Indoor, Outdoor, or Greenhouse?

Just Dennis on Nov 13th 2020

As the hemp industry goes through its normal growing pains, the debate as to which kind of growing operation produces the best smokable flower continues.  Obviously, as a co-owner of an indoor-operation, I am a bit biased.  However, I think can still provide an argument that most consumers would find reasonable.

First, competent hemp growers can produce quality flower anywhere.  We started our operation by rebuilding an old greenhouse that had fallen into disrepair.  By most standards, our flower, even then, held its own against established indoor operations. And, I've seen outdoor flower that rivaled ours.  

It's not an argument about competency.  It's an argument about opportunity and reliability.

Outdoor hemp growers have some advantages.  The cost per gram to raise hemp outdoors in much lower than the other two options. As such, outdoor flower can be sold wholesale and retail at a much cheaper rate.  In fact, in the early years of this business, retail stores enjoyed about a 600-700% markup on their products because they were buying from the only reliable source of flower at that time- outdoor farmers!   And, the outdoor farmers were probably still making 200-300% markup on their costs!  The only person suffering then was the retail customer.  You can also make the argument that CBD levels are normally higher and that terpenes can be more pronounced.  Both of these are appealing to the hemp-smoking customer.

However, there are also some disadvantages. The same thing that allows hemp to be grown so cheaply in an outdoor hemp operation can also destroy it.  I'm talking about Mother Nature.  If it doesn't rain enough, or rains too much... if it is too hot or too cold...if the frost comes early or Spring comes late...all of these things can ruin a crop.  Mold can become a problem if conditions are too wet, insects can devastate plants, and excessive heat can cause plants to begin expressing male characteristics (which could result in buds full of seeds).

Most outdoor hemp farmers grow to have their crop processed into CBD products (oils, tinctures, salves, etc.).  Some will sell part of the crop as smokable-grade hemp.  If they had a good year with no problems, it's probably good to go.  However, some of the unethical growers will package it as smokable-grade regardless of its condition.  I have seen packaged moldy hemp sitting on store shelves.

Also, outdoor growing is seasonal.  As such, if you are buying flower in the Spring or Summer from an outdoor grow, it is probably 6-9 months old. We have found that the terpenes in quality hemp flower begin to fade after 2 months.

The bottom line regarding outdoor hemp growers is that they cannot engineer a consistently good crop for smoking purposes.  There are too many factors beyond their control.  

Greenhouse hemp growers are able to mitigate some of these wildcard factors. Plants are mostly shielded from the weather. And light exposure, watering, and temperature can all be controlled artificially.  If the greenhouse is properly outfitted with air-conditioning and heat, the grower can also produce fresh flower throughout the year. However, all of this comes at a higher cost per gram.

One of the reasons that we abandoned our greenhouse operation was that the cost to keep the space heated in the Winter and cooled in the Summer (Southern living) was going to drive up the cost per gram to the point where it was easier and economically sound to simply switch to an indoor-growing operation.  A greenhouse can allow you to grow larger quantities year-round, but the cost in utilities alone often makes that a bad business choice.

A greenhouse operation also has to deal with pest infestations.  We destroyed a more than a few plants because of mite infestations.  Consider that some growers would either ignore the infestation and sell the flower as is, or would be unaware of it.  Either way, it does not bode well for the hemp smoking customer.

The bottom line regarding greenhouse hemp operations is that it is a better alternative for producing smokable-grade hemp than an outdoor hemp operation.  However, it still leaves too much to chance, or is simply economically unfeasable.  

Obviously, I'm about to argue that indoor hemp growers produce the best flower for smoking.  However, I will concede that quality is not always the driving factor for hemp smoking consumers.  We have lost more than a few wholesale customers because we were underpriced by an outdoor or greenhouse operation.  It's difficult to argue with a storeowner that states that his customers don't distinguish between average and premium quality.  If that is the case, he is going to purchase the cheapest flower he can find.  I would do the same in his shoes.

However, our retail customers tend to remain very loyal.  They do see a difference.  

First, as an indoor hemp operation we are producing new hemp flower every couple of months.  Our ability to do that ensures fresh flower on our shelves at all times. The only flower that we sell that cannot make that claim is our Cannabutter Hemp.  It came from that initial greenhouse grow.  Although, we keep it in humidor conditions, the terpenese have faded over time.  We don't advertise or sell it as smokable-grade flower.

Secondly, we are able to control temperature, light, watering, etc. to ensure that we can "dial in" the genetics of a strain to bolster the terpenes and trichomes.  Our flower looks, smells, and tastes great because we design it that way.  We don't leave it up to Mother Nature.

Also we produce quality flower consistently.  We are not a seasonal operation, we do not depend on weather, and we are not at the mercy of destructive insects.  When we start growing strains about which we are familiar, we know the quality and quantity of what those strains will produce.

And finally, we can experiment.  We are pheno-hunting all of the time.  Our signature strains are products of that pursuit.  We are going to produce strains that are new and exciting.  Our retail customers know that. They enjoy the new experiences.  

The bottom line regarding indoor hemp operations is that it is the best alternative for producing premium, smokable-grade hemp flower.  Yes, it's going to cost a little more.  But, just like a fine cigar, it's well worth the wait.

Come get some.  It never lasts long.

Disagree with me?  Write a response and I will post it.  

Our next blog installment will focus on what to look for when purchasing flower.