A hundred years ago, hemp was farmed all over the United States by traditional means. Cannabis prohibition shut all those operations down, and while the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp across the nation once again, its uses have shifted significantly. Whereas a hundred years ago hemp was mainly used for rope and fiber, these days it’s increasingly used for food and medicine, which means it needs to be as pure as possible. The best way to achieve that is through the use of hydroponics in a controlled, indoor environment, and that requires the help of tech like robotics and artificial intelligence.
Because hemp plants are bioaccumulators, that means that any pollution the plants come in contact with in the soil, air, or water will be trapped within the plants. The good news is that hemp plants generally don’t need pesticides or herbicides to grow well under normal growing conditions, so those hemp plants that are destined for fiber applications can be easily grown outdoors. But because of the risk of contamination from pollution, coupled with the risk of being cross-pollinated with the higher-THC variety of cannabis, hemp plants destined for medicinal or food uses are generally being grown indoors.
Cross contamination is also a concern for the legal marijuana industry. The illicit marijuana industry has benefited from prohibition because a lack of other plants that could cross-pollinate meant that growing illicit marijuana outdoors didn’t threaten the harvest. But because of two distinctly different but similar industries slowly becoming legalized across the nation, growing either outdoors means a risk of cross-pollination, which could render marijuana plants too weak for their target market and hemp plants too strong for thiers. By 2025, legal marijuana sales in the United States are expected to reach $23 billion. Protecting their plants from the threat of cross-contamination also means that the legal marijuana industry is going to increasingly rely on hydroponics, robotics, and artificial intelligence to produce a superior quality product.
Both types of plants are susceptible to mold and rot when humidity and ventilation are not well-controlled. This is where robotics and AI come in. AI can monitor the moisture levels in the air, the air flow, and photograph plants and scan for signs of mold or rot and then tell robotics how to respond. The robotics can be set up to hydrate or desiccate, circulate air, increase water or nutrients, and more. Systems like Farmbot can be used to grow a variety of plants and use robotics and AI to collect data and learn what plants need over time.
Vertical farming is another technology that is being used to make the production of cannabis plants as environmentally-friendly as possible. Systems like Agrify can be set up to be six levels high, and its integrated systems monitor growing conditions and make necessary adjustments. This makes the production both less reliant on human intervention and also more efficient of resources.
Learn more about the tech being used to grow cannabis from the infographic below!