What is Climate-Smart Agriculture?
The climate-smart framing refers to the USDA’s pursuit of research-based solutions to prepare the agricultural industry for the effects of climate change. While the ideals of sustainability are certainly baked into the climate-smart ethos, and organic agriculture can be climate-smart as well, the USDA’s program is ultimately more focused.
The USDA is currently investing in Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities to “create market opportunities for U.S. agricultural and forestry products that use climate-smart practices and include innovative, cost-effective ways to measure and verify greenhouse gas benefits.” It defines a climate-smart commodity as “an agricultural commodity that is produced using farming, ranching or forestry practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon.”
This program is not open to cannabis companies—yet. The cannabis industry isn’t regulated by the USDA due to federal prohibition. However, it would be wise for cultivators and producers to monitor the outcomes of these projects so they can apply the learnings to their cultivations. After all, it’s just a matter of time before more stringent environmental regulations will apply to all agricultural commodities, including cannabis—better to prepare on one’s own timetable and budget before a sudden sea-change throws the industry and individual balance sheets into a frenzy.
Many of the actions cannabis cultivators can take to align with the USDA’s new vision can also save cultivators money spent on inputs like fertilizer, irrigation, and electricity. Automation, already a cost-saving trend in the industry, not only uses these valuable inputs efficiently, it also cuts down on labor costs and can improve safety.
Cannabis Cultivation Software and Resource Management
Cannabis cultivation software like e-Gro helps cultivators manage the various automated systems at their facilities. When combined with water content meters, tools like the GroSens MultiSensor, e-Gro provides a detailed dataset on rootzone EC, WC and temperature KPIs, facility climate KPIs like humidity, temperature, CO2, and VPD, and preferred photoperiod. For cultivation managers at larger grows, e-Gro can also compare conditions in different rooms and between different crops or strains to improve canopy health and productivity.
Cannabis cultivation software is designed to give growers greater control over their production strategy and improve yields over time. But it can also help protect cannabis growers’ interests long-term. The data produced by e-Gro may come in handy if and when regulators or entities like the USDA reach out to cultivators to establish new benchmarks for utility consumption, cannabis waste management, agricultural recycling, and other climate-smart metrics.
Indeed, although cannabis companies have yet to fall under the USDA’s purview, e-Gro aligns with the department’s present-day focus. The USDA has named precision-growing-friendly technologies such as digital agriculture, automation, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), internet-of-things (IoT), and unmanned aerial systems (UAS)” as one of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) 2022 priorities for regional innovation and demonstration of climate-smart agriculture.
Cannabis Cultivation Software and Sustainability
Another USDA and NIFA priority that aligns well with cannabis cultivator’s goals is “advanced genomics and phenotyping, in combination with animal or plant production systems.” Collecting data about how input-hungry certain strains are and making crop-steering choices accordingly could become a more important part of cultivation strategy and seed or clone selection in the future. Indeed, some genetics companies are already producing research into drought-tolerant cannabis strains.
It’s not too early to be thinking ahead about tomorrow’s environmental standards. States like Massachusetts already require cannabis companies to report annual energy consumption. Meanwhile, other states offer rebates on LED lights, updated HVAC equipment, and other upgrades that, like more efficient substrates, can bring the cannabis industry closer to carbon neutrality. Taking advantage of these programs now—before they become mandatory—can help the entire cannabis industry navigate shifting regulations, climate-smart legislation, and an individual organization’s longevity.
Get a closer look at how Grodan products contribute to a more sustainable cannabis industry on our blog and podcast.