Innovator Spotlight: OutCo

San Diego, California

We want to grow high-quality products, and to do this you need the latest research and the latest technology. With Fluence we have found a partner in both.Dr. Allison Justice
VP of Cultivation, OutCo
vertical farming, LED grow lights, vertical farming research
Fluence & OutCo Horticulture Lighting, LED Grow light, Cannabis Research
Fluence & OutCo Horticulture Lighting, LED Grow light, Cannabis Research

Pioneers in Cannabis Cultivation: Horticultural Lighting Research

With a mission to operate their business on a solid foundation rooted in science, OutCo is at the cutting edge of cannabis research to provide residents of Southern California with high quality medicinal and recreational cannabis. Conducting research to develop top management practices for cultivation is one of their core strategies to ensure patients are provided with consistent, high-quality medicine. When Dr. Allison Justice joined OutCo as VP of Cultivation, she turned to peers in the industry to determine optimal cannabis-specific cultivation practices. With her education and background in plant and environmental sciences, Dr. Justice brought with her a strong foundation in commercial-growing best-practices, but was looking to address questions such as, how much light intensity does cannabis require? and what is the optimal light spectrum for cannabis? She found the answers were mostly based on grower testimonials and applied research had not been published on these topics. At this time, she was introduced to Josh Gerovac, Horticulture Scientist at Fluence Bioengineering, who was looking for a research partner to answer those fundamental questions.

We wanted to run a trial that would not only expand the research on cannabis, but also benefit growers to make an educated decision regarding the technology and cultivation strategy they implement in their grow to positively impact their business operations.Josh Gerovac
Fluence Bioengineering

Most research institutions and universities are limited in their ability to conduct controlled experiments on cannabis, and existing grower testimonials lack the regimented protocols and standard operating procedures required to generate sound data. In 2009, the University of Mississippi published the first ever peer-reviewed study evaluating the influence of light intensity, temperature, and CO2 concentration on cannabis. While this publication was the first of its kind, the researchers did not evaluate how those environmental variables impacted crop yield, which is a key metric for growers. Fluence has not only invested in developing efficient LED horticulture lighting solutions, but also in expanding industry knowledge on the impact of light on plant growth and development.

The Experiment: Light Intensity Impact on Yield and Secondary Metabolites

Using the training they received in graduate school (Allison is a graduate of Clemson University with a Ph.D. in Plant and Environmental Science and Josh a graduate of Purdue University with a M.Sc. in Horticulture), the team developed a protocol to evaluate the impact of light intensity on plant growth and development. To determine the “optimal” light intensity for yield and secondary metabolite production, particularly total active cannabinoid concentrations, the experiment evaluated the effect of five light intensities (see Table 1) during the flowering stage of the cannabis strain “Hazy OG”. Fluence LED grow lights with PhysioSpec IndoorTM (a broad spectrum) provided an average PPFD of 400, 600, 800, and 1200 µmol/m2/s (see Photo 1). Double ended HPS fixtures that provided an average PPFD of 700 µmol/m2/s served as a commercial control (see Photo 2).

Table 1: Light Intensity Treatments
Light Intensity Treatments
Light Fixture Average PPFDAverage DLI
Fluence LED400 µmol/m2/s17.3 mol/m2/d
Fluence LED600 µmol/m2/s25.9 mol/m2/d
1000W DE HPS700 µmol/m2/s25.9 mol/m2/d
Fluence LED800 µmol/m2/s34.6 mol/m2/d
Fluence LED1200 µmol/m2/s51.8 mol/m2/d
Table 2: Environmental Conditions
Environmental Conditions
Average Temperature23.7 ± 1.7 ºC
Average Relative Humidity52.5 ± 3.2 %
Average CO2 Concentration1511 ± 71 ppm
Photo 1: Fluence SPYDRx PLUS broad-spectrum LED
LED comparison room
Photo 2: 1000W DE HPS
HPS comparison room

The Results

Three of the main factors analyzed in this double replicated study were shoot fresh weight, total cannabinoid concentrations, and trimmed flower weight.

Shoot Fresh Weight

Under the five treatments, the average shoot fresh weight had a near linear increase as light intensity was increased. The largest increase occurred when the light intensity was increased from 400 to 600 micromoles, which resulted in a 26% increase (see Figure 1).

Total Active Cannabinoid Concentrations

To the surprise of the researchers, there was very little difference in cannabinoid concentrations between LED treatments, regardless of light intensity. However, all of the LED treatments showed an average increase of 12% in total active cannabinoids compared to the HPS treatment (see Figure 2). This indicates that light spectrum significantly influences total active cannabinoid concentration, and to a lesser degree light intensity

Trimmed Flower Weight

Under the five treatments, there was a near linear increase in trimmed flower weight, with the greatest increase occurring when PPFD was increased from 400 to 600 µmol/m2/s (see Figure 3). Although the data shows a near linear increase in trimmed flower weight, the percentage increase between the 800 and 1200 µmol/m2/s treatments seems to indicate  1200 µmol/m2/s is likely nearing the light saturation point.

Analysis

The results of the trial provide important data on how cannabis, specifically the strain Hazy OG, is influenced by light intensity. Overall, as light intensity increased, yield increased on a near linear scale. While the impact of light intensity had a minimal effect on total active cannabinoids in the LED treatments, there was a 12% increase when compared to the HPS treatment. This provided valuable data for Allison and Josh to develop a hypothesis for their next experiment, which is to evaluate the impact of light quality (i.e. spectrum) on yield and total active cannabinoids.

 

Ultimately, the trials conducted by OutCo and Fluence will help cultivators determine the optimal lighting solution to maximize yields, increase potency, which in turn will increase revenue for businesses. “When we deployed Fluence SPYDRx PLUS in the trial [the fixture used to deliver 800 PPFD], we saw a 13.5% increase in yield, while using 44% less energy than our double ended HPS fixtures. For us, that’s huge. This doesn’t even take into account the energy savings from a reduced HVAC load,” said Allison. Under the Fluence SPYDRx PLUS, Hazy OG produced 66 grams per square foot, a 14% increase over plants grown under HPS, while drawing nearly half the electricity (see Table 3).

Table 3: LED vs. HPS Trial Results
TreatmentPower ConsumptionTHC PotencyYield
LED 400 µmol/m2/s330W21.4%34.2 g/ft2
LED 600 µmol/m2/s560W21.7%51.7 g/ft2
HPS 700 µmol/m2/s1045W19.1%57.1 g/ft2
LED 800 µmol/m2/s660W21.4%66.0 g/ft2
LED 1200 µmol/m2/s1000W20.8%72.0 g/ft2

Expansion Plans: Growing Up with Fluence LED Lights

It is the goal of both Fluence and OutCo to publish data that commercial producers can use to improve their cultivation methods to increase yield, efficiency and revenue. OutCo has utilized this data to make decisions on long-term business goals. “Nothing speaks louder than data from a properly designed and repeated experimental trial. When my CEO was able to look at our harvest data comparisons of LED lights versus HPS, our decision to upgrade our rooms was immediate,” said Allison. OutCo is currently in the process of upgrading their facility from single layer HPS to double-tier rolling tables with Fluence SPYDRx PLUS, “we expect this to bring us 2.5 times the square footage of cultivation space within the same real estate footprint,” said Allison.

 

Research and development is by far the best way to understand how light interacts with life, and only through collaboration can we work to fully understand the potential. OutCo and Fluence Bioengineering will continue to partner on research to explore how light intensity and light spectra impact all phases of cannabis cultivation, and ultimately, this will help our understanding of how light influences all plant species.

By conducting in-house trials, we are able to see very quickly how a new technology compares to what our facility can already produce. This has allowed us to improve production and ultimately increase our bottom line.
Allison Justice
VP of Cultivation, OutCo
© Copyright 2018. Fluence Bioengineering, Inc. | Designed and Built In Austin, Texas

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