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PLANT TRACKING
Jan 23, 2023

3 Cannabis Cultivation Trends for 2023

With each passing year, the cannabis industry matures and continues to grow exponentially. Not only in the size of the market, but also in the methods of production, technology, and cannabis consumer behavior.

In this article, we’ll review the cannabis industry trends that have emerged in 2022 and that will drive 2023 forward. And we’ll cover current industry statistics underlying these cannabis industry trends.

ECONOMIC DOWNTURN AND OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY 

In a recession, people tighten their wallets. The good news is that cannabis is a staple for households, whether used medically or recreationally. People may move across categories and price points, but their expenditures shouldn’t cease. Coupled with expanding markets in new states all over the country, there’s no doubt that there is still massive growth ahead for the cannabis industry. 

A recession presents opportunities to reconfigure business operations to become more efficient. Every dollar counts and business owners are looking to cut extra fat wherever possible. Recessions will come and go with time, but commercial cannabis cultivators that want to stay in business will innovate and steer towards long-term growth.

Cannabis is a resource-intensive plant to grow, requiring a high amount of electricity, nutrients, startup costs, but most importantly labor, which makes up more than half of all operational costs.

Race to the Bottom

In more competitive, saturated markets like California, Colorado, Oregon and Michigan, prices are in a race to the bottom. There are various reasons causing the decline, but any strategic cultivator will want to reexamine their operation and identify any areas for cost improvement. If you can’t increase revenues, you can decrease costs.

Labor is the Key

Not all cannabis businesses have huge financial backings that can weather an economic downturn. Self-funded, or smaller operations, have a much smaller margin of error for their revenues and expenses. Large-scale, multi state operators must also seek cost savings and efficiencies. In all cases, labor is the greatest expense.

Labor is the largest expense in commercial cannabis cultivation, accounting for nearly 50%  of production costs. Cannabis cultivation requires a skilled team to support the growing, maintenance, harvesting, and processing. 

As the industry has matured, many businesses have taken on more production space and larger teams, making it more challenging to manage daily activities and maintain accountability. Increasing team efficiency by improving communication methods and streamlining daily activities can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Here are some tips to boost labor efficiency:

  • Set clearly defined goals and communicate them to the entire team. Employees need to know what they’re working towards and how to get there
  • Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) so tasks are understood clearly and performed consistently
  • Ensure all employees receive quality training
  • Use cannabis software to manage daily operations and schedule tasks. Software provides a lot of benefits such as productivity tracking and performance analytics.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, create incentives for great work. Everyone needs to be recognized for working hard. When you track employee productivity, you can reward those who excel and find opportunities for additional training to those who need help to succeed.

OBSESSION WITH HIGH THC

Cannabis consumers across the country are making a statement at the register. Cannabis with high THC potency is the big seller. Cultivators keep pushing the boundaries higher than anyone thought was possible in the past. Some even surpassing the 30% mark. 

Perhaps it’s a psychological calculation of getting the most ‘bang for your buck’ or simply a lack of education around terpenes and how the terpene profile is equally as important as THC levels. Either way, consumers are opting for the strongest weed they can get.

Discrepancy Between Labs

Cultivators have caught on that there are large discrepancies between testing labs, when it comes to getting those high THC results. Higher % can sell for 60-80% more than cannabis that’s lower in THC content. 

Some states have performed audits on their labs and shown that this in fact does exist on a wide scale. Many operators are pushing for a state lab that can establish standardized procedures, like those found in soil or water testing. The issue lies with how each lab prepares the sample for testing, mixing with different reagents or solvents, before going into the testing equipment. (source)

What does that mean for commercial cultivators in 2023? And how can your operation respond to the market dynamics to take advantage of this trend? 

For one, cultivators need to adapt and that means giving the consumers what they want. For one, you may consider trying out all the labs in your area and selecting the most reputable with the best results. But second, and more importantly, is our next trend of 2023: to develop genetics and a brand that can compete and sell.

Source: Maximum Yield

Genetics + Branding

The number of multi-state operators is increasing as brands who have developed a foothold in one market, seek to expand their reach to new regions. And these aren’t just the biggest players in the industry. Craft cultivator, DogHouse Cannabis, founded in Salem, Oregon, expanded operations to Michigan to capitalize on a fresh market with fewer developed brands in-state. We expect this trend to continue as new states pass legislation and begin cannabis sales. 

Cultivators have to play the game and stay on top of the preferred strains in the market. Or better yet, one step ahead. Tastes and preferences change very frequently in this market, partly fueled by breeders’ constant production of new cannabis strains. 

Growers who have access to a breeder or employee who can start an in-house program, would be wise to develop and name their own set of strains. When you’re the only producer of a certain strain, your competitive edge skyrockets.

Couple a unique genetic portfolio with a distinct brand, and you’ve got a winning combo to take you through the year ahead and beyond. Take these winter months as an opportunity to invest time and energy into branding and marketing. Download our Marketing Plan Template and either review what you already have to improve and update it, or work with your internal team to develop a well thought-out marketing strategy.

Conclusion: 2023 Cannabis Trends

As a software provider to cannabis businesses, we regularly speak with a diverse range of operators. From our first-hand conversations, the cannabis industry trends covered above are of great importance to cultivators across the US. 

This new year will be monumental to widespread growth of the legal cannabis industry. Cannabis legalization across the country and beyond is increasingly the most important trend to watch and it’s only a matter of time until all the chips fall into place and federal legalization occurs.

See Last Years Cannabis Trends to Watch for in 2022

Review the cannabis industry trends and industry statistics we identified in 2022.

A focus on water conservation 

Cannabis is a resource-intensive plant to grow, requiring a high amount of  human labor, electricity, nutrients, and water. Efficient water management has become a popular topic this year as cultivators look for ways to reduce their water usage – especially in states like California which saw a near record-setting drought this year. In a report from the California Department of Water Resources, 2021 was the second driest year in state history. 

With worsening drought conditions, it’s possible that regulatory water restrictions could impact commercial cultivars in the near future. Similar restrictions have been imposed around electrical power usage to lessen carbon emissions. Some operators see the writing on the wall and are taking steps to  integrate water conservation practices. 

“We’re building (production technologies) so we’re prepared, from both a fiduciary and a corporate responsibility standpoint, if there’s an issue with water use.” said Jigar Patel, co-founder and CEO, NorCal Cannabis. “But, more important, because we think it’s the right thing to do.”

cannabis trends

In 2021, New Frontier Data in partnership with Resource Innovation Institute published a report titled Cannabis H2O, Water Use & Sustainability in Cultivation. Data showed that on average, cultivation facilities use 121 gallons per square foot, per year. Indoor facilities averaged 209 gallons, compared to outdoor facilities averaging 11 gallons per square foot per year. The number of annual harvests is obviously significant in the cyclicality of water use, with multi-harvest facilities consuming increased volumes of water in a steady flow throughout the year. Outdoor facilities on the other hand, are likely to see their highest rates of use in late summer and early fall, as harvests approach. 

Crop steering – still all the rage

Crop steering made our list last year and it no doubt deserves to be here again in 2022. In the last year, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in the adoption of crop steering technology. More and more cannabis cultivators are deploying root zone and environmental sensors in their facilities to consistently track data points like EC, WC, humidity and CO2. 

In tandem, there’s an increasing demand for crop steering information and guidance. Some businesses that have adopted crop steering methodologies and purchased the necessary technology are investing in consulting from experts to help them develop their own, tailored crop steering strategies. 

In addition to crop steering tech and consulting, there’s been a wealth of new content published this past year to help growers learn about crop steering. We personally developed a guide with leading industry experts to spread the information and empower growers to take the leap. Our Growers Guide to Crop Steering has been downloaded by thousands of cultivators and we’re thrilled to support this next generation of indoor growing. 

Emphasis on efficiency 

Commercial cultivators have been focusing on production efficiency more and more in recent years. Efficiency has become especially critical as cannabis flower prices have dropped precipitously in some markets. Wholesale prices for outdoor flower dropped up to 60% in California in 2021 due to increased supply and production. Indoor growers were hit less hard by the market conditions, with prices decreasing by 10-20%. 

Diminishing profit margins demands businesses cut operational costs and increase efficiency in order to remain profitable. In 2022, cultivators will continue to seek ways to better track and analyze their Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) in order to identify areas of improvement. 

Brands are scaling to new markets 

Amidst a global pandemic, supply chain issues, and the ongoing push to legalize cannabis at the Federal level, the cannabis industry continues to grow. As new markets explode with potential, established brands are scaling operations to these new states to replicate their success. 

The average square footage of cannabis production areas has grown from 18,200 sq ft in 2016 to 36,300 sq ft in 2020, and the number of grow sites for cultivation operations has evolved from primarily single grow sites to multi-facility operations.

The number of multi-state operators is increasing as brands who have developed a foothold in one market, seek to expand their reach to new regions. And these aren’t just the biggest players in the industry. Craft cultivator, DogHouse Cannabis, founded in Salem, Oregon, expanded operations to Michigan this past year to capitalize on a fresh market with few developed brands in-state. We expect this trend to continue as new states pass legislation and begin cannabis sales. 

More cannabis research and reports

What I find really exciting is the huge number of scientific papers published about cannabis this past year; over 3,800 reports were filed in the first 11 months of 2021. To put that in perspective, researchers published fewer than 3000 papers about cannabis between 1990-1999 and fewer than 2,000 papers were published in the ‘80s.

Increasingly, scientists, analysts, and industry experts are putting their time towards research and moving the industry forward. This activity signifies a huge shift in what we know about cannabis. This research adds legitimacy to our industry through data and scientific findings that helps break down stigmas and misconceptions about the plant. This should help bolster the case further to reschedule cannabis at the federal level.

CONCLUSION

As a software provider to cannabis businesses, we regularly speak with a diverse range of operators. From our first-hand conversations, the cannabis industry trends covered above are of great importance to cannabis cultivators across the US. 

This new year will be monumental to widespread growth of the legal cannabis industry. Cannabis legalization across the country and beyond is increasingly the most important trend to watch and its only a matter of time until the chips fall into place.


CHECKOUT OUR ARTICLE ON MARIJUANA TRENDS FOR 2021

Review the cannabis industry trends and industry statistics we identified in 2021.

CROP STEERING TAKING INDOOR CULTIVATION BY STORM

One thing you can always count on from the cannabis industry is innovation. The hottest trend in indoor cultivation right now is by far Crop Steering, as featured in our recent blog article. This technique has been adapted for cannabis to optimize production yields by manipulating grow conditions and feedings to ‘steer’ plants into vegetative or generative growth.

The goal in commercial cannabis production is to maximize yields by optimizing plant growth in each stage. With crop steering, plants are given the opportunity to produce only enough foliage and stems in vegetative growth to support vigorous flower production. 

Crop steering can be done at any stage of growth to accomplish specific goals a grower might have. In the last few years, crop steering techniques have really taken off at indoor cultivation facilities. Growers have been exploring a mix of vegetive and generative steering throughout the cannabis flowering cycle to maintain plant balance.

Crop registration is the collection of detailed measurements and is arguably the most important aspect of crop steering. Through diligent data collection, growers can track how their steering actions affect the plants and resulting yields. Since there is little information for growers on this topic online, we developed a guide to crop steering with the help of leading industry experts. To dive into this subject and start steering at your facility, download our free guide here.

INCREASING BENCHMARKS FOR THC 

At the top of our cannabis industry trends list is the race to the highest THC %. There’s an interesting two-way communication between producers and marijuana consumers in the legal marijuana market. Breeders and growers define what cultivars they choose to grow each year. And consumers vote with their dollars to signal back to brands, distributors and cultivators what strains they prefer. 

What we’ve been seeing over the last few years, is an increasing demand for high THC strains. While we’re learning more about how the present terpenes in a strain might play a more important role in the effect or ‘high’, consumers consider their options in a simple way: highest THC for lowest $. 

Cultivators have to play the game and stay on top of the preferred strains in the market. Or better yet, one step ahead. Tastes and preferences change very frequently in this market, partly fueled by breeders constant production of new cannabis strains. 

Growers who have access to a breeder or employee who can start a program, would be wise to develop and name their own strains. When you’re the only producer of a certain strain, your competitive edge improves.

THE DOMINO EFFECT OF CANNABIS LEGALIZATION

We’re way past the 50% tipping point for United States cannabis legalization. Today, 36 states and 4 territories have some level of cannabis regulations in place. November 2020 elections added New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana to the roster. 

What to watch for in 2021? Two very large, legal marijuana markets are likely to be brought online: New York and Texas. 

New York has really felt the economic impact of Covid-19 this year. And it seeks to use cannabis tax revenues to assist in economic recovery. The state is projecting to go live in April of 2021. Governor Andrew Cuomo, asked the legislature to include a measure in the January budget to enact cannabis state law.

With New Jersey and Pennsylvania both facilitating legal cannabis, New York finds itself in a legal cannabis sandwich, and it doesn’t want to miss out. The East coast is turning on quickly.

We’d love to see novel agreements between these densely packed, neighboring states. A reciprocity of some sort, or potentially some kind of trade bubble across state lines. That would set a precedent for the rest of the country and set a route for federal cannabis legalization and inter-state trade.

Texas is another state whose total potential market is huge. SB 140 bill filed on November 9, 2020, seeks to legalize cannabis and establish a commercial cannabis industry in the state. Legal marijuana could produce more than $1.1 billion in Texas state tax revenues.

CANNABIS BUSINESS DURING COVID-19

Covid-19 has impacted every soul on this globe, in one way or another. Luckily for cannabis operators in the US, this industry was deemed Essential. This allowed cannabis businesses to stay operational while many other industries had to shut down.

Mandated changes to how marijuana businesses operate in this new world were introduced. Winter is upon us and so is an increase in Covid cases. More lockdowns and restrictions are coming, but cannabis operators are addressing the new requirements.

Most retailers who weren’t previously delivering are most definitely doing it now. At the least they’re offering drive through or curbside pick up transactions to support their retail sales. In-store shopping is no longer the same. Social distancing is mandated and display cases and shields everywhere make it more difficult for consumers to evaluate cannabis products. 

This makes it extremely important to ensure your product listing on a cannabis delivery site or online dispensary stands out visually and provides all the information a marijuana consumer is seeking. High-resolution photography, cannabis product description, and ingredients or cannabinoid profiles should be highlighted. Cannabis retail sales are more determined by marketing than at any other time in the past.

Cultivators with brands in the marketplace would also be wise to think about point of sale promotional materials to help communicate their legal marijuana brand’s unique selling points to potential customers.

ACCESS TO BANKING MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

All eyes are on the United States Senate this coming year. Many believe they will finally pass legislation to grant legal cannabis businesses access to banking and financing services. The cannabis industry’s ‘Essential’ designation is ironic when many have to lug around bags of cash, putting them into vulnerable and dangerous situations. 

Opening up banking services alone will make a huge impact on the legal marijuana industry as a whole. Investment would flow in more, valuations might increase, and most importantly, marijuana business transactions will become much easier. 

A cannabis company could seek bridge loans from the bank rather than taking hard money loans which come at increased risk and high interest rates. In the expanding legal marijuana industry, scaling is important to maintain market share. But scaling requires an injection of money that operators may not have. 

The ability to turn to banks for traditional financing would help organizations of all sizes grow their business in the legal marijuana industry.

In October 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed a landmark cannabis banking bill called the SAFE Banking Act. This legislation would indemnify banks from federal prosecution for working with cannabis companies.  

However in early 2020, the senate version of the bill was held up and then Covid-19 hit. The SAFE Banking Act has the best chance of any federal government proposals of becoming law in 2021, even though the Senate is likely to block most democratic initiatives heading its way. Banking-focused legislation has significant bipartisan support and we hope to see movement in the Senate in 2021.

In California, the nation’s oldest regulated cannabis market, Assembly Bill 1525 was passed in October encouraging banks in the state to do business with cannabis businesses. Although banks still have to report to the federal agency FINCEN, this lays the groundwork.

“The goal of AB 1525 is to make it easier for financial institutions to adhere to federal law reporting requirements. Now, it will be easier to be assessed for loans and other services.” (Harris Bricken)

CANNABIS INDUSTRY STATISTICS 

New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana became the newest states to legalize marijuana. This addition raised the total number of states with recreational cannabis use from 11 to 15 states and 3 territories.

In total, 36 states and 4 territories (District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) have enacted measures in the medical marijuana industry. (source)

The market value of the U.S. cannabis industry is projected to reach $30 billion annually by 2025, according to industry research group New Frontier Data. This projection comes at a time when cannabis remains federally illegal despite state legalization of medical marijuana by 33 states and Washington, D.C., and the legalization of adult-use cannabis (often referred to as recreational marijuana use) programs by 11 states and Washington, D.C.

The compound annual growth rate (22%) of the cannabis industry continues to defy expectations every year. Cannabis consumers across the country are showing incredible support for legal marijuana in new markets and old. The stigma is fading away slowly but surely as cannabis sales skyrocket. Medical marijuana regulations are the first steps for some states to open up to fully legalizing marijuana for all adults.

The CBD market in the US faces less regulation than the THC market, which is regulated state by state. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the hemp industry has taken off – CBD products are found in many brick and mortar stores as well as in online stores. Brightfield Group has released a report forecasting CBD market total sales to reach $12.4 billion by 2023 and $16.8 billion by 2025. The CBD industry around the world is exploding as well as inter-country trade is active.

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