The hemp and broader cannabis industries are re-emerging after a generation of the war on drugs. Safety and legal compliance are at the core of the industries’ future successes.
Hemp is still straddling the same legal zone as other members of the Cannabis family. However, many countries around the world are starting to open up to hemp cultivation, specifically. Even in notoriously strict countries when it comes to cannabis, the cultivation of plants with almost no THC whatsoever is now legal.
While stigma still surrounds all cannabis plants, hemp’s health and environmental benefits can no longer be overlooked. In addition, long overdue research on hemp is also underway and has already produced very promising results.
In order to accommodate this trend, the hemp industry needs to meet regulators’ traceability and compliance requirements.
What are traceability and compliance?
Traceability is the ability to trace an item. For hemp, it means that all steps of hemp cultivation “from seed to sale”. Each plant is accounted for. This ensures that the final product is safe and compliant.
Compliance means that each step from seed to sale is conducted per all relevant regulations.
These concepts are simple, but the current reality of the hemp and broader cannabis industry places a different level of responsibility on businesses.
The Importance of traceability and compliance
Unsafe, low-quality products are a stain on any business. But in an industry as freshly emergent and promising as the hemp industry, these factors are the key to its future. This is about more than a simple inventory audit.
Traceability establishes the safety and legal grounds for hemp businesses. Without well-traced and compliant production processes, many issues can develop along the supply chain.
When hemp production is well-controlled, safety standards can be met. Any emergent problems can be discovered and remedied quickly. You can then provide the paperwork that proves your business complies with health regulations and can avert health risks.
To the average consumer, the word “recall” sparks images of reports of cars with defective batteries or headlights that catch fire. These recalls are incredibly costly, but with traceability, the damage can be minimised and corrected at a minimal cost.
Of course, the auto industry isn’t the only one that goes through recalls. No matter how cautious you are to comply with all safety standards, sometimes a recall can’t be avoided. When regulators deem a product is defective, they will order it to be removed from the market.
Okay, so now your hemp is being recalled. Your profits are likely being destroyed, alongside your reputation. How can you fix the issue and recover?
This is where traceability comes into play. You know what’s wrong with your product, but where and how did it go wrong? Which aspect of your process failed? Which products are a part of the defective batch?
With good traceability in place, you can quickly trace the details back to your point of failure. Then, you can fix the issue and recover.
Traceability gives way to many aspects of compliance. However, you also need to make sure you’re compliant with all regulations.
Compliance with the law is a hot topic in the hemp industry. Failure to comply can lead to serious fines and the loss of licenses.
How it will unlock doors for big industry players
The future for hemp businesses is bright, so long as traceability and compliance are taken seriously. Fortunately, there are plenty of automated solutions to the traceability issue. Software can be used to automatically track each step of the process, all the way from the seed purchase to the final customer/patient.
Each jurisdiction has its own set of requirements for cannabis cultivators. Many small businesses have operated throughout the various stages of cannabis legalisation in the US. But now, governments everywhere are being faced with the question of the coming industry shift: big business in hemp.
In 2019, Peru added sweeping regulations to the cannabis industry, from psychoactive cannabis to CBD to hemp. However, the changes specifically identified non-psychoactive cannabis and took them off the controlled substance list. This allows businesses without licenses to take part in the market. The changes also specified that hemp and other non-psychoactive cannabis follow the same traceability guidelines as the psychoactive crops.
As a result of these changes in cannabis regulation, large businesses have been provided with a path towards large-scale and legal activity through:
- Scientific research licenses
- Wholesale import licenses
- Production licenses
Following this, one Peruvian company and four international companies including Canada’s Canopy Growth moved into Peru to set up sales and distributions operations.
While Peru is taking advantage of its ideal location and climate for cannabis cultivation, its model is one to follow. Traceability and compliance concerns aside, the legislation can be put in place to unlock the doors for big, risk-averse businesses.
Key tech start-ups operating in this space (Cannavigia is one operating out of Switzerland)
Traceability and compliance are both entire endeavours on their own. In the cannabis industry, it takes a special level of proficiency to achieve both. But, as we’ve covered, there are many software solutions to traceability issues. For example, seed-to-sale POS (point of sale) systems are designed for the unique POS needs of cannabis businesses.
The new legal environment around cannabis, and hemp, in particular, has created the need for specialised and comprehensive new solutions.
Cannavigia is one of those key start-ups. This company is the European markets’ solution to compliance software. They offer one of the most comprehensive traceability solutions on any market. Their solution traces, secures, and simplifies transactions at every level of the supply network. They integrate their software with local standards such as Swiss Certified Cannabis for Switzerland, the certification for the industry in their country.
In the US, various consultancies have emerged in the cannabis industry. Similarly, they also offer software solutions to automate compliance and traceability. Companies like 365 Cannabis offer complete seed-to-sale solutions, tracing transactions from the farms to the dispensaries.
Discover Europe’s first registered cannabis seedbank
The bank is home to the seeds of 286 strains, including 19 Cannabis Cup winners.
Europe now has its first ever legal and registered cannabis seedbank in Copenhagen, Denmark.
As countries across Europe begin adopting more open attitudes towards cannabis, the continent now has its first ever legal seed bank for the plant.
Franchise Global Health has confirmed that its Danish subsidiary, Rangers Pharmaceutical has successfully established the bank which it says is “arguably the largest in the world” with an audited value of more than C$9m (~€8.64m).
The seedbank houses more than 286 strains, including several world-class genetics and the winners of 19 Cannabis Cups.
Franchise Global executive chairman and CEO, Clifford Starke, commented: “Our goal is to become Europe’s most trusted source of high-quality EU-GMP cannabis.
“This will be achieved in part by establishing our seedbank as a source for high-quality, Cannabis-Cup winning genetics.
“Essentially this is 30 years worth of IP from land races all around the world with strong genetic heritage including from Thailand, Colombia and other highly sought after sources of origin.”
The company has stated the bank, which is licensed to store, sell and export cannabis seeds globally under legal international trade frameworks and import and export permits, is a key component to its IP strategy.
Franchise Global is offering a number of strains to the market and has subsequently signed numerous seed purchase orders and strategic agreements with emerging cannabis cultivators and wholesalers. The aim is to further expand global commercialisation opportunities and the orders will be fulfilled in the coming quarters, creating a new source of revenue for the Company and solidifying new global strategic alliances.
However, Franchise Global will retain its most distinguished strains for its own internal flower production for global markets.
The company has strategically position itself in Germany which it says will act as a key gateway to Europe and beyond as its aims to provide international markets with high-quality medical cannabis products. It has a network of over 1,200 pharmacies in Europe as well as extensive distribution relationships across 18 countries.
To bolster its position in the country, the company has also announced it will acquire German pharmaceutical and medical cannabis products distributor.
Starke commented: “This acquisition will strengthen our position in Germany. The Target Company has significant experience with regulatory requirements, pharmaceuticals and medicinal cannabis.
“We expect it to be a solid addition to Franchise Global’s core position in Germany, providing deeper access to further pharmacies, wholesale distribution channels and advancing our business plan as Germany moves closer to full legalisation of recreational cannabis.
“We are focused on leading the pack in the medical cannabis market in Germany. By merging Franchise Global’s experience with the Target Company’s market presence, we are well on our way to be one of the premier German pharmaceutical and medical cannabis companies.”
Cannabis cultivation: the artificial lighting minefield
In the second article of this three-part series, Dr Gary Yates, chief scientific officer at PharmaSeeds, discusses the use of artificial lighting for cannabis cultivation.
Before the revival of Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technology, measuring and comparing lights for indoor cannabis cultivation was an easy and straightforward process.
Like most of the horticultural industry, cultivators typically used High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) or Metal Halide (MH). Light intensity was measured by energy output generally for flowering, ranging from around 400 watts for modest setups all the way up to 1000+ watts for the more serious cultivators.
In those days of old, the increase in light intensity generally came at a cost of both higher energy consumption and elevating temperatures – two things best avoided – and if the budget allowed for it, the higher-output HPS lights were used with appropriate climatic control measures for maximum gains.
The era could be looked upon almost nostalgically as a simpler time, especially as, since the emergence of LED cultivation lights, choosing the optimal light; type, manufacturer and settings has become an anxiety-inducing nightmare due to the overwhelming number of companies claiming to have the best lights in the world.
Slightly tweaking the light spectrum, reducing energy consumption, reconfiguring layout and position, use of different housing material, on/off ramping, flexible racking, weight of units and more are all considerations that have become part of the headache of choosing the optimal lighting system. One could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed.
As if to muddy the waters further, there is a lack of standardisation in how manufacturers gauge the productivity of their lights. PPF, PPFD, umol/m2-1/s-1, Lux, PAR, Watts, Lumens, Candela, and Footcandle are some of the terms found when trolling the net for a suitable light manufacturer (OK I put Footcandle in there for fun, but all others are real examples).
Some of these units measure energy, some measure brightness, or flow of photons in set areas whilst others measure total flow. Having worked in a lab where the light intensity levels were crucial to the experiments, it is vital to have a standard universal method of measuring light intensity – especially with so many other variables involved in cultivation. This issue is further compounded by the fact that light spectrum plays a huge role in determining the output of plants.
As for the price comparison, HPS and MH lights are generally a good bit cheaper than LED – however, that statement is only true of the initial purchase since running costs of both are very different, with LED being the most favourable.
In terms of outright purchasing cost, cultivation lights have a similar story to a cup of coffee from a café. In the mid-1990’s a cup of coffee in a UK café was usually somewhere between 20p to 50p, and the choice was one size, with sugar and/or milk – which you most likely added yourself. Now the cost of a cup of coffee has spiralled beyond 10 times that, and the options available between cup size, milk type, coffee type, drink style, syrups and toppings etc would allow one to essentially try a different coffee drink each day for the best part of a year.
This is every bit like the cultivation lights industry, where costs, choice and options have all spiralled to a point there’s possibly too much to choose from. Any meaningful comparison could only realistically compare 5-10 systems/different light manufacturers before controlling the other variables becomes unmanageable – not to mention space requirements and repetition numbers to validate the data. Therefore, it leaves a hole in the knowledge, adding more mystery to an industry already shrouded in misinformation and ‘bro-science’ and ultimately, an industry that lacks proper clarity at times.
In fact, proper comparisons between HPS and LED have also been sorely lacking in the peer-reviewed literature. There are still, from time to time, cultivators insisting on using HPS simply because it has proven effective in the past – but is this a good reason to continue?
In a study set up to compare the different systems, Michel Jenkins and Curtis Livesay show some interesting data in their publication ’Photosynthetic Performance and Potency of Cannabis sativa L grown under LED and HPS Illumination’. In this study, which the authors claim to be a first of its kind, they start by comparing the consistency of light intensity within the area of coverage claimed by the manufacturers.
Of the LED light systems tested, not only was there a larger variation than expected, but only one of the three manufacturers showed consistency close to what they claimed. The authors go on to show different metrics such as affect on leaf temperature and light response curves, but the most interesting claim was that LED light when averaged over 11 different cultivars produced ~5 per cent more THCA than the equivalent grown under HPS. Showing that HPS produced an average of 20 per cent THCA (+/- 3 per cent) over the 11 cultivars and LED produced 25 per cent (+/- 2.5 per cent), the authors failed to provide further breakdown of the data.
In addition, the study was straightforward and the selected experiments make sense, but there is some unsubstantiated claims in the introduction, and no access to the supplemental data where they break down the comparison of individual cultivars grown under both lighting systems. This data would help explain how cultivars react to the different lighting systems as a function of the genotype – it may reveal that some cultivars are more susceptible to the different lights versus others. However, showing the +/- reduction (range of results) using LED points towards higher consistency at least.
When considering a lighting system, it would be wise to consider the supplier, their reputation, and how their previous customers review and rate the system, as testimonials and third-party validation are a useful proponent of the decision-making process.
LED lighting for cultivation has become a minefield and it is so easy to get confused by all the options out there. Not understating the importance of competition in the marketplace to help drive prices down, make bespoke designs and keep driving innovation, but it would be so much handier if all these manufacturers used at least the same units of measurement and provided a comparison to a standard HPS. In addition, a standard ‘model’ cultivar would also increase reproducibility.
This is a bit of a pipedream and unlikely to happen anytime soon, but as the industry continues to expand worldwide, cultivators and financers should surely be able to demand better standardisation and higher quality of researched data. It’s high time for an industry standard.
Chief scientific officer
Cannabis cultivation: the additional lighting paradox
In the first of this three-part series, Dr Gary Yates, chief scientific officer at PharmaSeeds, discusses the use of lighting for improving cannabis yield.
In order to make gains on their yields, some Licensed Producers (LP) introduce supplemental lighting to their cultivation area. The need for this strategy is generally determined by certain variables, including the type of system, manpower available, and the size of the cultivation area.
Not everyone utilises this method, and whether a LP does or not is often a function of choice, experience and the type of genetics used.
Before we break down the subject further, it is worth briefly explaining the three different types of light ‘additives’ discussed in this article (the source and quality of lights is not discussed here and is better reserved for an article where this is the primary focus).
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Often vertically positioned, side lights can be added to increase secondary and tertiary (undergrowth) flower yield by increasing the light availability to the non-apical flowers.
These are lights positioned at the base of the plant to increase light availability to the lower parts of the plant (similar to side lights in terms of the goal they try to achieve)
Can be extra lights, e.g. in a Greenhouse to manipulate day length, but can also be included to simply add more photons to the growing area, again usually for the purposes of yield enhancement.
Lighting for yield
Training your plants, and increasing the number of apical buds by topping etc, has been shown to increase the yield capabilities, thus helping with the production of a consistent crop – although it should be noted that in some scenarios, this is not possible due to manpower, spacing issues and other factors.
Many auto-flowering cultivars lose the capacity to automatically flower independent of day length when they are cut. In this scenario, adding illumination to the lower parts of the plant may be beneficial to the overall yield of the plant.
In a 2018 study by Hawley et al, the addition of sub-canopy lights was tested in controlled experiments using RGB (Red Green Blue) LEDs or RB (Red Blue) LEDs. The authors claim that yield is enhanced by up to 19 per cent to 24 per cent as a function of the increased light intensity reaching the mid and lower canopy (normally shaded by the top of the plant), however, the study did not address the quality of the flowers produced on the lower canopy.
They also flowered at a surprisingly low temperature, although the study did not mention how the upward facing lights can adversely affect the plants. Plants detect the direction of light, and it is not out-with reason that illumination from directly underneath may cause conflicting signalling cues. Most photosynthetic parts of a plant are positively phototropic, therefore when the light sources are in opposite directions, they will try to face the strongest light source (even a single leaf can be pulled in two different directions), but such movement comes at a high energy cost to the plant.
Despite this potential negative outcome, the authors show that as well as yield, bud-to-leaf ratio is increased with sub-canopy lighting. Furthermore, minor changes in terpenes (but not cannabinoids) take place.
It is worth mentioning that photosynthesis in plants can be limited by the following: Intensity/quality of light, and CO2/Water/Nutrient availability. The saturation limit for photosynthesis is typically around 1800 μmol·m-2·s-1 – however, using only static lights from above means that once the top canopy is maximised for light intensity, the lower parts of the plants receive less intense levels of light due to shading.
Should you increase the overhead light intensity only, in order to penetrate deeper into the plants, there is a risk of inducing high light stress responses, causing photodamage.
Improving yield in the lower parts of the plant may be achieved by increasing intensity of light to the mid and lower tiers, toward the 1800 μmol·m-2·s-1 saturation limit – but avoid increasing overhead light intensity.
This can be achieved by using side or supplemental lights, carefully positioned, and utilising upward-facing sub canopy lighting. Upward-facing sub-canopy lighting should be an alternative only if side-facing lights are not viable, although additional research is necessary to clarify if direction is a limiting factor.
As with any adjustments to the growing environment, small, incremental changes are easier to manage, and if possible, always run a trial before introducing on a large scale.
Chief scientific officer
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