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As the legalization of cannabis becomes mainstream in the United States, farmers are discovering new ways to grow the crop.

DeMario Vitalis, owner of New Age Provisions Farms, an Indianapolis-based farming company, has experience growing a variety of crops outdoors, but a few years ago he started looking for something new, a method which could give him more control over his work. .

In 2019, Vitalis began to explore growing hemp indoors in hydroponics – the process of growing plants in a nutrient solution above ground, Cannabis business time Previously reported.

That year, Vitalis began working with Freight Farms, a Boston-based company that provides growers with growing software integrated into a 320 square foot shipping container. It received its first sea container from the company in August 2020 and its second in January.

Through the use of automation equipment, Greenery S and farm workers, Freight Farms has created a way for producers to control and access their farming operations from anywhere in the world.

According to James Woolward, director of marketing at Freight Farms, the Greenery S manages the environment inside 40ft shipping containers using four specialized systems: air control, light, water and nutrients. It also has sensors throughout the grow area so that it can transmit crop information, data and updates directly to Farmhand, an operating system app that growers can download to their phones.

Freight Farms works with farmers who grow several different crops hydroponically inside shipping containers, including lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, flowers, roots and more, but the company recently started incorporating cannabis and hemp.

“We have three or four [growers] right now, who are growing cannabis and hemp, ”says Woolward. “They’re independent customers, so they buy the farm from us, and then they set up their own business. We have quite a few clients [who use this as] an addition to their traditional agriculture because you take away the seasonality, basically. “

Benefits

One of the most important benefits of growing hydroponic cannabis and hemp in a shipping container is that growers don’t have to worry about the climate outside, says Woolward. Instead, they can harvest year round, even in areas that reach extremely hot or cold temperatures.

“We have a lot of customers in Alaska and Canada, and you can imagine during the winter the [shipping containers] become more of a driving force behind their business, as this gives [them] who control 365 days a year, ”he says.

© Courtesy of New Age Provisions Farms

Vitalis

Despite Vitalis’ experience with growing outdoors, he says he prefers growing in the shipping container. This gave Vitalis greater control over his crops which he needed as he can manage his crops even when not nearby. Freight Farms’ environmental monitoring system allows them to see what’s going on in and around their hemp crops.

“It reminds me if the levels get too low or too high to check the app and set alerts,” he says. “If I leave the farm, I can go to the app, turn on the lights, and make sure the fans and pumps are running. And as that happens, it also measures the environment on the farm. It measures temperature, humidity, CO2 [carbon dioxide] levels, pH and EC levels [electrical conductivity] levels. So, this is all at your fingertips, and you can also control and set these levels, depending on what you’re farming. “

Additionally, Woolward says harvest time in a shipping container compared to growing outdoors may be shorter (depending on the variety) due to the intensity of the nutrients entering the plants directly, combined with the lights. LED, which growers can use to replicate natural light. but at a higher force, he said.

Challenges

Vitalis says one of the biggest learning curves in transitioning from outdoor growing to indoor hydroponics has been learning the correct dosage of nutrients for your crops.

As Robert Eddy, consultant and former greenhouse director at Purdue University, previously wrote for Cannabis business time, during hydroponics, “nutrient solutions are automatically introduced into the irrigation lines using a fertilizer injector drawing from concentrated fertilizer reservoirs or pumps drawing from pre-solution reservoirs. mixed ”.

“When you grow outdoors the nutrients are provided with the soil, but in a shipping container you have to supplement the nutrients and the dosing tanks,” says Vitalis. “In [hydroponic cultivation], the nutrients that hemp plants need are also taken up by other plants, such as your herbs and lettuce. So, you just need to experiment and error and see what hemp likes and what other lettuces like. [Freight Farms] also gives you an extra reservoir to put in extra nutrients. “

Ensuring the tanks inside the shipping container were filled with water was another challenge Vitalis faced when making the switch to hydroponics. If the reservoirs are not filled, it also affects the nutrients.

“When you grow hydroponically, you are totally dependent on water,” he says. “One of the things I had to learn was to make sure the tanks are full, the pumps are running, and there is water flowing because the machine will tell you the pump is on. works and it works, but it won’t tell you that there is water flowing in the pumps. “

He suggests that growers who practice hydroponics check the water flow frequently to make sure their plants are staying healthy, he says.

Opportunities

Producers can buy a farm from Freight Farms for around $ 140,000, and operating costs can range from $ 25,000 to $ 30,000 per year depending on wages like electricity, water and annual supplies. , said Woolward.

Woolward suggests growers have a good understanding of their local zoning, regulations, and customer base before growing in a shipping container.

“The key to our clients’ success is their good business people who go out to search the market and understand their market and how best to serve that market to get the revenue generated,” Woolward said.

Vitalis also suggests that growers weigh the pros and cons of hydroponics versus traditional cultivation based on their region.

“Sometimes there can be more benefits to doing a traditional type of farming than growing hydroponically,” says Vitalis. “For example, if you have access to a bunch of land, it might be a good idea to farm traditional farming. You just want to make sure your numbers are correct before you jump in.”


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