- Written by: Francesco Nicoletta
- Category: Gardening Corner
how can technology help cannabis cultivation?
After a long period of oblivion due to prohibition, Cannabis sativa L. has returned to the center of attention by agricultural companies, research bodies and institutions due to its multiple uses.
Hemp sees its use in traditional industrial sectors such as paper, textile and food and in more innovative industrial sectors such as bioplastics, biofuels, green building, up to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Index of sections
- The impact of technology on cannabis cultivation
- Breeding and DNA
- Led lighting
- Map your tastes
- How we will buy cannabis
- Control and safety
However, the situation of the sector and the political regulatory framework are constantly changing, due to feedback from the requests of consumers who have now acquired the ability to recognize the peculiarities of the products obtained from the processing of this crop. A questionnaire dedicated to companies and local systems, carried out with the task of carrying out an exploratory survey in the cannabis agricultural sector, showed that in the first decades of the last century, our nation was in second place, after Russia, for cultivated area and overall hemp production, also ranking first in terms of yield per hectare cultivated. The flourishing destiny of hemp, however, immediately after the Second World War, suffered a sharp decline with a consequent loss of interest due to too many problems related to prohibition. Today, from the cultivation of industrial hemp plants regularly registered in the European register, it is possible to obtain food, cosmetics, produced exclusively in compliance with the disciplines of the respective sectors; semi-finished products and therefore fiber, sheaves, powders, wood chips, oils or fuels, for supplies to industries and craft activities in various sectors:
- Material intended for the energy sector;
Organic material intended for bioengineering works or useful products for green building;
Material aimed at phytoremediation for the remediation of polluted sites;
Crops dedicated to teaching and demonstration activities as well as research by public or private institutes; crops destined for horticulture.
The entry into force of Law 242/2016 has encouraged the opening of businesses specialized in the retail sale of cannabis inflorescences and other preparations, as long as with percentages of THC <0.2, it has also encouraged the sale of merchandising and articles ganja-themed complementary. Law 242 of 2016 aims to promote the entire agro-industrial chain of hemp to ensure the development of the primary sector (read here). Basically, the agricultural market expects annual revenues of 33 billion euros, a figure that continues to grow dramatically if we consider the entire food production chain and therefore: processing of raw materials, distribution and sales.
The sector in question, however, on the other hand contributes massively to the production of greenhouse gases thanks to the presence of intensive farming with the consequent production of waste materials that contribute to increasing environmental pollution. Earth Overshoot Day, this year fell almost a month earlier than 2020. Starting from that day, humanity will live "on credit" towards the earth, having completely exhausted the renewable resources produced in a year since planet itself. We will thus increase our colossal ecological debt accumulated in the exploitation of terrestrial resources which is greater than those that the Earth can offer in a year, in terms of carbon emissions, cultivated land, exploitation of fish stocks and use of forests for timber: to meet our consumption we now need 1.7 planets Earth. What is certain is that even the climate changes underway are a consequence of the presence of man who plays the role of principal actor. Our existence and workforce does nothing but increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the world, which to date has never been higher.
As we all know, agriculture requires large quantities of water and land to meet its internal needs. Despite the huge quantities of resources required for food production, every Italian is responsible for over 65 kg of food waste per year according to the Food Sustainability Index report created by the Barilla Foundation, with the aim of translating food waste into data. Precisely to meet these needs, what can be defined as agriculture 4.0 is born, which uses technology to limit consumption and therefore increase productivity. The phenomenon is growing rapidly in the sector and it is no coincidence that there are investment funds set up to encourage farms to undertake a path of modernization through which to limit the damage that can be caused to the planet and to future generations that always prove to be more Green. Technology can solve problems such as global warming responsible for the drying up of many soils. The drought, which we witness overwhelmingly in the summer period, worsens over the years and deprives plants of the nutrients necessary for growth, forcing humans to use more and more intensive water to support the rhythms of agricultural crops. The constant rise in temperature will make some agricultural operations in the field that take place at critical times, when the sun is strongest, increasingly difficult. The consequences of climate change affect productivity, since extreme climatic conditions reduce the operations of agricultural operators and the quality of crops, not to mention the increase in the use of pesticides and fertilizers to hit the gap.
The technology can be applied to solve part of these problems and in particular it directly supports or replaces the workforce. The support function of the technology requires the massive use of sensors and information transmitted via the internet. An example of this is the project of the University of Missouri which uses towers placed at strategic points on the surface intended for cultivation to check the state of plants and plan targeted interventions using robots. The case is exemplary because the process is automated and all man has to do is control the data and information that the machines send using the network connection to analyze and correct procedures or program operations other than routine ones. But the technology is not only demonstrated through the use of AI or robots, but innovation also concerns the type of products used to protect plants. We are talking, for example, of biological pesticides or experimental substances that manage to dispose of the pesticides themselves once they become unusable or exhausted. Although we recognize the difficulty of our country in keeping up with the times, there are some innovative companies that work with a philosophy inspired by Agriculture 4.0, producing remarkable results.
This is the case of Agricolus, an Umbrian startup that has built an integrated cloud platform to optimize agricultural work. Through careful forecasting models developed by the staff and, with the continuous support of information from the internet (temperatures, humidity, rainfall), the system is able to understand which solutions are the best for a given terrain. In addition, it is able to predict the onset of any diseases harmful to plants. Everything can be controlled comfortably through a computer or the dedicated app.
Heli-lab represents another very interesting case. The operational fulcrum of the Palermo startup is based on the use of drones which, constantly connected to the internet, are able to communicate important data on the status of crops directly to the operations center. We are talking above all about the health of the plant which allows you to regulate irrigation and pesticide treatments. In addition, the integrated cameras allow you to make a detailed map of the plots.
The impact of technology on cannabis cultivation
Have you by any chance wondered what is the impact of technology on the world of cannabis? Let's look at some innovations that have made certain developments in this sector possible.
Let's assume that during the period of prohibition, in places like Holland, and in particular Amsterdam, they have always been the homeland of cannabis and in which the main discoveries of the first half of the century on the subject took place (read here). But today, the legalization of cannabis in several US states (read here) and the opening of several countries towards the issue, has led to a re-evaluation of cannabis in the perception of the common society. The increase in cannabis-based products and their widespread use have allowed scientific progress which consequently are achievable and perfected by scientific research, thus entering a sort of continuous circle towards innovation. In addition to the technology for processing inflorescences through special industrial machinery, those who work in one of the sectors related to cannabusiness (read here) can also produce vaping oils, capsules, edible gums and much more (read here). So, as for agriculture in general, also for cannabis, technological innovations will change the way it is cultivated.
Breeding and DNA
Thanks to technology it is possible to make a contribution through the creation of new genetics to be put on the market, therefore the possibility of having generations of increasingly stable and productive strains (read here). Breeders all over the world try to find balance between THC, CBD and other properties of the plant based on genes, from which genomics derives, or the discipline that deals with all the genetic information contained in the DNA present in the cells of a particular plant species, which could be useful for understanding the true potential of cannabis. Several important growers are working hard to sequence its DNA to get to know it more and more in detail and try to make the most of it.
It may seem trivial but the first technology that affects indoor cultivation is that contained in the lamps used. Outdoors, the sun provides everything the plant needs to germinate, vegetate and flower, but large-scale indoor growing operations rely on high-intensity bulbs, which are expensive and consume a lot of electricity. LED technology, therefore, has revolutionized the home lighting market in the last decade, and has also left its mark on the world of cannabis growers. Furthermore, the most recent LED bulbs also produce much less heat than classic bulbs, improving the yield, they are characterized by powerful light spectra and now available at much lower prices than a few years ago.
Map your tastes
Technology allows you to find a cannabis strain that best suits your way of being and living. Every ganja smoker knows this is not an easy search. Some companies are trying to provide the cannabis consumer with a personalized experience, which is based on the individual's physiology. For example, the Cannabis DNA company provides a test done with a salivary swab and uses about 70 genetic markers to create a profile with which it recommends the cannabis variety tailored to you, extraordinary isn't it?
The technology also concerns the processing of products such as CBD which is not easily soluble in water, without the possibility of dissolving in the solution, the production of drinks or products containing CBD may not be effective and the active ingredient could easily vanish. According to some experts, however, it is possible that through technology CBD is processed in such a way that it can become a molecule soluble in liquids and therefore bioavailable, it could also be used to contain cannabinoids which, through a minor emulsion, could allow this. last to dilute in water.
How we will buy cannabis
The change may also affect the way we buy cannabis products. We have noticed it especially in this period of health emergency dictated by the coronavirus (read here). In addition to home delivery and take-away, the way of buying cannabis is changing especially in those countries where cannabis is legal. Dispensaries or grow shops are becoming more and more modern, take on a modern design and offer a professional feel. The products are then clearly displayed and labeled in order to check traceability through the web. Technology will facilitate and further rationalize this process as it itself undergoes evolution. We think of the new apps that are coming out more and more often, which allow you to order cannabis and have a detailed description of many varieties.
Control and safety
Technology and cannabis have also entered the world of law enforcement. Unlike alcohol tests, which work at full capacity, those dedicated to detecting cannabis are still very rudimentary and not often accurate. It is possible, through salivary tests, to establish whether the consumption was carried out before getting behind the wheel, but it does not give the possibility to establish how long before it was taken. However, some universities are carrying out research to figure out the best way to detect THC if you are driving. The University of Texas, for example, is developing a cannabis test to measure the concentration of THC in saliva in less than 5 minutes.