Legalization in both North and South America has altered the cannabis game. In the past, cannabis production primarily occurred indoors and out of sight, but today, furtive fields have been transformed into big agriculture and commercialism has changed the discussion. For companies, the indoor versus outdoor question is less about principles and more about profit.
The broad answer for both hobby growers and large companies remains the same: it depends. The specific answer is different for everyone.
Factors to consider: price, climate, and quality
“Which is better really depends on what aspect you look at,” said Ed Rosenthal, a well-known cannabis expert, author, and advocate. “It really depends on your situation.”
Climate is a factor for both commercial and hobby gardeners, explained Rosenthal. Plants need sun and warmth to thrive. Latitude makes a difference in daylight hours and length of grow season. Living situation also plays a part. If you’re in a city or worry about your neighbors, indoors would make more sense, Rosenthal said.
Indoor allows you to completely control your environment, including temperature, light source, CO2 levels, and humidity, without having to worry about weather. Indoor typically produces flower with higher THC percentages.
And cost matters. Outdoor farms require far less investment. Low-value land can offset a smaller crop or a shorter season. Free sunlight and free soil are more than just pennies saved, but growers are exposed to natural risks, said Rosenthal, who now works as a consultant. “It goes both ways outdoors.”
With advances in outdoor farming, a lot of drawbacks can be mitigated no matter where you live. And no light bulb can produce the same spectrum as the sun. Some argue that although outdoor flower may not look as pretty as indoor, the taste, effects, and aroma are better.
Growing weed outdoors
Surprisingly, outdoor can be a better choice in a cold, wintery clime.
One of Rosenthal’s recent consulting projects was an outdoor farm in arctic Canada. He said. The growing season is three months long, which means only one crop. There’s a low yield per acre and the plants have mediocre THC levels. But none of that matters to those farmers. With 200 acres of dirt cheap land and an end product of concentrate instead of flower, they can get a high profit with minimal investment.
The ultimate factor is the goal, Rosenthal said. If you want a certain grade of cannabis, such as a gorgeous, stanky dried flower with a consistent quality, indoor could be better in spite of the upfront and maintenance costs.
The key mistake, according to Rosenthal, is not adapting to today’s legal climate. Prohibition era thinking persists, keeping the fallacy alive that a larger plant is better. Small, single stem plants can produce more flower, while larger plants spend more energy on growing stalks and leaves. Gardening is really all about the harvest, said Rosenthal, so that’s wasted energy.
“You really have to look at it more agriculturally. And from what I’ve seen a lot of large companies haven’t,” said Rosenthal. “Yet.”
Canadian company Organigram has similar core principles. Its gardeners are focused on an end goal—plants for profit—and are constantly trying to improve grow methods.
“We respect the plant. But it’s also just a widget,” said Matt Rogers, Organigram’s Senior Vice President of Operations.
When the Canadian market opened up a few years ago, Organigram took the long view, said Rogers. Other companies were racing to market, going for cheap, high capacity, and Organigram saw a huge opportunity to differentiate. “Quality will win,” said Rogers. “We’re growing the athletes that are going to the Olympics, so to speak.”
Organigram spent CA$250 million constructing its facility, Rogers said. It contains over a hundred grow rooms, each of which can be tailored to the specific climate needs of a varietal.
The design of those rooms was carefully tested to ensure roof-to-ceiling and corner-to-corner consistency of temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, and light, among other things, said Rogers. Each room can produce five crops a year, resulting in about 500 crops annually and a staggering possibility of 100,000 kilos (~220,000 lbs) of market-ready marijuana.
“Data has made a lot of good decisions for us,” said Rogers. “It’s about the little things that add up to the big things.”
Those little things are informed by experiments performed in the research and development grow rooms, which hold five to fifteen trials at a time. One experiment revealed that a room with 70 wider-spaced plants produced the same yield as 100 plants, a dramatic difference to cost over 100 rooms.
Outdoor has its place and nature has a million benefits, Rogers said. But customizable, indoor rooms and evolving technologies are what suit Organigram’s purpose: consistent high-quality dried flower.
Like Rosenthal, Rogers espouses goal-oriented farming. “Don’t just grow cannabis, grow cannabis for a specific reason.” (Source: Leafly)