In the not-too-distant past, nearly all crops were grown outdoors, including cannabis. But in the 1980s, the war on drugs forced many growers indoors to avoid detection. This inadvertently spurred the birth of an indoor cultivation industry worth a fortune, as new and innovative gadgets, soil additives, moisture-control systems, and other accouterments have flooded the market. The global market value of fluorescent grow lights alone is expected to reach 1.58 billion by 2023.
Cultivators have adapted well to growing their hemp indoors, and consumers have come to expect the uniform appearance of indoor buds. Many younger users would likely scoff at the look and smell of cannabis that has been farmed outside. Like hothouse vegetables, indoor cultivars are usually “prettier.” But unlike a disappointing hydroponic tomato, hemp that is grown indoors is not just visually appealing; It has the aroma and taste that patients and recreational users have become accustomed to.
So, is there a problem? Maybe. Let’s take a brief look at the pros and cons of each method.
The Advantages of Growing Hemp Indoors
Longer Growing Season
In many parts of the world, growers are limited by seasonal conditions that affect their yields, and may only be able to harvest once a year. With indoor growing, the weather and climate are not an issue, and farmers are not restricted to just one round of crops annually.
Complete Control Over Conditions
Cultivators who grow indoors can adjust the amount of light, water, airflow, and nutrients in the soil to improve upon and perfect their strains much easier when they control the environment in which their plants are grown.
Visual Appeal to Consumers
As previously mentioned, buyers have become accustomed to the appearance, flavor, and scents of indoor crops. This consistency and uniformity are not only predictable but aesthetically pleasing as well. This is called “bag appeal.”
The Disadvantages of Indoor Hemp Growing Operations
Huge Carbon Footprint
For an industry associated with feel-good terms like “natural healing” and “plant medicine,” the environmental impact of growing hemp comes as a surprise to many people. In 2017, the cannabis growing industry in the US generated 472 thousand tons of carbon and used an estimated 1.1 million megawatt-hours of electricity.
To put that into perspective, it’s equivalent to the emissions generated by 3 million cars and enough juice to power 92,500 homes for an entire year. And this massive electricity consumption is expected to increase 162% by 2022.
Farmers who grow hemp outdoors have the advantage of natural rainfall. Unless conditions are extremely arid, outdoor growing is less taxing on the water supply. Indoors, it’s another story altogether. Each individual plant requires between two to three gallons of water each day.
The Advantages of Growing Hemp Outdoors
Plants that are cultivated outdoors don’t need an artificially created environment to grow. They take full advantage of the rain, the sunlight, the wind, and the moonlight. Naturally filtered through the soil in which it is grown, it may produce less wastewater as well.
For first-time growers who don’t have the money to invest in specialized indoor grow equipment, hemp is a relatively easy and inexpensive crop to grow. As long as you have a patch of land, seeds, and essential gardening tools, you can get started right away.
Unique Flavors and Scents
Terroir refers to how a region’s natural environment affects the taste of its wine, but it can apply to other crops as well. The terroir of cannabis is influenced by the soil, water, trees, and other plants in the region where it is grown. Thus, hemp that is grown outdoors will have subtle differences in flavors and aromas not typically seen with plants harvested indoors.
The Disadvantages of Growing Outdoors
Nature Can Be a Harsh Mistress
The pros of outdoor growing can quickly turn into downsides you might not be able to control. A blight, flood, drought, frost, or another disaster can strike at any time, leaving you at the mercy of the elements. Likewise, the same creatures that like to feast off your garden may find your crops irresistible, and you may work overtime warding off pests and hungry animals.
While growing is legal in many parts of the country, there are specific jurisdictions where outdoor growing is not permitted. Depending on where you live, you may be forced to take your operation indoors. You will need to research the laws in your region before you start planting.
Discretion and Security
Even if you live in a region where growing cannabis outdoors is legal, you may be reluctant to draw attention to your crop. If your neighbors live close, you might worry about their negative opinions. In other areas, theft may be a concern. Even if it’s permitted, growing cannabis outdoors is less secure and discreet than an indoor setup.