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The Basics of Crop Steering for Cannabis

Jake Dougherty VP of Product Management, Orion Partners.ai - Gro iQ


If you are a grower, you’ve likely encountered the term “crop steering” before. What was once an idea that first proliferated through the general farming industry is now a hot topic in cannabis, and for good reason. Crop steering is an excellent way to improve your crops’ average yield, but it’s not the most straightforward process. So just what is crop steering, and how can you use it to benefit your next grow?


Survive to Thrive


Simply put, crop steering is a method of adjusting different dials on environmental controls to elicit a targeted response from your plants to influence their growth. Which environmental factors are adjusted and to what degree depends on the crop. But, in general, the goal of these adjustments is to place plants under temporary stress to encourage growth. Think of it like your plants are going to their own version of the gym. Similar to how muscles grow when stimulated by exercise, crop steering will help your plants get rock-solid abs.


When plants encounter a stressful situation, a system of internal phytohormones signal a kind of immune response. A plant experiencing drought, for example, will display increased levels of auxin activity, often called drybacking. Auxin is a phytohormone that plays important roles in cell division and elongation, root formation, phyllotaxis, and more. Just like how you crave water when you’re thirsty, you may observe your plants with leaves wide open after a night without water. You can use crop steering to simulate micro-drought conditions to stimulate auxin activity that leads to increased plant growth.


How Do You Like Your Thermostat?


The simulated drought and corresponding plant thirst dial is just one of the many you can play with. Adjusting these different dials can result in various areas of plant growth. Using data from your controlled environmental agriculture (CEA) system, you’ll be able to get a read on what kind of stimulation your plants are lacking. Perhaps your data suggests your plants have already hit leg day as their roots are sturdy, well-distributed, and hydrophilic. Instead, your plants might need to lift some weights by intaking more nitrogen to drive leaf and branch production.


Different species of cannabis require different environmental conditions for optimal growth. Even the needs of different strains, or subspecies, can vary wildly from one another. Water content, electrical conductivity, fertigation frequency, and vapor pressure deficit are all different factors that you can dial up or down. Sometimes these dials need to be adjusted within a fraction of a percentile, requiring powerful CEA technology to optimize. If you don’t have one already, consider installing a CEA system to get the most out of your next grow.


One Step Back, Two Steps Forward


Sometimes in life you need to endure hardship to become stronger and more bountiful than before, and the same is true of your crops. By restricting or oversupplying certain environmental factors, you can steer crop growth toward targeted yield increases. There are many different kinds of dials to adjust, and it takes advanced data processing to do so effectively. Crop steering is a fascinating, evolving technology that you can use to produce greater yields than ever before.

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