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How to Realistically Forecast Production Yields and Timelines

Yield is the amount of cannabis flower that a grower harvests from a crop, and it’s the foundation of any cannabis cultivation business.

The greater the harvest, the more profitable the business, and the aspiration to increase yield permeates every part of the cannabis grow industry. New technologies promise to improve yield, growers boast about the size of their yield, and business plans forecast a rapid start-up with subsequent huge yields.

But it’s the last point that warrants the most caution. Unrealistic forecasts can leave investors angry, growers under pressure, and licensing entities wondering what happened.

The most common question from start-ups planning their cultivation business is, “How much cannabis will one plant yield?” They’re asking the wrong question. What they should be asking is, “How much flower can I expect from a given amount of true flowering space?”

True flowering space is that area of a farm, greenhouse, or indoor grow facility that is solely dedicated to flowering plant production. After all, flowers are where the money’s at. But not all available space in a cultivation facility is dedicated to flowering plant production. A lot of space is taken up by administrative offices, locker rooms, shipping and receiving areas, electrical rooms, supply closets, and storage areas. Even the cultivation footprint of a facility is not 100% dedicated to flowering plants.

About 25% of any cultivation footprint is required for stock plant production, asexual propagation, and vegetative plant growth. Stock plants or “mother plants” are stout, bushy plants that are constantly pruned to force the production of fresh shoots, also called vegetative cuttings or clones. These clones are cut from the mother plant and rooted to form new plants, which must undergo a period of vegetative growth to produce healthy roots and a robust branching system that will support the weight of the flowers later in production.

The remaining 75% of the cultivation footprint is still not wholly dedicated to flowering plants since some space is required for walkways and working areas at the entrance, rear of a grow room, and along the walls. What remains after subtracting all of these necessary evils is the true flowering space, which we can now use to conservatively forecast plant yield.

Many variables can affect the yield of an individual plant. Genetics play an influential role since some varieties are heavy yielders and others are notoriously light. The amount of time spent in the vegetative growth phase also affects the weight of a plant’s harvest. A plant that begins flowering after just two weeks of vegetative growth will be much smaller and yield less than a plant that begins flowering after ten weeks of vegetative growth.

To account for these variables, it’s best to calculate yield per square meter/square foot of true flowering space—regardless of whether that space is occupied by one large plant or several small ones. Growers should expect about 350 grams of dry flower per square meter of true flowering space, or about 35 grams per square foot, per harvest.

Realistic Timelines

Construction of a greenhouse or indoor grow facility should not take longer than six months to complete. This assumes that the company had identified vendors, received quotes, and completed all architectural designs before receiving a license. Be aware that drilling wells or bringing electrical service to the grow site can drag out construction much longer. Lead time for most grow equipment is generally eight weeks in places like the US and Canada. If the equipment can’t be sourced domestically, anticipate a slightly longer lead time for ocean freight shipping.

Once the facility is complete, cultivation begins. Some newly regulated cannabis markets prohibit starting production by acquiring live plants. Buying plants or seedlings from the illicit market can help jump-start production, but few regulatory programs will allow that. When Canada first began licensing commercial cannabis companies, licensees could acquire live plants or choose to start production from seed. Launching a cultivation business with live plants in Colombia is prohibited, so all new license recipients must begin production from seed.

Regardless of how new cultivators source their genetics, they’ll want to refine their selections and build up a stock plant reserve to ensure that they can offer a consistent product. Genetics are refined by flowering a crop, selecting the best performing plants, and culling the rest. Refining will take about four months, and building up stock plants from the “cream of the crop” will take another two months. The first commercial-scale run will take about four months to complete.

So, between construction (six months), refining of genetics and building stock plants (six months), and completing the first real production run (four months), a new cultivation business should anticipate having product for sale approximately 16 months after receiving their license. Give yourself a buffer by promising regulators and investors an 18-month timeline, and your business should be in excellent shape.

Ryan DouglasRyan Douglas

Ryan Douglas

Ryan Douglas helps businesses cultivate a profitable future in the cannabis industry. He is the founder of Ryan Douglas Cultivation, LLC and author of From Seed to Success: How to Launch a Great Cannabis Cultivation Business in Record TimeRyan has worked in commercial horticulture for 25 years and specializes in legal cannabis start-ups.

Before entering the cannabis industry, Ryan spent 15 years as a commercial greenhouse grower of ornamental and edible crops, growing up to 600,000 plants annually. As Master Grower from 2013 to 2016, he directed cultivation for Tweed Inc., the flagship subsidiary of Canopy Growth Corporation. Ryan now offers cultivation advisory services to cannabis operators worldwide, and he can be reached through his website,

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