MMJ Daily: Cannabis drying is very closely related to food drying
5 May 2021
Of all the phases of cannabis cultivation, the drying process has been widely overlooked during the early stages of the cannabis industry. Growers have focused more on the technology to maximize the canopy space to obtain more yield, which generally results in increased revenue. However, the drying space often dictates the number of flowers one can grow, and therefore favoring growing yield over drying capacity can have consequences for revenue. As the industry matures, growers are paying more attention to this delicate final stage of the production cycle. Thankfully, drying experts coming from other industries such as food are entering the cannabis industry and fueling cannabis drying innovation. One of the companies that has been utilizing its expertise from another sector is Cann Drying Systems, a subsidiary of Nyle Systems.
Mic LeBel with a full tray of hemp flowers during a recent research project
“We’ve been making drying systems since the end of the 70s,” says Mic LeBel with Cann Drying Systems. “At Nyle Systems, we had been advancing drying with heat pump technology for lumber and food, for many years. Back in those days, we were the only drying company using heat pump technology.” The use of heat pump systems aligns with the topic of energy efficiency, which has been gathering a lot of attention recently, especially in relation to a paper released by CSU highlighting the carbon footprint of the cannabis industry. “Energy efficiency in the cannabis industry is extremely important and can be a way to gain a competitive advantage,” says LeBel. “Our company CEO is originally from the Netherlands where sustainability is a key part of the culture, and so the Cann Systems mission of electrification and sustainability is an extension of his ethos. That’s one area where Cann Drying System stands out.”
Jumping into cannabis
Cann Drying Systems started in 2017. “We understood that cannabis drying is very closely related to food drying,” LeBel points out. “Of course, there are some differences as cannabis systems need to get down to low temperatures, typically less than food drying, so we engineered cannabis systems that can reach low temps such as 60 degrees F.” LeBel says that Cann Drying Systems’ concept has proven itself to work, with many small and large domestic and international customers that can demonstrate the strong performance of the concept. “Now, we are doing research to continuously improve the precision drying, so that customers can determine and then pre-program drying recipes that take into account characteristics and intricacies of all of their different cultivars.”
The Cann Systems CDS 225, shown here in a side by side 2 unit configuration, is the largest system they offer
Food drying vs cannabis drying
LeBel pointed out a key difference between food drying and cannabis drying. “When you dry pet food, for instance, you need to get it down to a precise moisture level, else you risk issue with aroma, spoilage, texture, and the nutritional value. For cannabis, of course, what matters is not the nutritional value but the cannabinoid content. If the drying is too hot or not carried out properly, it can jeopardize the cannabinoids, terpenes, and overall quality of the product.” Another key aspect he noted is whether a customer trims before they dry. “If yes, how much do they trim before they dry?” That can greatly affect the expected duration of the dwell time of the flowers each cycle,” says LeBel.
A matter of drying
There are a lot of differences with regards to the end product according to how one dries their cannabis. “One can dry whole plants and branches from hangers in the Cann Systems chamber, or on racks with trays that are rolled into the room,” Mic says. You can fit about twice as much product in each drying cycle by putting flowers on trays than hanging, but you need to change your workflow to do some trimming of the flowers off the stalks before they go on the trays.”
Mic LeBel with one rack of hanging branches and another of trimmed flowers on trays
There are many details to learn about drying systems. LeBel notes that if you dry on trays and your goal is to produce top-shelf smokable flowers, you should take extra measures so that flowers don’t flatten out on the trays. “There are good, perforated tray products on the market such as Wavdri from Metro that can prevent “pancaking” and have anti-microbial surface. If you pile too much material onto a tray, the pressure of gravity on the flowers gets excessive. That’s why we use and recommend undulated trays that minimize the direct pressure points on flowers when drying on trays.”
Pushing drying further
Cann Systems has been pushing the drying envelope further. “We partnered with some local Maine hemp farmers on research last fall,” says Mic. “One reason we did that is because hemp material is way cheaper than marijuana, so if something goes wrong during the trial, they can just reuse material for extraction.” LeBel noted that in their experience the drying characteristics of hemp and marijuana flowers are virtually the same, but of course, all strains whether hemp or marijuana have some differences for drying. “We had plenty of material to do many cycles throughout harvest season, tweaking the settings and variables to better understand the best drying method. We specifically focused on temperature and relative humidity, and how much airflow is enough or too much. Perfecting the technology is highly important to us.”
Drying different cultivars
One of the features of Cann Systems’ solution is the rolling racks and trays that permit different cultivars to be dried at once. “Different cultivars have different characteristics,” LeBel says. “This also means that their drying time can also be different. Growers hardly ever cultivate one cannabis cultivar only, as the market demands a wide portfolio of products to choose from. Our system has been designed in such a way that the racks and trays can be removed any time of the cycle, thus truly accommodating the specificity of each cultivar.” Other benefits are that the efficient racks are mobile, and they can save overall drying floor space so cultivators can shift that space to a bigger footprint for growing.
A recent CDS-60 installation that holds 38 of these racks with 20 trays each
With many North American cannabis companies eyeing the profitable EU market, growers are getting increasingly aware of the importance of SOPs that respect GMP standards. “Our systems are designed to help customers easily meet the requirements to carry out a GMP-grade cleaning,” LeBel explains. “Our sealed, closed-loop drying systems feature in-line filtration components and hygienic surfaces such as pharma-grade stainless steel.”
The marketplace is changing rapidly, and one trend we see is consolidation and the formation of larger scale operations that are very efficient. That’s good for Cann Systems because our specialty and fastest-growing customer base is large scale systems. There’s going to be more demand for large systems. In closing, LeBel notes that “The intense competitive environment in the cannabis industry will only drive more emphasis on quality for cultivators to stand out from the crowd, and systems that have precision drying control over the whole drying environment like ours will help give them a big advantage.”