Author: Ron van der Ploeg
BERGSCHENHOEK, Netherlands: Investing in medicinal cannabis offers opportunities but also risks, and there are signs that the hemp hype is on its way back. Lars Meijer is an account manager at Dutch-based Codema Cultivation Systems, a horticultural engineering company that leads the way in supporting medicinal cannabis growers with the right technology. He says that while investors are more ‘conservative’ and cautiously moving forward, the number of cannabis companies worldwide continues to grow.
Meijer started working with Codema Cultivation Systems at the same time as the benefits of medical cannabis was being recognised worldwide.
Codema’s reputation has grown with the market because, Meijer says, “We deliver our product solutions all over the globe. For medicinal cannabis, the focus is on North America, but slowly we see more and more companies starting in Europe as well. The sole authorised supplier of medicinal cannabis in the Netherlands, for example, uses our cultivation system.”
Meijer adds, “In the medicinal cannabis market specialist knowledge makes the difference. In North America alone, there are currently five major projects for medicinal cannabis in which Codema is involved.”
Meijer says Codema’s customer base traditionally makes up for experienced men and women who have been in the greenhouse business their whole lives and know exactly the technology that should be applied. In greenhouse production of medical cannabis, however, there are a lot of newbies for who greenhouses cultivation is no a commonplace. “Mainly, they are investors who see an opportunity in this market. The product solutions we ultimately deliver are like ‘traditional’ solutions, but with an adjustable twist to be compatible for and to work with medicinal cannabis crops. The information and knowledge requirements to grow medicinal cannabis are entirely different. The sales process has a different structure too,” says Meijer.
The production of cannabis for medicinal use has grown exponentially as country after country embraces the powers of this remarkable plant. The legal cultivation drive of cannabis is happening because of the ongoing legalisation for the use of extracts of the plant in medicine. Many countries have now legalised the herb for medicinal use.
It is safe to say that medicinal cannabis is big business, and horticultural growers are already well-placed and experienced to do the growing. But it is not as simple as a traditional greenhouse crop; it comes with rafts of rules and regulations and new challenges. For one, the end product is medicinal so it needs to be consistent and pure.
“The medicinal aspect has a major influence on the complexity of a cannabis project,” explains Meijer. “For instance, the growth needs to be tracked from ‘seed to product’ by utilising a track-and-trace system. This system follows location, climate and irrigation. Because cannabis is for medical use, the product must meet exceptionally high quality and health requirements. Of course, it is not a problem for us to set all this up, but it does involve costs that for example, a fresh produce or ornamental grower would not be able to justify. But in this market, everything is possible.”
Hygenie is of great importance to keep the concentration of CBD and THC at a consistent and high level. “Medicinal cannabis must not contain pesticides, heavy metals, fungi or bacteria. There are strict controls along with specially designed water and fertiliser dosing systems and drip systems.”
The team at Codema has earned its stripes in the Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector. Growers there often have very exact requirements and need solutions relating to logistics, water management, climate control and software. There are many similarities between growing tomatoes and growing cannabis. And in both cases, the experts at Codema sustain they can help growers to achieve better yields, higher returns, or technological innovating power.
Meijer says, “These days nurseries or cannabis growers want to be able to control their greenhouse remotely, using their iPad, preferably from their back garden or the beach. They can speed up or slow down the growth cycle depending on the anticipated market demand and they can keep a close eye on whether everything is in order. Cannabis growers can invest in that technology.”
This unusual crop demands many special measures; not least the air filters to remove the associated aromas of this very pungent crop. It also requires security to protect its valuable harvest and product. Codema provides the critical services of logistics, automation and water management, and there will be further elements added to meet expectations in the future.
“Most of the cannabis projects have a closed-loop greenhouse system to control all the environmental factors. This approach means that cooling and heating are required, water management, sufficient air circulation, and even an airlock to keep the preferred pressure inside the greenhouse are essential. All this makes a cannabis project extremely demanding, but this is where our experience lies,” concludes Meijer.