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Setting Your End Goal – Total Cost Per Gram Versus Yield


heliospectra cannabis led grow lightA main factor that must be determined – and might be the most important – is the identification of your end goal when using LED grow lights to grow cannabis. Whether I’m shooting for higher production yields or increased THC, and/or terpene content, I base my light recipes off my end goal.

As we all know, higher quality cannabis, with increased THC and terpene content, doesn’t always mean record breaking yields. And a record breaking yield doesn’t always mean the most economically feasible solution. An excellent example of these economics can be demonstrated through the HVAC requirements alone. With 1000W HPS lamps requiring approximately 6,000 BTUs of cooling per lamp (depending on room construction and other heat loads) and a 600W LED grow lights producing approximately 2,000 BTUs of heat, it is simple to see that the savings on HVAC alone easily make up for an increase in yield in a larger setup. Not to mention, a direct decrease in energy costs. This is, of course, an equation of revenue per square foot, but the bottom line, with such dramatic operational cost savings, is easy to see.

The cannabis industry has been stuck in a yield based paradigm for decades. But a maturing of the industry has been inevitable as it merges itself with the CEA (Controlled Environments Agriculture) sector, revealing the true cost of an operation. That, and the inevitable enlargement of marijuana grows is placing stress on the environment (and utilities).

Total operating cost per gram may very well be the ultimate metric by which to measure the overall efficiency of a grow operation. But yield is a fairly simple measurement as it does not require an enormous amount of calculation and without stand alone controls and the ability to measure electricity demand in silos of operation, yield is really the only way to measure the productivity.

If that’s the bottom line, higher yields can be achieved as well. By providing the plant with the light it needs at the right time of day and life cycle, you will find increased THC, terpenes, and yields. It all comes down to a little tweaking and testing to find what best suits your specific strain.

Has the time come to shed the yield discussion and begin focusing on the overall efficiency of a grow operation – Total Cost Per Gram – as the ultimate grow metric?



About Author

Ryan Wankel is the head grower at Pinkhouse Blooms, a Denver-based cannabis grow operation using Heliospectra LED Grow Lights. Ryan's 23 years of cannabis growing expertise has led his team to 2 first place cannabis cup awards and most recently a 2nd place in concentrates in the High Times Cannabis Cup 2015.


  1. freewheelinfranklin543 on

    Irrigated areas in Arizona and New Mexico above 4,000′ with the elevated UV will produce some very heady,psychedelic and uplifting Cannabis as good or superior to anything from Northern California or Oregon after legalization.

  2. Outdoor grows are vastly, vastly cheaper, but finding a place that’s either stealthy (or regulated) and with the perfect climate is a challenge, depending on what strains you’re growing. A run of bad weather can turn a potentially great crop into crap.

    For underground or gray grows (e.g. California) you can just ship the crap back East. People back there will buy anything. But you can’t sell crappy buds in the shops or clinics of CA, WA, OR. With the fully-regulated grows (WA, OR), every plant is tracked. If your crop goes to shit, the shops won’t take it, and can’t dump it in the black market. So you are forced to dispose of it using an approved, secure method. Like burning it.

    Net, net… financial risk of a bad crop is way worse for regulated (legal) outdoor grows than indoor grows. If you make your living off growing weed, then you might not be able to sun-grow without going bust. When regular farmers lose a crop, they either have crop insurance or they can get financing from the government to tide them over to a good crop. Not so for weed farmers.

    So indoor is a sure thing (assuming you are competent), even if far more expensive. Over time, its going to be interesting to see this play out. Once we can ship weed legally between states, California and southern Oregon will likely grow everything, just as they do for many other crops. Best quality at the lowest costs. Growing in the northern states will only be economical (for legal growers) as long as interstate commerce in weed is illegal.

  3. Whyiowa4medical on

    Here is another metric to consider: The weather conditions in the area where you operate your grow!!! I grew for seven successful years in an area that can drop well below 32 degrees for six months out of the year. How did we heat our buildings when the thermometer was playing with -45 F? A single CO2 generator in a kerosene heater (frequent power outages) and 1,000 watt Metal Halide lamps kept each grow facility heated well, even in converted barns. California, Oregon, and Washington rarely have to worry about such things even when your grow will do just fine at under 45 degrees. Where winter comes with a bone-chilling vengeance, your lighting and heat are far more connected to ones heating. The well insulated and reflective walls helped during flowering, but we must time flowering to arrive with outdoor 40 degree weather (not always an easy trick while keeping your produce grade A). Cutting the lighting cannot happen during the dead of winter. Another operation similar to ours made use of buried military “basic training” type huts. This effectively created a “cave” environment that the heat of summer nor the cold of winter changed their 50 F temperature, so If one wishes to invest this type of money, feel free. I do not want to get caught-up like they finally did with their Corvettes “seemingly” parked in the middle of nowhere.

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