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Challenges with Cannabis Drying Rooms

This article, written by Kent Gruetzmacher, was originally published in Maximum Yield Magazine in February 2021.

Cannabis companies are under consistent pressure to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive marketplace. Even more, as we continue to report the operational inefficiencies and financial floundering of such juggernauts as Medmen, a “lean and mean” mentality is gaining traction with business owners and concerned investors alike. Leading cannabis companies in today’s market put as much value on saving money in producing crops as they do on large yields themselves.

A major facet of cannabis cultivation that has gotten little attention in the past is that of drying rooms. Yet, as we continue to reassess operations in the never-ending search for increased profitability and sustainability, it’s worth giving drying rooms a deeper look because streamlining drying room operations can help secure your bottom line by protecting your harvests.

For those lean producers out there, losing flowers post-harvest to such things as mold is simply not an option, and spending excessive amounts of money on labor in drying operations can hinder profitability.

With challenges of commercial production at the forefront of many operations, identifying key ways in which commercial growers face challenges with drying cannabis is top of mind. The hope being, by illuminating these trials we can work towards more efficient methods for processing our prized harvests.

Available Square Footage

Looking at the industry as a whole, it becomes apparent that available space is the most common theme plaguing drying-room operations. Importantly,  this critical lack of space is largely responsible for other challenges seen in the drying room, especially those related to uneven drying and mold. Yet, as indoor producers already face astronomical overhead costs with licensing, construction, labor, and operations, the idea of spending more on dedicated drying space presents a real dilemma.

According to George Johnson, the marketing director from Lift and Grow, “it’s very clear that drying rooms are too small for most operators. Even more, because they are experiencing larger yields, this fact only exacerbates the problem.” As Johnson points out, advances in both cultivation technology and method have curiously led to a scenario where harvests are getting too large to be properly dried in previously dedicated spaces.

As leaders in automated drying rack technology, Johnson and the team at Lift and Grow are experts in the field of drying cannabis. He continues, “We are seeing that people have dedicated drying space, however, it’s usually less than 500 square feet.” Needless to say, this lack of dedicated square footage simply isn’t enough to provide ideal environmental conditions for drying flowers.

As part of the industry trend towards efficiency in production, people must assess their bottom lines regarding drying-room design. Most likely, you will find that spending money on facilities upfront will help protect your harvest for years to come. Whether these expenditures come with new construction buildouts or the implementation of technology as offered by companies like Lift and Grow, they will likely prove worthwhile in the long run.

Environment

Another challenge faced by commercial producers regarding drying rooms has to do with environmental controls. To illustrate, Johnson says “most growers use commercial dehumidification systems to keep humidity at 50-60 percent while drying in a dark room.” Also, it is very important to keep temperatures under 80 ̊F and space drying branches far enough apart to ensure ample airflow.

A major consideration to make regarding environmental controls in your drying room is the curing process. For example, uneven airflow in your drying room can lead directly to uneven drying in your flowers. When this imbalance occurs, and too many wet flowers make it into a bag or jar for curing, it can ruin the smell, or “nose,” of your cannabis. Unfortunately, when this occurs, your flowers will take on a “hay” smell that renders them near worthless on the open market.

The most detrimental issue caused by improper drying room operations is mold, specifically botrytis (a.k.a. bud rot). Therefore, if you pack drying branches too tightly, it can spell disaster when botrytis spores infiltrate your drying room. Just as seen during the flowering phase of plant growth, poor airflow and excessive humidity in a drying room can cause a devastating botrytis outbreak. Johnson’s clients at Lift and Grow report this scenario as well, stating, “you can blow your whole crop if you don’t get this right.”

Labor

A final consideration to make concerning challenges in the drying room has to do with labor. To this end, as commercial producers continually push the envelope in cannabis cultivation, they must assess how much it will cost to complete critical tasks related to harvesting. Generally, growers pay cultivation technicians $12-$15 per hour to complete remedial chores related to harvesting and drying. Studies show these labor costs can surge to more than $10,000 per harvest in commercial operations.

As the cannabis industry continues to mature, shrewd operators are looking for ways to slim down on their harvest-related labor expenses.

Summary

It can’t be denied that operational inefficiencies will quickly sink a ship in the cannabis industry. This notion rings true for even the largest ships on the sea. Therefore, if the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that cannabis businesses need to save money wherever they can to ensure longevity for themselves and their employees. For commercial growers, this reassessment should include drying rooms, as well as an in-depth look at the infrastructure, operations, and labor involved with this critical element of cannabis cultivation.

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