Courtesy of Lift Magazine
A major expansion is underway at James E. Wagner Cultivation (JWC) in Kitchener, Ontario. What began as a humble family growing collective for medical cannabis is now poised to become one of the largest cannabis producers in Canada, and the single largest aeroponics farm in the world.
‘Aeroponics’ is a term that describes cultivation systems wherein a plant’s roots are suspended in a dry chamber, with food and water delivered directly to the plant via frequent misting of the roots. This offers the greatest degree of control over what goes into the plant, but it’s also widely regarded as the most finicky method of cannabis cultivation, and the most difficult to scale.
While the largest licensed producers in Canada predominantly employ traditional soil-based farming systems, and to a lesser degree hydroponics systems, JWC has developed a modular, scalable approach to aeroponics that leverages proprietary solutions to the biggest problems that have dogged others in the past.
“Growing aeroponically is very specific and difficult to achieve,” offered the company’s CEO, Nathan Woodward. “In each case it needs to be adapted technologically to the particular crop. They all have their own different growth characteristics that make for a unique set of challenges.”
One such challenge commonly faced by those who attempt aeroponics-based cultivation is that of fungal growth, due to the high humidity that comes as a by-product of frequently spraying the roots with mist.
The solution JWC developed for that problem began with a complete separation of environments between the root systems and the canopies of the plants, effectively creating a closed ecosystem for each.
Breakthroughs beyond the bud
Another common aeroponics challenge is that of root decomposition, and the solution JWC has developed shows promise not only for cannabis production, but potentially for a wide range of agricultural sectors.
Plants—all plants, not just cannabis—regularly abandon roots as part of their natural health and growth cycle. Those roots are left to decompose, and in a typical soil environment the abandoned roots are eaten by springtail insects. But in an aeroponics environment those abandoned roots decompose within the root chamber, which can lead to a number of conditions that could jeopardize the health of the plant.
JWC’s solution came in the form of innovating a proprietary method for reservoir cleaning and maintenance, and that solution may have broader implications for agricultural uses beyond cannabis production—Woodward intimated that the company is interested in the potential application of their technology into other fields.
Commonly grown aeroponics crops such as tomatoes are grown in short cycles, typically lasting around 45 days. The reason is largely due to problems that occur within aeroponic root systems that have longer growth cycles. But when JWC tested their proprietary method for root maintenance on tomatoes, they found they were able to keep a plant alive and producing viable tomatoes for over 400 days.
“The great thing about cannabis,” said Woodward, “is it gives us the ability to expand quickly and to operate as a very large-scale company. That gives