Growing cannabis outdoors is a gamble. The upside is a high return for a relatively small investment. Outdoor cultivation requires the lowest capital and operational expenditures compared to indoor or greenhouse growing, with the potential for equal or greater yields per square foot of canopy. The downside is the risk. Weather conditions can make or break an outdoor crop, and it’s a factor outside of every grower’s control. Prolonged periods of humid or rainy weather will cause cannabis flowers to rot, rendering them unsaleable to dispensaries and extractors.Operators that decide to roll the dice and grow outdoors are always wondering the same two things: 1. How am I doing compared to industry standards?2. How can I do better next season?Businesses new to outdoor cultivation need benchmarks to help ensure their progress is on point, and seasoned cultivators know the best time to start planning for next year is right now.If either situation describes your business, consider the following insights to help validate your current efforts and ensure a profitable 2022 and beyond:1. How am I doing compared to industry standards?Outdoor cannabis growers should anticipate yielding about 1,000 pounds of dry cannabis flower per acre of production. Various factors can affect this number—such as variety selection, planting dates, and plant size—but using 1,000 pounds per acre is a safe compromise. Large, mature plants should yield about one pound of dry flower on harvest day. If you anticipate demand will be strong, and supply will be limited in the state where you are growing (think New Mexico, New York), expect to fetch $1,000 per pound or roughly $1 million in gross revenue per acre. Not so bullish? Cut that number in half for a conservative $500,000 per acre.2. How can I do better next season?Grow more, but smaller plantsHuge flowers create the perfect breeding ground for fungal infections like botrytis. Large, mature cannabis flowers provide mold spores with a moist and protected environment to propagate. Growing smaller plants will naturally result in smaller flowers, potentially delaying the onset of fungal problems or decreasing their economic damage to the crop. Planting at a higher density will help counter the reduction in yield from growing smaller plants. Don’t start from seedThe instability of most current-day cannabis genetics leaves a lot to fate. Sowing 100 seeds of any variety could easily result in 40 or 50 different plants in terms of yield, cannabinoid content, and growth structure. Can you imagine the variation in 1,000 outdoor plants that are started from seed?It will be challenging to sell an outdoor seed crop for dispensary flower sales. Consistency is key to quality. It will also be difficult to automate and schedule work tasks for a seed crop if the plants are all at different heights and stages of maturity throughout the growing season. Eliminate this hassle by propagating known varieties in the form of rooted cuttings. Do this in-house, or pay a cannabis nursery, fellow grower, or tissue culture lab to do this for you. Even at $15 per plant, spending just $15,000 an acre on known genetics that should yield six figures at the end of the season is a fair ROI. Sell fresh frozen flowersIncrease your profitability by decreasing your overall cost of production. Don’t trim or dry your harvest. Arrange to sell your crop for processing as fresh flower. On harvest day, simply buck the flowers (remove them from the stem) and package them into a refrigerated truck or pack them with dry ice. Deliver to the customer and be done—no need to build expensive environmentally-controlled drying rooms or spend the money on trim machines or post-harvest labor.Extracts and infused products from fresh-frozen cannabis flowers are increasing in popularity, and this is good news for growers. Slow drying can result in a superior product, but it can be challenging to do so correctly, especially with the rush of harvest time. Consider eliminating this risk by not drying your crop at all. Extend the season with autoflowersAutoflowering plants will flower under any conditions, and they can be used to increase the overall annual production from any plot of land. Thanks to autoflower’s short cropping cycle, they can be planted in the spring and harvested in the summer, just as a company’s natural-season cannabis is being transplanted outdoors. Autoflowering cannabis plants are typically smaller than natural-season cannabis plants, but they have the potential to bring additional revenue from an otherwise unutilized plot of land. If you’re in the business of growing cannabis outdoors, don’t wait until winter to start planning your next crop. Successful operators that aim to stay competitive need to be thinking about next summer’s crop today.
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 Time. Ryan 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, douglascultivation.com.
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