How Copperstate Farms is meeting the challenges of a growing cannabis industry

Copperstate Farms invested in several renovations ahead of legalization, including the latest in hybrid greenhouse technology for airflow, ventilation, temperature control and lighting. Photo: Copperstate Farms

Cannabis cultivation has developed rapidly over the past decade, from an underground home-grown economy to large-scale commercial agricultural endeavors. There are currently 35 US states with adult medical and / or marijuana programs, making cannabis one of the fastest growing industries in the country’s regions.

From job growth to taxes and real estate, the industry’s economic impact is projected to be $ 92 billion in 2021, according to MJBizDaily. As for cannabis growing, the sector has gone through a lot of changes. As a highly regulated industry with strict compliance rules, cannabis growers must ensure that operations are safe and consistent in order to offer high quality products. To meet government standards and meet the growing demands of consumers and patients, breeders have ushered in a new era of state-of-the-art cannabis growing facilities.

Five years of innovation

Copperstate Farms is a vertically integrated cannabis operation in Arizona that is licensed to grow, manufacture, and distribute.

Copperstate Farms’ greenhouse facility is located in Snowflake, AZ and comprises 40 acres of glass greenhouses. It’s one of the largest under glass cannabis grows in the U.S. and has already received local government approval to double its manufacturing space with an additional 40 acres.

The greenhouse system constructed in the Netherlands was originally designed for the cultivation of tomatoes; However, this operation was not designed for a long service life and was inevitably discontinued. Fife Symington, co-founder and CEO of Copperstate Farms, saw potential in greenhouses, only in another industry.

Located at 5,600 feet above sea level on the Colorado Plateau, Copperstate Farms has an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. The natural sunlight combined with efficient lighting technology enables the company to consistently grow high quality cannabis while reducing the facility’s carbon footprint.

Symington has a strong background in large-scale farming internationally, developing over 850 acres of greenhouse space and establishing a large vegetable distribution company. Recognizing the value of the site, he co-founded Copperstate Farms with co-founder Scott Barker in 2016, a few years after the sale of medical marijuana was legalized in Arizona.

In a short time, Copperstate Farms became the top wholesaler in Arizona and one of the largest employers in Snowflake, a small rural town of around 5,000 people. Despite developing its own in-house cannabis growing best practices and scaling up significantly, Copperstate Farms, like many other cannabis operators, had to find new ways to deal with the unprecedented growth that came with legalization.

The effects of legalization

In November 2020, Arizona voters approved Prop 207, also known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, with a 60% margin to legalize recreational cannabis. The state then achieved one of the fastest market launches for adult use in the U.S. cannabis market. At the end of January 2021, adult consumers were making purchases from pharmacies. In contrast, it took Maine nearly four years to respond to voter requests.

At Copperstate Farms, the team had plans to expand, but expected the transition from medicinal to adult use would take place in June rather than January.

“In the first few months it was a bit like a fire drill, but since the renovation it’s been all about the setting,” says Symington. “We are still looking for new team members in our cultivation operation and in our Sol Flower pharmacies. Growing the local economy has always been a mission. In 2019 we had 180 employees; We now have nearly 700, most of which are based in our Snowflake facility. “

Copperstate Farms’ recruitment initiatives have included adding more professionals with backgrounds in modern plant science and analytical chemistry. The company recently completed the construction of a new hydrocarbon laboratory, which resulted in the addition of four highly skilled C1D1 technicians to oversee the extraction operations.

The laboratory itself is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to improve extraction processes and expand production capacity in the cannabis concentrates category. The 1,000 square foot laboratory space includes large scale hydrocarbon extraction equipment used to produce high quality living resin concentrates.

Copperstate Farms also invested in pre-legalization renovations, including the latest in hybrid greenhouse technology for airflow, ventilation, temperature control and lighting.

What’s next in growing cannabis

High tech equipment and automation are major factors driving the industry right now, especially in legal recreational markets that serve a much broader and larger consumer base.

The global agricultural sector is integrating more and more automation into its processes and cannabis is following suit. In recent years, McKinsey & Company found that more than half of the large companies surveyed reported smart farming solutions that increased efficiency and reduced operating expenses at all operations.

As the cannabis industry continues to expand, collaboration opportunities between the scientific research community and cannabis breeders will play a critical role in the further development of the sector and the technologies developed to support it.


Neko Catanzaro is President of Proven Media, a PR and communications agency specializing in highly regulated industries, including cannabis. See all author stories here.

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