Blogs Mar 9, 2020

Starting a Vertical Cannabis Farm: 4 Steps to Get Growing

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Starting a vertical cannabis farm is a great way to double down on your grow facility and expand your business.

Though, anyone in the vertical farming industry knows that such an advanced setup comes with its difficulties and costs.

Let’s look at the reasons why you would want to grow vertical instead of expanding horizontally. We’ll consider some disadvantages of vertical cannabis farming and then get into some quick tips that’ll help you overcome these challenges for your business to succeed.

closeup of cannabis flowers in racks

Why Start a Vertical Cannabis Farm?

In the early days of cannabis, the illegality of the plant forced farmers to grow their buds indoors. Fast-forward to today and we still see lots of growers setting up grow rooms in warehouses.

Why?

Well, mostly because this is the way it’s been done for so long. Some cannabis farmers may have problems acquiring cultivation land or are concerned with security – but mostly it comes down to indoor farming is the only way they know how.

So, for indoor cannabis operations that want to expand their business, growing up can be quicker than growing out.

Advantages of Vertical Cannabis Farming

The primary reason for vertical farming comes down to space. That, and the ability to quickly scale up your cannabis business in climates where other grow methods are less than ideal.

You may want to consider vertical cannabis cultivation if:

  • You’re in a region where the price per gram is high, sunlight is limited, and energy is cheap. In this case, the ROI for vertical cannabis growing can outweigh greenhouse production
  • You’re already an indoor grower and your business is booming. Growing up can be a quicker way to expand your business than growing out
  • You’re growing indoors with HPS grow lights. You’ll save money on electricity and other resources by doubling down with LEDs than you would by expanding with HPS

California vertical cannabis grower

Disadvantages of Vertical Cannabis Farming

There has certainly been some hesitation to going vertical that’s due to the many difficulties that are associated with a tiered system. By now, many farmers have learned from others that have failed, and by following a solid production plan you too can be successful at vertical cannabis farming.

You should consider these factors when setting up your vertical cannabis farm:

  • Startup costs can be higher for vertical farms, but who said doubling your revenue would be free? Successful vertical farming takes quality equipment and it makes sense to find reliable equipment that can make your return-on-investment
  • Skilled labor is hard to find. Unless you’re paying a consultant, there will be some trial-and-error. Though this isn’t much different from other forms of indoor cannabis cultivation, just make sure to educate your team and track what works and what doesn’t
  • Make sure to price appropriately. If you’re used to quantity over quality, you may want to rethink your model. Generally, the level of technology it takes to start a vertical farm will reflect in the quality of your flower. If you grow premium you need to sell premium to make your returns

How to Start Vertical Cannabis Farming

Now that you understand what you’re getting into, we’ve made it easier to get started below.

Step 1 – Choose Your Vertical Grow System

Your vertical grow system, also known as vertical racking or simply “racks”, is a great place to start. Any quality vertical grow system generally comes standard as a 4-foot by 8-foot palletized rack.

image of a pristine vertical grow system
Rendering of a 4-foot by 8-foot vertical grow system with LumiGrow BarLight Grow Lights

When sourcing your vertical system, make sure to consider irrigation pressure, drainage, and electrical. You’ll also have to choose between rolling or stationary racks. We recommend rolling for ease-of-use, but if you do choose stationary make sure there’s room for your employees to work.

Step 2 – Select Your LED Grow Lights

When farming cannabis vertically, LED lighting is required. Whether you choose a white (broad) or targeted pink spectrum, the most important thing will be matching your light levels for optimal growth.

light spectrum for cannabis
BarLight Targeted (Pink) Spectrum (above) and BarLight Hybrid (White) Spectrum (Below)

If you’re a generalist who’s looking to reliably hit industry standards, go with a broad spectrum. If you’re a craft grower looking for exotic bud development, pink light may give you more control over the quality of your buds. If you’re looking to really level-up your grow operation, spectrum control can help you fine-tune parts of your plants’ lifecycle development to speed up production and achieve an even higher quality flower.

Just make sure that you pick reliable lighting equipment. Hanging so much electrical in a confined space requires bullet-proof engineering that you trust.

vertical-cannabis-grow-system-with-led-grow-lights
LumiGrow BarLight LED grow lights in a vertical cannabis grow

Step 3 – Dial-In Your Environmental Controls

There are certainly many options for heating and cooling your environment. In such a dense space, automation is more than ideal, so investing in sensors may be a good bet.

As for airflow, simply push your air down the open areas of your racking system while pulling it out from the other end. This method is similar to small greenhouses known as hoop-houses.

Step 4 – Pick a Production Method

Vertical farming space is limited in most vertical grow systems, so you’ll want to keep plants short. This is like the Sea of Green (SOG) method. Only instead of a “Sea”, you will have many “Ponds” of Green. Your plants should not get more than 4-feet tall and will remain in their vegetative stage for a short amount of time.

Think of your grow system as a manufacturing facility. Speed becomes even more valuable once you’re producing twice the amount of product you were before.

birds-eye view of vertical grow facility

We’ll be honest, vertical farming is not for the faint of heart – it takes commitment, passion, and skill. This production method is a change of pace for many growers. But luckily, there is enough automation and quality equipment on the market that these systems have become more plug-and-play than ever before. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get growing!

guide for hps lights versus led grow lights

LED vs. HPS Grow Light Guide

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TopLightTM
Designed for Greenhouse & High Bay Applications
BarLightTM
Designed for High Performance Vertical Applications
smartPARTM
Wireless Grow Light Control