Autoflowering Plants Could Generate Profitable Harvests

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The past five years of state-by-state legalization in the United States and beyond have brought sweeping changes across all areas of the hemp and cannabis industries. New brands and products are flooding the market daily, joined by a new generation of growers interested in trying their hand at growing hemp and cannabis in a friendlier and more legal landscape.

Many of the hemp and cannabis cultivation practices of the past three decades were not based on what was most profitable or most efficient; rather, they were responses to adapt to the legal environment. As a result, today’s cultivation techniques are being overhauled by savvy growers and entrepreneurs who maneuver their systems to get the highest quality, cheapest product in a competitive market. As most seasoned growers will attest, by far the most laborious and expensive part of growing cannabis is the harvesting process. But recent developments in culture, in particular autoflowering plants – support efficient and inexpensive harvesting methods.

Historical perspective

In the Emerald Triangle and other inherited pioneer areas that supported medical cultivation, the common practice in outdoor cultivation was to have a low number of plants, a large plant size, and photoperiod genetics that could be maintained in a vegetative state to obtain the desired massive plant. stature. This was mainly due to the limitations of medical plant licenses which allowed people to grow a fixed number of plants for medical purposes. The changing legal landscape has had a domino effect on horticultural practices.

As statewide recreation legalization and larger scale commercial permits became available – first in the hemp space, then in early states like California, the ‘Oregon and Colorado – cost-conscious, systems-driven innovators and growers have started to change the growing landscape again. to reflect more common farming practices. So the traditional style of growing a limited number of large photoperiod plants requiring specific light cycles, repotting, specialized pruning, training with netting and ladders began to give way to larger amounts of plants. Smaller and more compact autoflowering or “neutral days”. “Plants. These plants can be managed in an outdoor row cropping system with drip irrigation and tractor power and planted in manageable successions without any manipulation or light cycle control.

Current practices

In today’s agricultural paradigm, tractors are by far the most efficient way to reduce overall production and harvest costs. They allow for quick field preparation, shallow cultivation, boom sprayers for integrated pest control programs and tools yet to be fully utilized like stripping heads that minimize the need for manual labor in fields. biomass crops. While stripper headers are not yet in common use, this is the inevitable direction of extraction models that supply the vape and edibles markets, which together make up the lion’s share of current market use. While it would take a team of ten workers three or four full days to hand harvest an acre of autoflowering plants, a well-equipped tractor could get the job done in an hour. Although sorting of biomass and loss of trichomes must be factored into this system, it is only a matter of time before it becomes the norm. Finally, by creatively relying on innovative speculation, it is very possible that labor-intensive stages, such as large sheets, can be mechanized with similar equipment found in the wine industry to remove leaves in the fruiting zone.

Due to the specialized nature of harvesting finished flowers for the premium smoking market, this step will likely continue to be done by hand for the foreseeable future. The precision and delicacy required to harvest high-quality stems while retaining their trichomes and structure has proven difficult to mechanize. A compact row cropping system will also provide additional cost advantages at the harvest stage, especially due to its canopy efficiency or the ratio of flowering site to plant material. The larger, trellis and mesh plants many growers favor produce more plant material to sort by hand, and their profuse vegetative growth can obscure and retard the growth of indoor flowering sites. Additionally, plants with excessive vegetative growth are more likely to restrict the penetration of sunlight and wind into the canopy, increasing the risk of botrytis. With smaller plants, there is less space to hide underperforming buds, and only a few cuts are needed per plant if it is to be harvested only for the tops. A likely model for optimum profitability would combine harvesting the top quality buds by hand with “lower parts” harvested mechanically for extraction.

To look forward

As legalization expands, new opportunities will arise for enterprising market leaders to develop profitable production and harvesting strategies based on traditional farming systems. The model most likely to reduce overall costs at the harvest stage will combine agronomically selected, row crop varieties at neutral day with compact stature, mechanization and hybrid harvesting methods that will reduce the total number of cuts. manual required per plant. While many companies have made huge strides in terms of overall profitability, there is still a lot to be done in terms of innovation in what is still, by most definitions, a very young industry.


William Hancock is sales manager for Atlas seed, which specializes in day-neutral feminized cannabis and hemp varieties (“autoflower”) selected for yield, mold resistance and total cannabinoid content. The company was founded by seasoned grape, vegetable and cannabis growers in Sonoma County, Calif., Who were looking for genetics that did not yet exist: uniform, stable and vigorous hybrids that would suit their existing farming model. .


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