Vertical farming is expected to be a $15.7 billion industry by 2025. Cultivation experts widely regard this approach as more efficient and environmentally friendly, all while being less wasteful when compared to other cultivation methods. Now, it’s popping up in high-value crops like cannabis. Could vertical cannabis grows become the future of the industry?
Cannabis, in particular, is well-suited for vertical farming. As one of the most resource-intensive and expensive crops to grow, the economics of vertical farming stand to make a significant impact on the entire cannabis industry.
What is a Vertical Cannabis Grow?
Vertical cannabis operations build out grow space from floor to ceiling instead of a single horizontal layer in an indoor facility. By adding to a facility’s capability without impacting square footage, cultivators can produce double or triple the yields in the same space.
Historically, there are two vertical grow methods utilized in the cannabis industry: stacked vertical grows and true vertical grows.
- A stacked vertical system consists of several levels of racks stacked on top of one another, each outfitted with LED lighting and other environmental controls.
- True vertical cultivation systems physically stack plants on top of each other, commonly growing out of a central tower. Lights and irrigation are similarly repositioned from a horizontal bearing to a vertical one.
5 Ways Vertical Cannabis Grows are Changing Cultivation
Urban farmers have been relying on vertical farming techniques for years, especially for growing vegetables, leafy greens, and herbs. But, with the rise of the legal cannabis sector, this stackable setup is gaining traction for cash crops as well.
For high-value crops like cannabis, this facility design is already changing how the industry operates.
#1: Vertical Cannabis Grows Maximize Space Efficiency
Vertical cannabis grows are especially beneficial for indoor cultivators looking to maximize every square foot of facility space. When grown vertically, cultivators can harvest more cannabis per square foot — up to six times more — than a traditional indoor, single-level canopy layout.
Vertical cultivation leverages space by building up, not out. In a traditional setup, this vertical space would go unused. It’s a space efficiency that pays off in increased production and improved facility productivity.
#2: Improve Real Estate ROI
Vertical cannabis cultivation supports higher yield per square foot, improving profitability for both new and expanding facilities. Although upfront costs, including HVAC and lighting, require more investment, the long-term profit potential from ongoing increased yield more than makes up for it.
Vertical farming works for cultivators setting up within expensive real estate markets. A traditional horizontal setup may not make financial sense, but the numbers are much more appealing once you start stacking.
#3: Increase Energy Efficiency
Some cultivators can save significantly on energy costs through vertical growing. The savings start instantly by using more energy-efficient, cool-to-the-touch LED lighting that won’t damage plants. Traditional HID fixtures are not feasible within a vertical system. They produce high levels of heat and cannot be positioned too close to the canopy.
According to one 2012 assessment, indoor cannabis cultivation accounted for 20 TW/h/year nationally, which “is equivalent to that of 2 million average U.S. homes, corresponding to approximately 1% of national electricity consumption —or the output of 7 large electric power plants.” Improving facility energy efficiency through LED lighting and tighter environmental controls saves the grower money and reduces the burden on the local power grid.
Companies can also take advantage of LED rebates that reward the switch to energy-efficient equipment. With environmentally friendly LED lighting, cultivators also reduce the need for the massive HVAC systems seen in traditional indoor farming setups. Another improvement to a facility’s energy efficiency.
Important Caveat: There are environmental complexities within a vertical system, including more lights per square foot of facility space as you build up and greater HVAC capacity to cover the additional equipment.
#4: Reduce Environmental Impact
Cannabis is one of the most resource-intensive crops to cultivate. Going vertical in a controlled environment improves resource efficiency. With less evaporation and more efficient application, vertical farming reduces facility water consumption and makes it easier to use water recycling technologies.
Interestingly, vertical farming often also reduces fossil fuel consumption because vertical grows can operate in urban areas. Because they are closer to the retailer and the consumer, these facilities require much less transportation to move products from the ‘field’ to the customer.
Finally, because vertical farming is typically a highly controlled approach, there is little to no need for harmful pesticides and fungicides. The risk of pathogen proliferation within a vertical grow is close to zero and, if they do occur, they are easily controlled in a much more targeted manner.
#5: Vertical Cannabis Grows Simplify Expansion
As many companies have discovered, appropriate cultivation sites are few and far between, especially in certain mature markets. When it comes time to expand, going vertical improves production without the struggle of securing more land.
For example, Agrify’s Vertical Solution, which combines VFUs with Agrify Insights, an integrated software component, can improve annual yields by as much as six times over a horizontal system — all achieved without buying or leasing more land.
Agrify Solutions Improve Upon Conventional Vertical Grow Systems
For all the ways vertical cultivation technology has transformed the future of agriculture, the method hasn’t always been perfect. Namely, vertical cannabis grows still don’t allow for the precise, granular environmental control that’s ideal for higher, more consistent yields.
Agrify is changing that.
VFUs Create Precision-controlled Microclimates
Every variable, from sunlight to water to temperature, plays a role in the final outcome of each harvest. Having the ability to carefully control each “recipe” results in the best outcomes for each harvest, including consistency in phytocannabinoid and terpene profile. Naturally, that becomes a monumental task when controlling tens of thousands of square feet, whether built outward or upward.
Agrify’s VFUs create a fully controllable microclimate that allows cultivators to manage the internal environment closely. Each unit tracks up to 1.5 million data points annually. Thanks to Agrify Insights, a software programmed directly into each unit, these data points are translated into tangible and, most importantly, actionable information.
VFUs Protect Plants from Pathogens
Cultivators know how quickly spider mites, mold, and other pathogens can spread in a facility. Once an issue is detected, cultivators must move quickly to isolate it, or risk the rest of the harvest.
In a typical stacked vertical farming setup, plant layers are not isolated from one another in a way that effectively prevents contaminants from spreading. This could have devastating effects on a harvest.
With Agrify’s VFUs, isolating any plants or areas that develop issues is much easier. Each unit contains a set number of plants isolated from the rest of the facility. Mitigating mold, mildew, or pests involves isolating them within the VFU, instantly reducing risk.
VFUs are Versatile
The environmental controls for each VFU are independent of each other. So, it’s possible to produce many different cultivars, each in a different stage of growth. Although they may all exist within a larger system, cultivators can adjust the growing parameters within each unit to suit what’s inside.
No need for entirely different rooms with different lights and set ups. Instead Agrify’s VFUs help growers stay versatile while maximizing space.
Start Growing Vertical With Agrify
Agrify’s Vertical Farming Units make vertical farming simple. With no need to buy racks, benches, or LED lighting separately, everything your grow needs is contained within each VFU. Each VFU is modular, meaning it arrives ready to grow.
But simplifying the build-out process is only the beginning. Agrify unlocks the potential of 1.5 million data points. Data which tracks every aspect of the grow environment, you can collect unprecedented data-driven insights. Better harvests are possible, all while improving the overall consistency.
Agrify’s results speak for themselves. Agrify Insights reports phytocannabinoid content variation as low as 0.38% and terpene content variation as low as 0.02%. Check out Agrify’s CULTIVAR CONSISTENCY BY THE NUMBERS case study to discover the potential of growing vertically.
Contact Agrify today for a demo and consultation.