Actually, it doesn’t matter whether the cannabis industry needs automation or not… it’s already happening, and will continue to become the norm. So here are a few reasons why automation is a GOOD thing.
- It reduces human handling. If we’re going to call cannabis medicine, and many of us already do, then we want people touching our medicine as little as possible. Human handling increases variables, thus increasing the chance for contamination. The novelty backstory of your product, (ex: it was grown on a sun-kissed hill in the Emerald triangle, sang to by a human every morning, and irrigated exclusively with lavender-infused water); that only matters if you’re talking about “craft” growing. When you’re speaking about medicine, you don’t want your product to have a story.
- Helps smaller companies keep up. The big LPs are already introducing more and more automation. Their cost-per-gram will continue to fall as they scale up. Their size means they move slow though, and it takes time to adopt new equipment and processes. That’s how the mid-size and smaller cultivators can keep up: by staying on the bleeding edge of new automation technology.
- Produces more consistent product. The more touch points a product has with humans, the more variation that can occur from one batch to the next. That’s important for many things, but in particular, it’s important for branding. When people make a purchasing decision based on specific product expectations, and those expectations aren’t met, they’ll quickly move on. So consistency is a big deal, and the more automation you have in your process, the more control you have over product consistency.
- Lower prices for consumers. It’s happened in every developed market so far, (Colorado, Washington, Oregon). Prices will drop. Commoditization will happen. Once the novelty wears off, prices are going to matter to consumers, and automation provides the ability to not only compete, but keep your business healthy when prices drop. There will still be a portion of the market for “craft growers”, with cannabis aficionados happy to pay more for their craft-grown product. But consider these wine industry stats from the US market: The average bottle of wine in the US sells for $6.25, and 9 out of 10 bottles of wine sold in the United States cost less than $12. Price matters, and the more you can play in the low-cost cannabis space, the better your business will fare.
If you look at tomato or strawberry farms, or really, any other greenhouse-focused agriculture, it’s already automated. Cannabis is getting on-board too, although slowly. The question is, will you be ahead of the curve, or behind it?