An interview with Earl Craker, sales manager at Green-Tek.
Green-Tek has been an industry leader in supplying greenhouse covers and components in the USA for over 25 years.
At Green-Tek, Earl has been involved in the developing cannabis industry since the early stages of legalization, facing the hopes and the concerns of North American growers.
How long have you been providing solutions for the cannabis industry?
In January 2014, when Colorado legalized cannabis, people turned to us for solutions. That is when we started selling Palram's polycarbonate products to that market segment.
Now, even 5 years later, Colorado still leads all states in production capacity. California is probably a very close second, and we see new markets developing.
So far, 15 states have legalized the cultivation of marijuana for medical and/or recreational use. We offer Palram's polycarbonate greenhouse solutions for more than 25 years, and we bring these solutions to the cannabis industry in every single state, where its cultivation is legal. It is a rapidly growing market, and it will continue to grow and evolve.
How has the market evolved since 2014?
With new states implementing legalization, and with more than 30 countries globally legalizing medical and/or recreational cannabis, the market continues to evolve and expand. Growing techniques vary with the location. Growers face different challenges. The climate has an impact on how the growers are going to create their optimal growing conditions.
In 2018 American growers reported about improved profitability, and they certainly feel more certain and comfortable with their business choice.
Why would a grower choose one type of glazing over another?
We have to remember that what works for one customer may not work for another. Growers in California and in Colorado or here in the Midwest face different conditions: The climate varies, the elevation is different, and they do not get the same quality of light, which is a grower's biggest consideration.
Most cultivators grow in a greenhouse since it enables them to use natural sunlight and save energy, but the option of growing in a warehouse with complete artificial lighting is also there.
For security consideration and for effective blackout cycles purposes, greenhouse walls must be either 8mm opaque multiwall polycarbonate sheets, such as SUNLITE Eclipse, or just plain corrugated metal panels.
Some growers will even build a completely opaque greenhouse, using SUNLITE Ecplise, walls and roof. They will then use indoor growing methods. It is faster and it has proved to be cost effective when compared with erecting a heavily constructed warehouse.
Roofs are where people have more options.
Since 2014, growers were divided between our corrugated polycarbonate options: Dynaglas solarsoft90, and Dynaglas solarsoft85, which differ in levels of light transmission and light diffusion.
These two options led the market until recently, when growers in Colorado noted that their light transmission readings were not as expected.
Growers were looking for a solution that optimizes the relationship
between light transmission and light diffusion
Palram and Green-Tek noticed that the way we measure light as a supplier/ manufacturer differs from that of a grower. Growers were looking for a solution that optimizes the relationship between light transmission and light diffusion. They wanted to get a perfect marriage of those two things.
We collaborated with one of our largest distributers, Nexux greenhouses, and together we developed a new product: Dynaglas Solarsoft Max.
It provides 90% light transmission and 90% light diffusion. This version enables us to measure light and obtain values growers are comfortable with.
Some growers are still looking at solarsoft90 or Solarsoft 85, but I'll say this about Solarsoft-Max: people, who have used it, love it! It is certainly the most attractive option on the market right now.
Do growers look at materials other than polycarbonate?
They absolutely do. Some of the lower-end grow operations would use PE film rather than a diffused polycarbonate. They understand the risk they take. Their stock may be compromised, and they know the films require high maintenance and frequent replacement. PE is marketed with a 4 year working lifespan, but that never happens. Between the chemicals that are used in the fields, the wind, and the regular degradation of PE, they are lucky if they get 2 years out of it. Other growers would use an old warehouse and grow with sole dependence on artificial lighting.
New studies are published every year, yet, there are so many unanswered questions about the costs and the efficiency of growing cannabis with artificial lighting, and whether you are actually going to get a better plant.
What we see from industry reports in that greenhouse cultivation is taking an even bigger part of the pie, on the account of warehouse cultivation, and I believe this is due to high production costs in warehouses. The average production cost of dried flower in a warehouse is 25% higher than that of a greenhouse. Growers realize that and we see that on their expansion plans.
Both sides of that argument agree that if it wasn’t for those little issues called yield, quality and security, they would grow out in Mother Nature.
How did Palram and Green-Tek get in the picture?
Green-Tek, as a domestic supplier, is affiliated with Palram, who is a domestic manufacturer. This is a big key in favor of our products and solutions. When growers talk about warranty and uniformity of production, local supply and support plays a big part in the deal.
Together we are the largest supplier of greenhouse glazing in the USA. We do not find ourselves competing with other polycarbonate manufacturers in the cannabis market.
We do compete against glass, but it is pretty rare that anyone would put that amount of money on a show palace. The money needs to be spent on getting off the ground and growing your crops, not on a fancy showroom.
Is the quality of the yield influenced by the properties of the glazing?
Greenhouse coverings influence yield quantity through improved photosynthesis and crop protection. As long as the optical properties of the glazing are optimal, the grower gets what he needs from it.
Through genetics today there are strains with potency that is unlike anything anybody have ever seen before. The marijuana grown now in a greenhouse is far more potent and effective; it is lightyears ahead of where it was even 5 years ago.
Greenhouse glazing influence the yield quantity
through improved photosynthesis and crop protection
What are the main benefits greenhouses builders get from using our products?
A good greenhouse builder will tell you that whether it's a vegetable greenhouse, flower greenhouse or cannabis greenhouse, to him it doesn’t really matter.
For an experienced builder, the products we supply are very easy to install. They get the sheets on the roof, bolt it down, get it secured, cap it off, and create the tight seal that enables controlled environment cultivation.
What are the concerns you hear from potential customers before they choose your products?
Growers may be concerned whether our blackout multiwall panels will provide them with 100% blackout, and will it retain its blackout properties over time. The answer to that is yes.
Our first generation of SUNLITE Eclipse would sometimes turn yellow, and growers were concerned about the performance of the panels, even though they were still 100% opaque.
Since Palram came up with the second generation Opaque panels, a version that looks as shiny and new even after years on site, growers feel safer with a clean, shiny facade.
Does the fact that polycarbonate blocks UV radiation effect potential cannabis growers' choice?
It depends on who you ask. Most growers will say Dynaglas works absolutely fine. They get plenty of light with great diffusion properties, they trust their cultivation technology and UV does not matter to them one bit.
There are a few growers, usually the ones who are just getting started and building their first greenhouse, that are concerned whether polycarbonate sheets block all the UV or would it allow some through.
It has never been an issue with the vast majority of growers. But, we are never going to have a product that will make everyone happy.
Sunlite Eclipse/Thermaglas Opaque new version looks
as shiny and new even after years on site.
Growers feel safer with clean, shiny facade.
Do greenhouse growers use artificial UV lighting ?
Not a large percentage of the market uses artificial UV light. Those growers who use our products are more concerned about light transmission and diffusion. UV was not an issue 5 years ago and still today it is not that important to the growers.
Among US cannabis growers, I think most people understand that Palram's solutions are the best products available. I haven’t heard of anybody who came up with a better option for a cannabis greenhouse cover. We know our products perform as or better than any other product on the market.
Do you find a difference between the requirements of medical and recreational growers, when it comes to greenhouse cover material?
No, we don’t. You will find growers who choose PE films in both markets, but the vast majority goes with our polycarbonate solutions. There are a few facilities that grow under glass, and it's difficult to quantify. The requirements in our little segment all come down to the quality of light: transmission and diffusion, and our polycarbonate products do just that, and in the best way there is.
We do see a significant increase in recreational cultivation compared to 2016. More than 70% of the growers now grow recreational solely or along with medical grade cannabis.
So where is the industry going next?
The costs to set up a full-scale cannabis operation are significant. The challenges abound, and competition is tough. Domestically and globally more and more states pass legalization each year and the market keeps growing. I hope growers will have a greater chance to interact and learn from other's experience, and make an impact on the global industry.
From our side, new glazing features will be a part of this industry as it matures, and I am sure Palram will continue to support the cultivators globally, as new markets develop through legalization and medicalization.