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With the COVID-19 pandemic pushing many sectors to the brink over the past year, the medical cannabis market was estimated to be worth $22.9 billion in 2020 and is set to accelerate at a CAGR of 18.1% over the next five years. This is supported by the news that earlier this year, Savills estimated that the UK CBD market was worth £300m and is expected to more than triple in the next five years – taking it to a potential £1bn market by 2025.

Now, the UK cannabis industry is urging for further easing of restrictions on medical use of the drug. A recent report backed by 16 industry bodies argues that removal of red tape would enable the creation of tens of thousands of UK-based jobs, in areas such as cultivation and production.

Among the proposals in the report is the call for the government to make it easier to grow cannabis for medical use and to allow the extraction of cannabidiol (CBD), which under current regulations must be imported from abroad.

Demand in medicinal cannabis is rapidly growing, with more sources highlighting the health and wellness benefits of CBD, including chronic pain relief and help with stress and anxiety, as well as its use to help combat some forms of cancer.

Cited as the ideal crop, owing to its high margins and ‘breedability’ for indoor growing, while offering a platform to trial and hone new agri-tech methods. Could cannabis legislation turbocharge the closed environment agriculture (CEA) industry for the benefit of the medicinal market? We take a look at some of the reasons why medicinal plant growth offers CEA farmers a potentially huge opportunity.

Complete cultivation control indoors

A significant benefit of cultivating medicinal cannabis indoors is that through vertical farming and glasshouse growing, it offers growers complete control of conditions such as temperature, light, CO2 levels and humidity. The UK sees an average of 133 days of rain and around 1,350 hours of sun per year, so these CEA methods remove the reliance on the good ol’ British climate, and therefore helps avoid the risks associated with outdoor cultivation. As an island, we’re prone to excessive rainfall rather than tropical heatwaves, so too much rain can cause plant mould and/or bud rot.

Another advantage of indoor growing of medicinal cannabis plants is that they can be grown all year round, producing continuous supply thanks to multiple harvests each year. This lends itself to increased profit opportunity when compared with growing outdoors, particularly as the need to harvest less frequently can also reduce staffing costs.

CEA offers superior light performance

Using superior quality light in an indoor controlled environment can accelerate the growth cycle and benefits from high light intensities, so choosing high performance LED luminaires will serve growers well. It can also offer growers the opportunity to alter and optimise the light recipe to increase the number of flowers, as well as the levels of CBD and THC concentration in the flowers.

CEA farming also allows growers to install the optimal µmol/J (micromole per Joule), the measurement to determine how efficient the lighting is at converting electrical energy into photons in order to maximise plant growth. Again, this is all part of the joys of a controlled environment.

Indoor farming improves appearance and aroma

There are other commercial benefits to cultivating medicinal cannabis indoors. It is known for its reported ‘perfect’ appearance and natural, sweet smell, offering a more marketable, visually appealing proposition than outdoor-grown medicinal cannabis which is subject to weather and insects. Having a controlled environment also means that many crops – from tomatoes and strawberries to rocket and herbs – can often be grown with a superior flavour, by giving them exactly what they need.

Sensing CEA growth opportunity

While growing medicinal cannabis opens a world of possibilities to the CEA sector, it is notoriously temperamental and needs finely tuned growing conditions to thrive. It is crucial to monitor that environment using high-tech sensors to minimise the risk of losing a harvest, and therefore vital to choose a CEA partner that will work with you to create the right uniformity for your environment. Using its in-house laboratory and harnessing its team of industry-leading scientists, Light Science Technologies (LST) tests what works best and creates the right design using its nurturGROW modular system to deliver the perfect growing recipe at a lower cost.