Ideas and Innovation in Marijuana Cultivation

There has been much discussion about the business end of the cannabis industry: money to be made, jobs to be created, laws to be rewritten. But marijuana’s biggest impact may be scientific, as grow facilities have also become laboratories where agricultural innovation and experimentation take place. “That’s why I think a lot of the folks that work here are really excited,” says Armen Yemenidjian, CEO of Desert Grown. “If you have an idea, let’s try it out. No one has a monopoly on good ideas.”

Since every marijuana product sold in Nevada must be derived from a plant grown here, marijuana cultivators have been springing up all over the state. However, they are restricted to industrial areas and windowless buildings—you wouldn’t even know they were there unless you got close enough to smell. Once inside, past several security checkpoints, you find vast facilities with staff in coveralls and lab coats moving down long white hallways between climate-controlled rooms. And like any devoted gardener—or scientist—each has added their own twists to the formula.

Of course, the two chief necessities for growing plants are light and water. Electricity is the largest expense for many grows, as the plants require intense, high-wattage light, and that light creates heat, adding A.C. and ventilation costs to the bill. There has been some skepticism about the effectiveness of using LED lights for marijuana cultivation, but The Grove dispensary has been using these bulbs with success—and savings. Elsewhere in Vegas, at Reef Dispensaries’ enormous plant-filled cultivation, much of the irrigation is done with water reclaimed from the grow rooms: Condensation is gathered into enormous vats and returned to the plants, an extra step to nature’s water cycle, if you will.

Photos by Krystal Ramirez

A plethora of computer monitors is ubiquitous at modern grows. “Everything we do here is computerized,” Yemenidjian says. “They pull a report and it’ll tell us if a room overnight went above or below a certain humidity or a certain temperature. It’s making sure that every nutrient that’s sent to plants is measured.” Those nutrients are administered in house-made solutions added to carefully filtered water, which then flows to the grow rooms and the plants via an elaborate system of pipes. Not only does it allow Desert Grown to tailor its solutions for specific strains, but not having heavy, premixed bottles shipped in from elsewhere decreases environmental impact.

Cannabis is an industry that attracts iconoclastic thinkers, and it’s profitable enough for its pioneers to be able to invest in new ideas. Many of the innovations made in this space can be transferred to more conventional crops—a way for marijuana to benefit even those who never touch the stuff.