Long Term Manufacturing – Cannabis Cultivation

Cannabis cultivation is a manufacturing process that is very different than most products that make their way to shelves for consumer purchase these days. Medicinally grown and recreational cannabis are no different in their processes that brings the seed to a high-quality product that is ready for sale in a dispensary. The only difference lies in the requirements to be considered a patient in a medicinal state or in fewer circumstances an adult consumer in a recreationally legal state.

Although cannabis is a different type of manufacturing process it is not unique. Industries that also have similar long term processes include aged alcohols such as scotch, whiskey, and fine wine. Even though the final products are different, the operational requirements are very similar. These industries require a high capital expenditure to cover the costs of equipment, operational space, and other start-up costs. Unlike other industries that spread the cost of the initial expense over thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of items that come to market quickly after the processes begin, cannabis will have additional months until a viable product can be sold to recoup some of the initial losses of initial start-up costs. Even with high volume manufacturing applications the return on investment (ROI) is several years if not more, however, in the case of cannabis this ROI period can be even longer. The path to positive sales and achieving ROI can be completely rerouted if a single crop does not make it to market.

The long cycle time between seed germination and sale of cannabis flower gives countless opportunities for problems to occur that could ruin the entire crop. The cycle time can be defined as all the value and non-value added activities that bring the product from seed to sale. The nature of the cannabis flower and the means of consumption creates a somewhat unique circumstance for what can cause a crop to be scrapped or discarded. The time in the growth cycle that problems arise can severely impact the likelihood of recovery.

Generally, in growth and vegetative stages the plants have much more  potential to recover from nutrient deficiency or pest infiltrations. This is due to the fact once in flowering stage pesticides should be avoided at all costs and any nutrient deficiency will harm yields since the shorter time-period of this stage does not allow for the plant to achieve its maximum potential. At no point in the process should it be necessary to use pesticide if careful considerations are taken to eliminate pests in the first place.

Risk mitigation is the best approach to being proactive in the unfortunate event a pest infiltration does occur. Cannabis plants in different stages should always be segregated from one another in order to reduce the risk of losing an entire grow operation. Creating physical barriers along with carefully considered flow paths reduces the risk of pests from one cultivation stage to another. HEPA filtration and environmental monitoring can reduce the spread of pathogens which are more difficult to control in connected facilities. This creates an environment where the lose of a single stage only creates a set-back of weeks not months and limits the turnaround time due to sanitization and root cause analysis to hundreds of square feet instead of the entire facility.

Being proactive is the key to success as the feedback loop of cultivation is slow and determining when the crop is beyond recovery can be difficult. The point of no return will vary depending on the situation considering the uncertain nature of horticulture. Well trained employees are key in the identification of problems as cannabis is absolutely not a store-it and forget it industry like those mentioned earlier. Cannabis has a consistent addition of value added activities through the entire grow cycle. Value added activities can be identified by the inputs that a customer is willing to pay for such as watering and nutrient additions since these activities are vital to the growth and well-being of the plant. However, even these activities can cause problems without careful considerations.

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Quality Management Systems (QMS) can all but eliminate all of the problems discussed. Long term manufacturing processes such as cannabis are perfect for the application as risk mitigation and risk analysis of activities are key aspects of these programs. Orion GMP Solutions specializes in consulting and assisting cannabis growers and processors in avoiding these pitfalls through quality by design. Cannabis cultivation is a process unlike most others but can be managed to produce consistent results without many of the risks that can make failure an option. Orion carefully considers all aspects of the process and can help businesses proactively manage their process by reducing risks to tolerable levels so that success is achieved. Risks can never be fully eliminated but careful planning and designing the process with quality in mind means businesses can plan for success.