A major trend sweeping cannabis cultivation is no-till farming, a return to tried-and-true cultivation methods that focus on soil health by improving soil fertility and increasing soil preservation to optimize production without sacrificing output quality. Learn how this agricultural technique can change the way you think about cultivation.
What is No-Till Farming?
Dating back as far as 10,000 years ago, no-tillage agriculture or no-plow farming isn’t exactly news. In cannabis, this regenerative farming approach focuses on the concept of living soil, which centers on and mimics the microbial life naturally found within the ground.
With living soil, this ecosystem is mimicked in indoor grow environments, allowing growers to have the best of both worlds: a cultivation method that is as close to nature as possible while also holding the ability to be closely monitored and controlled via an indoor environment that can thrive throughout the year, no matter the season.
How does no-till farming work?
“No till farming draws on principles from horticulture, botany, biology, soil science, traditional agriculture, and organic farming methods. Not only does it help reduce our carbon footprint, but it also helps reduce the amount of waste we generate, and is quickly becoming the most well-known method for producing craft, high-quality cannabis,” said vice president of cultivation at Green Meadows, Josh Turner.
“We’re taking indoor environments that are least like natural environments and using no till and living soil to create as close to a natural environment as possible — basically, what plants would experience if they were outdoors. We also utilize a lot of the same species of bacteria: anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 different species in just one teaspoon of soil.”
Along with regular seeding equipment, no-till farmers will also utilize rollers-crimpers and cover crops for crop rotation in order to avoid soil compaction, which can be one of the few drawbacks of this farming method.
No-till farming builds upon the living soil approach, allowing farmers to reuse their soil and crop residue over and over throughout the harvest processes. As Turner mentioned, this conventional farming method vastly reduces the amount of waste that typically occurs during cultivation and allows for a wide variety of benefits that are great for cultivators, retailers, and consumers alike.
No-Till Farming Benefits
With conventional tillage as the primary cultivation approach, an organic no-till farmer will enjoy quite a few benefits compared to other farming methods, like hydroponics or alternative soilless approaches.
Preserved soil structure and soil organic matter
No-till farming allows cultivators to preserve the natural aspects of the plant’s soil, as it is used and reused throughout the process.
“Traditional horticulture operations will plant a crop, use that substrate one time, and dispose of it. It then goes to a landfill, or maybe a compost facility, but that grow room will never use it again,” said Turner. “With no till, we eliminate that waste stream by reusing soil and focusing on keeping the organism and bacterial populations happy.”
Reduced carbon footprint
No-till farming also allows cultivators to reduce their carbon footprint, which is essential for environmental preservation. This method helps reduce the need for both fuel and labor, which both contribute to sustainability for the industry as a whole.
Replication of nature
No-till farming and living soil are as close to natural farming methods as possible — and in many cases, even better, because they allow for year-round cultivation as opposed to harvest cycles that depend entirely on the seasons.
The Impact of No-Till Farming
There are a few possible drawbacks from no-till farming methods including vulnerability to disease in plant roots or nutrient lockout, especially if you’re inexperienced in this arena. However, if you have all of the right tools and knowledge to take on no-till farming with gusto, this is a great option and is becoming increasingly popular as the industry continues to mature and expand.
The impact no-till farming is having on cannabis is significant. During the early days of legal weed, there were almost no living soil grows. Instead, everyone was using conventional agricultural methods that were highly wasteful and costly. However, this return to no-till farming is paying homage to Northern California’s medical market, which had the right idea in the first place.
“The medical market in California was fully embracing the regenerative sustainable approach to agriculture, as part of the countercultural movement so embedded in that region’s atmosphere. Northern California became known as the premier source for quality cannabis in the world, and what made it best was living, no till soils and full-season outdoor cannabis,” Turner said.
“The industry is trying to replicate what they’ve been doing in Northern California, aiming to get all of its benefits while still being able to grow year-round in controlled indoor environments. I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot of consumers demanding a clean, organic, no till product from the market, and this trend will only continue.”