How Much Is Hand Watering Your Cannabis Garden Really Costing You? 

Hand watering may be the classic tactic in cannabis cultivation, but it can cost growers more than they realize—in both profitability and quality. Although it’s traditional and seemingly straight forward, hand watering lacks the efficiency of irrigation automation. And if there’s one thing cannabis cultivators always need in a competitive industry, it’s efficiency.

While the initial investment in automated irrigation systems for cannabis cultivation may seem daunting, the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs—and it’s entirely possible to automate irrigation in a 10,000 square foot grow for $10,000. By eliminating common problems associated with hand watering, such as labor inefficiencies and the risk of human error, growers can achieve significant cost savings, increase yields, and improve overall quality.

With a clear ROI calculation and the ability to continually refine and optimize operations, investing in automated irrigation is a smart choice for any cannabis cultivator looking to stay ahead in a competitive market. If you still have doubts, we’ve outlined exactly what problems irrigation automation can solve at your grow—and the financial results you can bank on.

How Does Irrigation Automation Solve Problems at Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Facilities

There are a few common problems at commercial grows that are associated with hand watering. Staff members—however well trained—may water at inconsistent rates or slightly different times. Not only that, the hand watering process itself is incredibly time and labor intensive, from filling and mixing reservoirs to moving hoses around and applying fertilizers and fungicides. 

When equipment is transferred to different parts of the grow and used on myriad plants, it’s easier to spread pests and disease. Hand watering also increases the risk of flooding grow rooms due to forgetfulness or negligence. It’s almost impossible to ever completely eliminate human error from the equation, especially when it comes to as complex a process as cannabis cultivation at scale.

Irrigation automation reduces human error in measurements, enhances integrated pest management (IPM) culture, and reduces the number of man hours needed—not to mention the number of points of contact with delicate plants. 

How Much Does It Cost to Install Irrigation Automation Equipment in a Commercial Cannabis Facility?

Are these problems serious enough, however, to justify spending your hard-earned profits on a cultivation equipment upgrade? Let’s start with the initial investment. 

$40,000 is a lot of money—that’s a fact. That’s roughly what it costs to build an automated irrigation system for a medium-sized cannabis garden. The actual cost of the system will vary depending on the size of your grow, how efficient your cannabis facility design is and the system components you choose. But $40,000 is a good ballpark figure for a solid entry-level irrigation automation system—about the size of a Maryland Micro Grower Facility, or a New York State cannabis microbusiness.

This investment covers a range of components, including a reverse osmosis system, reservoirs, controllers for irrigation management systems, EC and pH sensors, Dosatron injectors, filters, PVC piping, solenoids, drippers and drip lines, and water content sensors. While this may seem like a significant upfront expense, it’s essential to consider the long-term benefits and cost savings that such a system can offer. 

Calculating Return on Investment  for Irrigation Automation Equipment 

The return on investment (ROI) for implementing automated irrigation systems, and systems integration in general, can be substantial. Let’s break it down problem by problem:

Labor Cost Savings of Irrigation Automation Equipment

It takes roughly 20 seconds to water each cannabis plant in a typical grow – this takes into account mixing, pH adjustment, dragging hoses and hand-cleaning reservoirs. If a cultivation facility has 1,000 plants, that’s 5.5 hours just moving from plant to plant, not including setup and takedown, measuring/mixing nutrients in reservoirs, moving hoses, cleaning, etc. The average cannabis grower costs a business $25/hour ($20 wage plus taxes, benefits, etc), which means that a business will spend over $50,000 per year just on the labor associated with hand watering. 

That number doesn’t include inputs like the water itself, filtration, fertigation or pest control—all of which can also be used more efficiently through irrigation automation for further savings on top of that $50,000.

Reduced Dependency Through Irrigation Automation

Cannabis cultivation expertise is incredibly valuable, but you don’t need analog processes to capitalize on those smarts. With irrigation automation owners no longer need to rely on individual employees’ daily reliability, “secret sauce” or intuition to maintain garden health. 

Automated systems provide data-driven precision, allowing for more informed decision-making and consistent results. Substrate moisture levels can be assessed through actual numbers and values that are recorded over time for later analysis and optimization. 

That data can in turn be used to better train staff in the long term. And in the short term, it takes only the click of a few buttons on a computer or mobile device to adjust the system on the fly and improve conditions across the whole grow—or only on a row that isn’t keeping up with others in the garden.

Increased Yields and Quality:

The amount of time and attention cultivation staff currently spend on hand watering can instead be turned to other plant improvements like scouting for pests or evidence of bud rot. That additional attention can be used to optimize growing conditions, leading to higher yields and better quality cannabis. An irrigation automation system never calls in sick or has a low-energy day. It’s consistent and controlled in a way that humans simply can’t match, especially when you automate other functions at your grow, too, like implementing fertilizer injection systems. 

A well-designed irrigation automation system brings better numbers to the garden—and better numbers in the bank account. On top of the $50,000 saved on hand-watering labor costs, you can also expect a 5-10% overall yield increase across all production areas after automating irrigation mixing and delivery. 

It may sound too good to be true, but the thing about data-based cultivation strategy is that the numbers don’t lie. The initial outlay on irrigation automation equipment can be recouped through the labor savings, which means the revenue from higher yields and better quality can be used on other cultivation equipment upgrades, improved wages for staff retention or other investments in the business.

Of course, there is no universally perfect system. Every grow will benefit best from its own unique irrigation automation system. If you want to talk to Next Big Crop and our design team about an irrigation design for your facility—please reach out. We work directly with cultivators to evaluate the unique factors within your specific operation, such as existing methodology, nutrient preferences, budget constraints, and timeline considerations, and tailor your system to meet your specific needs. 

When is the best time to start that conversation? We’re ready when you are.