Sometimes it feels like you need a crystal ball to design a new cannabis cultivation facility or retrofit an existing grow system.
Many of the decisions that go into facility design mean answering basic but essential questions like whether you’ll be growing indoors or outdoors, or from seeds or clones. But operations planning is also very much a process of trying to peer into the future and anticipate the needs of your business not just for today, but also years from now.
That sort of forecasting is challenging in any business, but especially in one where regulations are still evolving in newly legal states, and where the industry is always changing even in well-established markets. When it comes to doing business in cannabis and agriculture—as longtime Grateful Dead roadie and wrangler Steve Parish put it—“The situation is the boss.”
Ancillary Services for Cannabis Cultivation
That’s where ancillary services come in. Operations experts like Next Big Crop help business owners and managers make the big decisions about their cultivation facility design and workflow optimization, equipment selection and how to best anticipate future regulatory demands concerning resource utilization.
The way we see it, it takes a whole crew to help the rockstars at any cannabis business shine and do their best work. Contracting the services of someone who specializes in cannabis cultivation is the difference between playing on a venue’s house PA system or bringing your own wall of sound to the show—controlling your situation is the way to get the best results.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at cannabis building infrastructure and the major concerns for operators, from getting your business off the ground to expanding into new markets.
What Is Commercial Cultivation Consulting for Cannabis Companies?
For over a century, traditional business consulting has typically focused on advising companies on how best to adopt organizational and management models that have proven effective across multiple sectors—selling mattresses versus selling cars isn’t all that different.
But in the cannabis industry, where laws vary widely state to state and between municipalities too, consultancies flip that model on its head to instead offer highly customized assessments tailored to a business’s unique needs in the regulatory environments where it operates.
The cannabis industry has also done a 180 on the concept that a consultancy will connect its clients with only select partners or solutions.
Instead, cannabis cultivation consultancies like Next Big Crop take an agnostic approach. That means we’ve built a wide network of highly vetted vendors and only connect our clients with options that best meet the particular needs of their business model. Our network covers all the aspects of commercial cannabis growing, from genetics consulting to lighting, irrigation, HVAC and the many other infrastructure components.
Those industry connections are paired with our team’s years of experience in the finer points of facility design and ensuring operations both new and established are compliant, efficient and capable of producing the long-term results you’re aiming for.
Facility Design and Optimization for Cannabis Cultivators
During the height of the underground era of cannabis, before a majority of states legalized medical and / or recreational adult use and sales, cultivation facility design was especially beholden to “the situation.” From clandestine field grows to hidden exurban grow houses to indoor operations that were literally underground in buried school buses, cultivators have always had a creative streak.
Today, however, cultivation facility design has become much more standardized thanks to state regulations that are enforced by inspectors the same way restaurants, tattoo parlors and public pools are. That said, there’s still a lot of room for cultivators to play and find creative solutions to meet their grow goals.
A good facility design consultant will be able to help business owners find the sweet spot between their budget, location, timeline and product ambitions. They’ll offer guidance about how to allocate the space in the site footprint—whether it’s a single building or multiple structures—to maximize room for daily production and include protected storage for strain libraries or other purposes. They can also optimize a cultivation facility for specific grow parameters, such as an operation producing top shelf bud and one growing flower that will be used in extracts. If, like Next Big Crop, the specialist also has expertise in cannabis breeding and genetics, they can help to allocate space within the facility, during the design phase, to accomplish these goals.
Resource management is another critical aspect of operations. A facility optimization expert will also advise on how to arrange equipment within the space, particularly for more complex setups such as those incorporating wastewater recirculation or condensation capture. A facility consultant can also assist in retrofitting existing operations to improve efficiency or implement new cultivation equipment or growing techniques such as implementing LED grow lighting or automated fertigation.
Equipment Selection, Sourcing and Integration
One of the most important roles a cannabis cultivation consultant can play is that of translator. Think of all the different equipment vendors who work with the cannabis industry. The products and services they offer include:
- Air Movement
- CO2 Injection
- Racking & Plant Management Solutions
- Harvesting, Trimming and Drying Equipment
- Packaging Equipment
- Seed-to-Sale Hardware and Software
- Substrates & Nutrients
- Microbial & Pest Management Delivery Solutions
Those companies all have high degrees of expertise in very different areas, and may be more or less fluent in the language of cannabis. A consultant’s job is to bring together multiple vendors in unison on the right timeline and within budget and help the cannabis operator understand how those vendors will work together to meet his or her facility needs. To take it one step further, a consultant can also unite all these systems with a centralized building management platform. It’s a process that takes time and detailed planning.
After all, no two grows are the same, and an agnostic approach ensures each cultivation facility is partnered with the exact right equipment that’s needed—not simply the few companies connected to a traditional consultancy. That’s especially true when it comes to other aspects of sourcing vendors.
An equipment sourcing and integration specialist, for example, might recommend harvest and post-processing equipment to a cultivation operator. That includes a laundry list of items: trimming equipment and grinders, rolling machines, sterilization equipment, packaging equipment, extraction equipment and evaporators.
An equipment specialist would also have suggestions on which packaging companies would be the best fit for a cannabis grower’s products in the state(s) where they are located. Indeed, a good consultant will be able to advise operators on what they’ll need from the moment their license is in hand (or even before) to the moment the first harvest reaches dispensary shelves.
Retrofits to Minimize Operational Interference
Another area where a cannabis infrastructure consultant can come in handy is retrofitting. There are a lot of reasons to reassess and renovate an existing grow. Reducing operational costs through more efficient facilities design, carving out space for a strain library if the business is becoming more focused on cannabis genetics to better meet consumer demand, improving resource utilization, or reacting to new regulatory requirements are all reasons why an operator would want to retrofit.
Retrofit projects come in many forms:
- LED lighting upgrades
- LED transition rebates
- HVAC rebates/upgrades
- Irrigation Automation
- Single-tier to multi-tier conversions
- Water and condensate reclamation
Many of these alterations reduce operating costs, as with more energy-efficient, cooler-running LED lights. Other retrofits might be set in motion when a state offers rebates that incentivize an upgrade to more efficient LED lighting or HVAC systems. Still more may be in anticipation of, or in response to, regulatory shifts that prioritize water conservation and fertilizer runoff reduction. Whatever the inspiration, retrofits can be more challenging than new builds for a number of reasons, not the least of which is avoiding operational interference.
Indeed, it’s expensive enough to replace a major piece of infrastructure like your grow lights or irrigation system without also missing out on revenue when a facility goes offline for retrofitting. A quality cannabis facilities specialist will be able to not only coordinate with vendors for the equipment that a grower needs, but also advise on how to protect ongoing operations through a major project.
Vertical Cannabis Growing
A consultant can also make recommendations about retrofits that could vastly increase the capacity of your grow facility, such as single- to multi-tier conversions. Many cultivators choose to adopt vertical grow structures in tandem with new installations like LED lighting systems, which put off a lot less heat than traditional HID grow lights. That means the LED lights can sit closer to the cannabis plants, thus maximizing grow space.
Vertical cannabis cultivation tends to go hand in hand with other upgrades too—not just the lighting. Many also incorporate automated growing systems that control irrigation, fertilization and CO2 delivery with less labor overhead. Humidity control and condensation recapture are also popular in conjunction with vertical grows thanks to the increased ambient moisture produced by a greater number of plants housed in close proximity.
Sustainability and Cannabis Cultivation
While many cultivators make their facility design and equipment decisions based on their bottom line, there’s no denying that sustainability has become a watchword in cannabis. Consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the resource requirements of cannabis cultivation and seek out brands that have environmentally friendly brand messaging and practices.
Pressure on cultivators will likely increase from all sides as regulators and government agencies turn their eye to water-intensive crops of all sorts. That’s particularly true of the drought-stricken western states that include some of the country’s most established legal cannabis markets.
Getting ahead of potential regulations is a good motivator for cultivators to take a proactive approach to their facility design and retrofit timetables. It’s better to optimize efficiency and sustainability now before regulators require the industry to change on a dime—and before every cultivator needs to make similar changes at the same time.
Next Big Crop cultivation specialists have advised business owners and investors in markets throughout America. We specialize in optimizing and scaling cultivation operations, with comprehensive support for cannabis genetics sourcing, license procurement, facility design and construction. We are experts in systems integration, equipment and materials sourcing, facility management and compliance. Contact us today to expand your business.