Tackling Cannabis Facility Design with Urban-Gro
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For every prospective cannabis cultivator, the first decisions to be made are on the cultivation facility itself. Whether to grow indoors or outdoors? How large should the facility be? Should it be a greenhouse? All of these are major points for consideration.
To learn more about the services that are available to new cultivators setting up shop, Analytical Cannabis spoke with Arie Kamp, managing director at urban-gro Europe, a leading architectural and engineering firm that is already applying its design-build expertise to the cannabis industry.
Controlled environment agriculture and facility expertise
As a team of architects, engineers, horticulture experts, and construction managers, urban-gro has already helped to conceptualize, design, and build commercial and industrial facilities across a wide range of industries.
But for the cannabis market, it is urban-gro’s specialism in solutions for controlled environment agriculture (CEA) that is turning heads.
CEA is a technology-focused approach to crop cultivation. The goal is to precisely maintain optimal growing conditions for a plant at all stages of its life, which should then maximize crop quality and yield. Within the cannabis industry especially, CEA has taken off as a way to exert more control on what is otherwise a very diverse and variable plant.
“We started expanding into Europe basically with the design of indoor facilities in the CEA area,” recalled Kamp. “We, mainly in the US, have proceeded into design and design-build professional services for all the indoor cannabis-related or food-related projects.”
“[In the] last couple of years, we’ve expanded quite rapidly due to the numerous acquisitions in the field of the services that we provide. Architectural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, all of that. What we can do is offer a customer or investor a full range of what is required for designing these facilities.”
Urban-gro Europe is headquartered in the Netherlands, with the US office based out of Colorado. In addition to offering services in Europe and North America, its consultants also work on projects in South America, Africa, and across the Middle East.
“We are Dutch-based and I’m a Dutch person,” Kamp said. “I’m local, I’ve been in the industry of horticulture for more than 27 years already. So I know all the players, partnerships that we can create, that are required to do a full range of supplied [services].”
Consider facility location and scale
There is no “one size fits all” solution to designing anything, let alone a cannabis facility. As Kamp explains, the geographical location of a facility can dramatically influence the direction in which a cultivation boss or a designer might want to take things.
“What you see in the southern European companies is that the indoor [facilities] for cultivation in the southern part are of a different structure than what you would require in Germany, for instance,” Kamp said. “It is all to do with the configuration of the company itself, what they demand and how they control the product.”
“You have other regulations, and for certain buildings or setups, or growing methods, it’s not possible to do that [compliantly]. So, for instance, if you do outdoor [cultivation], it’s much harder to create European GMP [good manufacturing practices] standards, because the percentage of THC or CBD varies. But with indoor [cultivation], you can fully control that.”
That also isn’t to say that having one large-scale indoor cultivation facility is the best way to go. As Kamp explained, facility size is something that companies must consider carefully. Having an extremely large cultivation greenhouse might sound like an attractive idea in theory, but these ventures can cause significant headaches when it comes to pest control, disease prevention, and other day-to-day management issues.
“With my former company, I was also involved in the cannabis industry, I was involved with the latest solutions for Canada. So the big parties with their big, big facilities – 80,000 square meters facilities,” Arie said. “Unfortunately, in Canada it completely backfired. They were too big on the size of the cultivation plots.”
“An interesting thought for urban-gro is that they saw the possibilities of the 5,000 square meter center, which is much more feasible, and controllable on the issues of diseases to be controlled than those big facilities,” Kamp recalled. “So that for me was one of the interesting key items, and also what we thought was important to get the market in Europe more on that scale as well.”
The future of cannabis cultivation in Europe
In recent weeks, Germany has emerged as a European frontrunner on the issue of cannabis legalization. Despite initial concerns over European Union approval, the German Health Minister, Karl Lauterbach, said earlier this week that a compliant bill to legalize cannabis in Germany could be published as early as the end of March.
If Germany’s attempt to legalize cannabis is successful, it could dramatically change the face of the cannabis cultivation sector in Europe, Kamp believes.
“Germany is a very important country in the European Union, and therefore, if Germany sets this bar of how they want to get legalized, the next countries will be the Czech Republic; Holland was already involved in a cannabis experiment [...] Portugal is already doing the medicinal side of growing with that being standard on GMP,” Kamp said. “Our knowledge of what we have experienced in the US and what we have created, [we are] modifying it into a way that we can implement in Germany.”
As the laws regarding cannabis use change, it is also likely that the industry will see more cannabis cultivators spring up within the European market. Similarly to the pattern being seen in the food industry, concerns over market instability and greenhouse gas production may also stoke interest in small-to-mid-scale local cultivation operations.
“[Crops are] being produced at the moment outdoors in Africa or other countries, and for the CO2 footprint to be reduced, you will see that there’s a lot of companies wanting to do local,” Kamp said. “And for that reason, the indoor solutions that we can provide to these companies is very important as well.”