culture

Healthy Agent Orange mothers: Onyx

Another method for creating your young plants is tissue culture. This is the method of harvesting genetic material from an existing plant with desired characteristics. These genetic samples can be contamination free and even supplied by a genetic bank. A portion of these tissues are cultured in a gel grow tray and the plant will develop roots with a stalk that reaches upward for light energy.

These plant starts are hardened in a similar method to cloning and typically, these starts are grown into mothers that supply your cuttings for the clone cycle. This is an advanced method, so plan for research and development with expected delays to the front end of your sourcing cycle if you choose this path.

Strain Examples

Selecting the best genetics for your market is an art form. Many choices abound. High yielding dense classic strains are Blue Dream, Skittles, Sour Diesel and Girl Scout Cookies. Each of these deliver a typical 18%-24% THC content from fast growing, medium height high plants that yield dense buds. Very potent THC genetics that are popular currently are various “OG” genetics, Bruce Banner, various “Cake” genetics and Kush options. Variants of these run from 25% to 35% THC content.

This Chapter’s Hero Award

Every customer produces great results for their markets but we are very impressed by the genetic selections by 420Kingdom in the central valley of California. Jeffrey Thorn is the owner there and continues to impress with a range of high potency genetics that demand premium prices and sell out regularly in their highly competitive market.

With good genetics for your consumers, you are positioned to be successful. Advanced cultivation methods like aeroponics and hydroponics can give you a lift and the right environment and nutrition helps you tie this all together. Our next and last chapter will cover consistency and repeatability through Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

First Pharma vs Cannabis Clinical Trial Moves Forward

By Christina DiArcangelo
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Affinity Bio Partners on Working with Zelira Therapeutics to Complete Enrolment for Diabetic Nerve Pain Drug Trial

It’s an exciting time in the medical cannabis community as Zelira, a global leader in the research, development and commercialization of clinically validated cannabinoid medicines, and Affinity Bio Partners, a leading, global clinical research organization, have completed enrollment for a diabetic nerve pain drug trial. The Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved head-to-head trial read out is expected in Q1 of 2023. Two years in the making, the study’s clinical management, clinical trial site monitoring, subject recruitment, regulatory submissions and review and query of data have brought us to a pivotal point that could pave the way for how future clinical studies are conducted in the medical cannabis community. As someone who comes from traditional pharma and biotechnology industries, heading up a clinical study in the medical cannabis realm has been a significantly different, eye-opening and informative experience that reinforces the dire need for mainstream, medical cannabis education.

Difficulties of Enrolling Subjects in a Cannabinoid-Based Clinical Study 

There are a number of reasons that enrolling a cannabinoid study is very challenging. One of the biggest challenges to overcome is creating educational clinical study material that will be approved by the Institutional Review Board while educating potential subjects who are interested in enrolling. In other words, one must fully understand the regulatory landscape that they’re operating in, and we all know cannabis is a tricky one, while still educating potential subjects.

When screening subjects, it is important to be able to thoroughly share facts regarding cannabinoids, terpenes and other ingredients utilized in the study material. Also, sharing information on the endocannabinoid system is important, and a must for subjects to understand. In addition, it is integral to share and contrast between the traditional pharmaceutical products versus the cannabinoid study drug. Meaning, most subjects understand and are familiar with pills and other treatments approved in the traditional FDA regulated pharmaceutical space. Therefore, you must ensure that you create a bridge between a study’s educational materials and the lack of mainstream education about cannabinoid-based therapies.

The Impact This Will Have on Future Cannabinoid-Based Clinical Studies

There is a lot of hope that by working on a study of this magnitude, that we will pave the way for many more companies to bravely enter the clinical trial space as it pertains to medical cannabis. Everything that is being performed in this Zelira clinical study is in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The team is utilizing an electronic patient reported outcomes and electronic data capture system to receive data directly from the clinical trial sites as they are seeing the patients. As more patients, groups, communities and organizations learn about this, we hope that other large players in the cannabis industry invest their money wisely and perform clinical studies on their formulated products. Companies are unable to make claims of product safety and efficacy legally without these clinical studies. As we approach 2023, it is time for us as an industry to begin forecasting future clinical studies that will help power the therapeutic benefits this plant has to offer in responsible, controlled settings.

The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations: Climate, Cultivation & Genetics – Part 4

By Phil Gibson
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This is Part 4 in The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations series. Click here to see Part 1, here to see Part 2, and here to see Part 3. Stay tuned for Part 5, coming next week.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

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.

Figure 1: Example of Pythium Infected & Healthy Roots

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.

Procedures

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.

Figure 2: Healthy Mothers & Clones, Onyx Agronomics

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.

Engineering Controls

Figure 3: Access Control: Air Shower, FarmaGrowers

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.

Oxidizers

Figure 4: AEssenseGrows Aeroponic Nozzles

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.

Water Chilling

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.

To download the complete guide and get to the beef quickly, please request the complete white paper Top Quality Cultivation Facilities here.

Stay tuned for Part 5 coming next week where we’ll discuss Genetics.

Challenges Abound for Cannabis Industry Growth in 2023

By Jay Virdi
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With an adverse regulatory environment, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and the always-present threat of property damage and product recalls, cannabis operators are fighting an uphill battle to stay viable in today’s environment.

According to Politico, more than 20 of the largest publicly-traded cannabis companies lost about $550 million on revenues of nearly $4.5 billion in the first half of 2022. High taxes and barriers to interstate commerce continue to challenge the industry as well, while lenders and investors are demanding more detailed proof of future profitability. Those pursuing new capital must show how they will grow financially and present their risk management strategy for insuring themselves against losses.

Higher costs for fertilizer, building materials, packaging and more, along with rising inflation are hurting the industry’s bottom line as well, but the industry is hesitant to raise prices.

These challenges are expected to continue in 2023. However, the industry’s fast pace of growth, myriad opportunities for product development and increased access to insurance capacity offers the cannabis industry every reason for optimism.

Prioritize risk strategies

Cannabis facilities face hazards from the very components and systems required to cultivate plants, including high intensity discharge lighting, chemical exposures and butane in oil extractions. As a condition of insuring a property, underwriters are inspecting the equipment used in production and fire suppression systems.

Property policies typically don’t cover out-buildings for cannabis growers located near a hurricane or wildfire zone, and more carriers are limiting or excluding coverage for losses from large-scale natural disasters. Even coverage for crop losses from catastrophic events is limited and often prohibitively expensive.

Cannabis companies are shoring up their risk strategies and analyzing policies to ensure they’re aware of any gaps in coverage and planning how to address them. This includes adding cyber insurance, as cyber also remains a significant loss-driver in the industry.

Beware of new risks

The cannabis industry is introducing products to the market at a breakneck pace, causing new challenges to emerge. New products — such as THC-infused beverages, sugar-free cannabis tarts and cannabinoid-containing baking staples— require additional research and development for extraction, packaging, storage and distribution. And many products require refrigeration and bottling, adding complexity to distribution.

The continued growth of the cannabis edibles and beverages market is also driving companies to create new formulas, products, and strengths. But this innovation does add risk. States issued dozens of recalls in 2022 for marijuana edibles, including mislabeling and mold and salmonella contamination. These incidents have attracted the attention of plaintiffs’ attorneys, who have filed suits on behalf of consumers claiming injury from these mislabeled or contaminated products.

Invest in your staff

Although the number of jobs in the cannabis industry grew 33% between 2021 and 2022, and the need for new workers shows no signs of slowing, cannabis companies are experiencing high turnover rates and a skilled labor shortage. This is forcing operators to spend additional time and money to attract and retain employees.

Personalized benefits programs offer a partial answer. Personalizing benefits to meet individual employee needs results in positive employee experiences, helping build a workplace that attracts and retains workers. Many companies are adding health insurance and offering 401(k) plans, raising wages and adopting other worker-friendly practices to attract and retain workers.

control the room environment

Cannabis companies with solid risk management plans and advisors to help ensure their insurance policies cover exposures, will be well-positioned to overcome industry challenges, grow, and succeed in 2023. Here are four considerations to help develop a tailored strategy that will protect your bottom line, support your workforce, and build resiliency next year.

  1. Be transparent with your broker. Let your broker know what changes you’ve made to the business, so there are no surprises during renewal. Review exposures and insurance needs at least 90 days prior to policy renewal, so your broker can identify the best options.
  2. Prepare for a product recall. The odds of experiencing a product recall are high. Your first line of defense is your internal policies and procedures, and that includes thoroughly vetting your vendors and partners. Be thoughtful about the general liability and product liability coverage you purchase and ask your broker to clearly explain the differences in coverage.  
  3. Build resiliency within your company. With more carriers offering specialty coverages for the cannabis industry, now is the time to look at how best to protect your executives and build resiliency by insuring against director and officer liability claims, business interruptions and cyberattacks. Your broker can help identify the best policies for your company.
  4. Establish solid employee benefits. The cannabis industry can have access to the same benefits as other industries, including 401(k) plans. Talk to your broker about taking your benefits program to the next level with highly personalized options that won’t break your budget.

Even amidst the challenges, there is every reason for optimism in the new year because of the industry’s fast pace of growth, myriad opportunities for product development and increased access to insurance capacity.

cannabis close up

Benefits To Growing Cannabis In A Cleanroom Environment

By Steve Gonzales
1 Comment
cannabis close up

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:

  • Cleanroom-rated HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arrestor) filtration
  • Contamination control mats
  • Positive-pressure airflow systems
  • Double-door air chambers at entry points
  • Moisture-resistant wall panels
control the room environment
Preventing contamination can save a business from extremely costly recalls.

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

Cleanrooms negate the risk of fungal contamination through proper ventilation, particulate control and positive pressure.

Cannabis is prone to certain types of fungal spores that can cause severe illness in end customers. For example, Aspergillus mold spores 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.