Using Automation to Scale Your Cannabis Harvest
Here are a few ways you can use harvesting technologies to scale your cannabis cultivation operation.
Harvesting cannabis requires the same attention to detail as growing. How you dry, sort, cure, and store your cannabis will ultimately determine product quality. By making good decisions and automating your cannabis harvest, you can scale your operations when the time is right.
A lot is at stake after you harvest your plants. The goal is to maintain optimal cannabinoid and terpene levels and, ultimately, THC. A lot of growers admit that preserving the finer qualities of cannabis after harvest is their biggest challenge. Yet, regulators demand consistency of product for the end-user, i.e., the cannabis consumer.
Cannabis Harvest and Humidity
The techniques to protect and preserve the quality of your nugs are pretty straightforward. However, it can be harder to put into practice, as revealed in a recent survey done by Cannabis Business Times (CBT).
For cannabis growers, the biggest post-harvest challenge is controlling humidity. Cannabis is susceptible to dehydration or, conversely, staying too damp and developing mold or mildew. In the survey conducted by CBT, the average humidity range desired by most cannabis growers is 53%, with the temperature in the drying room at about 65 degrees F.
Some growers prefer to strip the leaves before they hang their plants to dry. Removing the leaves increases airflow and allows the plant to dry quicker. In dry environments, like the high desert region of Colorado, some growers dry their cannabis plants with the leaves intact, which allows the plants to dry a little slower. If you decide to trim after the cannabis has dried, plan on about ten days from harvesting until it is sufficiently dry to trim and store, although this can vary depending on several factors.
Large-scale growers can automate the cannabis harvesting process and save a ton on labor costs by purchasing machine trimmers, conveyors, and sorters. These machines not only save on labor but also ensure that the harvest moves along quickly, lessening the chance of the buds drying out or succumbing to mold or mildew. It is essential to size the equipment to the scale of your operation with an eye on further ramping up your production in the future if so desired.
After utility costs, labor is one of the most significant expenses, and perhaps the biggest headache, for growers. Even a medium-sized trimmer in the $3000 to $6000 range can save the labor of up to 25 people! With one of these units, 100 pounds of bud can be trimmed in an hour.
If you have plans to scale up your operation, you may want to consider a trimmer that can handle more product in a reasonable amount of time. These units can process wet or dry buds and start at about $30,000.
The question with any automated cannabis trimmer is: can it maintain the quality of the bud, i.e., the resins and terpenes? This depends on the particular product you purchase. Make sure to read customer reviews closely or watch a demo to see how well it does preserving the finer attributes of cannabis.
After you’ve decided on a cannabis trimmer, the decision comes down to whether to dry or wet trim. Proponents of wet trimming say this method saves space since you’re not hanging plants to dry but admit that the flowers may not be as flavorful or aromatic. Also, molds and mildew could develop. Dry trimming is the preferred method by most growers, according to the survey. Fortunately, our trimmers let you trim wet or dry.
Keep it Moving: Conveyors
For large cannabis businesses and those planning to scale up, harvest conveyors are worth the investment. Conveyors move the bud from one machine to the other with an input and output shoot. Conveyors are another labor-saving piece of equipment that will also improve efficiency by:
- Providing a consistent feed that will result in a more consistent product.
- Speeds up the harvesting process by eliminating any pauses between machines (which could increase production by up to 10%).
- Provide another level of quality control. Quality control technicians can be camped out along the conveyors and be ready to spot flowers that may need to be removed.
- Conveyors with speed control add another layer of control over this vital phase of your operation.
Automated Cannabis Bud Sorters
Bud sorting is the last step before curing. Again, this can be done by hand at a high cost in labor but is much more efficiently performed by a cannabis bud sorter. Large companies and those looking to scale up their commercial operations should consider purchasing a bud sorter.
Bud sorters are relatively new to the industry and can benefit growers in several ways, including:
- A (quality) bud sorter will actually reduce the rough handling of buds that can damage trichomes and terpenes,
- decrease the cost of labor,
- minimize waste by separating tight buds from shakes that can be used for prerolls,
- and speed up the harvesting process.
Veteran hobby growers know to store their dry buds in sealed jars out of direct light. They allow the release of gases inside the jars and a breath of fresh air to prevent mold by “burping” their jars, allowing for an exchange of fresh, humid air. Check for mold when you burp each container. Burping usually takes place for up to 30 days after the cannabis is stored in containers.
Take a tip from passionate hobby growers and make sure your buds are correctly stored at room temperature or slightly lower and in the dark to preserve those precious terpenes. Some commercial growers use nitrogen storage bags to protect the potency and aroma of the final product, while others store in glass jars with tight-fitting lids.
The harvest and storage of cannabis will make or break a commercial cannabis operation. The machines that have come out in the past few years are getting better at treating marijuana buds with kid gloves to maintain the terpenes and aroma of the product. These machines will also save a boatload of money on labor and position your company for increased profits and a great product as you scale up your production.