Container Farms Could be the Future of Growing Cannabis

Growing Cannabis

Will you be able to keep up with a rapidly changing world?

There is a tidal wave of legalization sweeping across America. Consumption of medicinal and recreational marijuana is surging and it’s something many readers are profiting from as vendors, growers or customers. It’s not a phenomenon just limited to the USA, but also Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, South Africa and Europe. According to Grand View Research, the global market could be worth an incredible $66 billion by 2023. The number of US States with legal recreational pot is expected to hit 20 by 2024, with up to 13 of them on track to be billion-dollar-plus markets by then.

As the industry becomes more mature, as a consequence farms are getting bigger and bigger. For example we saw a 147 acre outdoor farm open in California only last year. Outdoor space is by its nature limited and much of the prime land has already been gobbled up by speculators looking to cash in on the expected growth.

The issue is that we may run out of viable outdoor space before the market reaches its peak. So where do we turn? Indoor grows in greenhouses or converted warehouses are of course popular (ultimately it’s where the industry was born) and it’s likely these will spearhead supply growth in America.

These kinds of spaces aren’t the whole story. Here we’ll show how shipping container farms are not only a vital sub-sector of the indoor market but in some particular instances, may indeed become critical to meet demand.

How do I grow in a shipping container?

Shipper containers are the backbone of global trade. Standard 40ft size, rugged steel construction and transportable anywhere by boat, rail or truck. As the world moves to reduce waste, a growing movement has come up with new applications to re-use retired shipping containers. Cleaned and refitted with artificial lighting and hydroponic watering systems, they can make excellent controllable environments for indoor farms.

Shipping container-based farming systems were developed to make small-scale farming competitive in an industrial agriculture economy. The containers enable the entire growing system to be mobile, making cutting edge precision farming affordable for small farmers, and as we have seen over the past few years, have been especially good for many high-value crops with manageable growing cycles: microgreens, kale, salad green…and cannabis.

Winning the space race

The technology for farming in small but controlled environments has been around for a while. Hydroponics, for example, was developed by NASA with the aim to grow food in space.

The major advantage of a shipping container is the control it gives over the crop and the environment. The container farm is sealed and insulated so you have total temperature control. With humidity control, the moisture in the air can be monitored continually. Plants are fed exactly what they need when they need it. And, of course, being indoors you can control light according to the phase of growth, maximizing yield.

Without having to worry about the vagaries of mother nature and outdoor growth, losses are minimised. It’s possible to grow for CBD oil entirely and naturally indoors, to the extent the product is cleaner than organic – almost surgically pure! With a controlled environment and multiple harvests per year, the yield for experienced indoor farmers can be enormous.

Keep it Local

The other major advantage of shipping containers is, well, it’s a shipping container! It’s a standardized item in transport by rail or flatbed truck. Let’s say in your operation you find a new major retailer in Colorado, but you grow in South California. You can literally take the entire operation on a truck to a new location in a day. Need more farm space? Get another container! All you need is 40 feet of space and access to water and electricity and you can be up and running without interruption. You may even be able to stack vertically!

Even as the cannabinoid markets expand, the mainstream supply chain won’t be able to reach everywhere. Cannabis is legalised in Alaska and northern Canada but largely has to be imported. The same is true for much of Europe. Freshness may not be an issue for the consumer but transportation is a cost, especially as interstate and international commercial movement of cannabis is complex.

In these cases, there is a strong argument for growing marijuana locally. But given that outdoor grows aren’t possible outside of a few states with the right climate, the focus will have to be indoors. In the same way, it’s clear from experiences in Colorado and California that markets will develop differently. In these situations, growers will need to find a way to be flexible enough to respond and have the ability to scale operations up (or down).

Local expertise is essential at all levels, from understanding the details of legalization all the way to knowing which strain is most appropriate for the CBD market you’re in. In these situations growers will need to couple strong local knowledge with flexibility – a container farm will often be the best approach.

Here to stay

Container farming is a vital part of the agricultural arsenal as this market explodes. It’s not just here in America either – it’s global. Container farms will be part of the cannabis story everywhere from rural Washington State to South Africa to Estonia. Like many global markets, the solutions to serve them will be very local.

Container farms will never supply 100% of the market. But they will be successful where their strengths become critical- flexibility, control and their undoubted ability to maximize yield and quality.