Commercial Fertilizers Reconsidered

Growing cannabis indoors is a comparatively expensive proposition. Rent, electricity, heating, cooling, sodium-light bulbs, labor, all of these play a big role in determining the cost to produce a salable crop.

Most commercial growers will agree that fertilizers are a big component of their costs as well. While most professional growers still cling to the hobby-level plant nutrient product lines, a very few brave souls in Colorado’s cannabis industry have begun to work with high-quality commercial fertilizers in their production facilities.

The cost differential between using a cannabis-speciific nutrient and supplement line like Botanicare or Advanced Nutrients versus a general-use fertilizer like Peters is in the neighborhood of 44 to 1. Yeah, you read that right. Hobby store  ‘nutes’ cost about 44 times as  much as mainstream horticulture fertilizers.

And it gets worse. When we compare some of the more popular hobby-level supplements formulated to deliver magnesium to a horticultural standard like Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) the cost difference soars to more than 200 to 1.

Convincing a commercial grower to switch from a fertilizer product line that he or she has a working knowledge of is rather difficult. There is the fear of the unknown to contend with and most people fall into the camp of ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’. At 44 to 200 times the cost of commercial fertilizers, in an industry that is struggling to rein-in production expenses, I’d say this situation qualifies as ‘broke’.

But what about organics? When I began to grow in 2004 I was all about growing clean, chemical-free herb and I still am today. What’s changed is that I’ve learned to read the labels on these fertilizer products. The truth is that most of the hobby-store plant nutrient products that claim to be organic in composition contain the same inorganic fertilizer salts as their low-cost commercial counterparts. Why then is their such a big spread between the cost of these products? The simple answer is a lack of information and slick marketing.

A good example of this would be a popular ‘bud booster’ product that sells in the hobby stores for over $200 for a 1250ml bottle. The active ingredient is mono potassium phosphate which sells for $70 for a 50 lb. bag from the horticulture supply houses. Like I said ‘a lack of information and slick marketing’.

Due to  legalities surrounding the cannabis plant, reliable and truthful technical information on growing this crop is scarce. What is easy to overlook, however, is that the land-grant universities, or the ‘Ag’ schools, funded by the USDA, have solved most of the problems surrounding crop production. And, the same highly-researched fertilization materials and techniques used to raise tomato or pepper crops indoors can be applied successfully to the cannabis crop.

By embracing and adopting mainstream horticultural fertilizers and techniques, today’s nascent cannabis industry can do a much better job controlling costs while improving quality and increasing yields. All by simply changing where they shop.

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