How Does a Cannabis Supplement Get Made?
Most of the cannabis produced in the United States today is grown indoors in special warehouses. But while these indoor cultivation setups can offer growers the advantages of a year-round growing season, added protection from pests, and greater control over the crop’s growing conditions, their common use of alternative growing media in indoor farms can leave the plants lacking key nutrients that they would otherwise be able to draw directly from the Earth’s soil.
Rx Green Technologies is one of the firms working to develop effective nutrition solutions for the North American indoor cannabis farmer. With a site that boasts both an in-house licensed grow operation and an R&D facility, the company has firmly rooted itself at the cutting edge of cannabis cultivation science and research.
Inside the R&D department
Rx Green Technologies’ product offering includes everything from essential soil nutrient boosters, protein supplements, and proprietary pest control solutions, to vegetative and reproductive growth nutrient formulas. By running their own in-house grow operation, the team is able to easily identify where supplements or additives might be needed and can carry out field testing as needed on the different cultivars that are growing there.
“Most other cannabis input suppliers have been limited to testing on other types of greenhouse crops, [such as] tomatoes or cucurbits,” Stephanie Wedryk, PhD, director of R&D at Rx Green Technologies, told Analytical Cannabis in an interview in November 2019.
“We are actually able to test our products on cannabis in a production setting. So we immediately know in our development process whether this is a fit for cannabis or not, and we're not just testing it on tomatoes or something and then taking the guess, ‘oh, we think it'll work in cannabis.’”
The R&D team carries out 12 trials on around 720 plants for each product that they develop and test, spanning eight different cannabis cultivars. Working with so many data points, the team aims to generate the same variety of data that would be needed for a good quality peer-reviewed journal article in order to lend extra credence to their findings. These rigorous experiments on their in-house crop can then more deeply inform the development process for the new product being workshopped.
Listening to the local grower
As well as observing the challenges seen in their own growing operation, the team at Rx Green Technologies also places a huge amount of importance on the feedback that they receive from other active cultivators in the market.
“Where our model is a little bit different than other companies is that we work directly with growers – we have boots on the ground who are using our products, and we help them figure it out for their system.” Wedryk said. “We might recommend a certain general feed rate during certain weeks of the [growing] cycle, but we will work with our growers to determine if that the right feed rate for [them], or if we need to move up or down from that rate to work.”
More so than just using grower feedback to advance their own product development, the team also wants to act as a resource for those in the industry to use. There is generally very little support infrastructure in place for North American cannabis cultivators, Wedryk explained, and so private entities have to step in and fill that gap for the cultivation sector to be able to thrive. Where growers of more traditional crops, like maize or wheat, can turn to the university system for help and support or for more information on products, the continued federal prohibition of cannabis within the United States has closed off this potential source of expertise to the average cannabis farmer.
“There’s very little support infrastructure in the cannabis space,” said Wedryk. “So, we like to provide that service for our growers. And we end up fielding questions on everything – whether it has to do with our products or not – we're still happy to help because our mission is really just to support this industry.”
Building the body of research
As you might expect, much of the research being done by the Rx Green Technologies team feeds into product development that will help growers improve their return on investment.
But the team is also very aware that there is a general paucity of available information when it comes to cannabis plant nutrition and its effects on plant growth. As a result, they have also conducted and published the results of several internal trials investigating the effectiveness of common processes, such as flushing and PK booster use, in order to better inform growers who may have questions about these approaches.
“There has been very little research on plant nutrition and production in cannabis. I come from the agricultural world and there are thousands upon thousands of studies on the big, commoditized crops across the world – wheat, rice soya so on and so forth. And we see that that is missing in cannabis,” Wedryk said.
“We are trying to not just provide products that are tested in cannabis, but we are also trying to provide greater understanding to growers on their production practices, and just the general agronomy of this crop as well.”
This article originally appeared in Analytical Cannabis' Technology in Cannabis Cultivation eBook in December 2020.