This common agriculture method could lead to juicier buds

crop steering

Growing cannabis inside has its benefits for commercial growers as much as home growers. For one, every inch of an indoor garden can be optimized to benefit the plant. For generations, growers have been dialing in the ideal humidity, substrate, nutrient mixes, and more. This process is part of a method used in mainstream agriculture called crop steering, and it can work for the at-home cultivator, too.

Nick Denney, national director of cultivation at Holistic Industries, brought knowledge of crop steering to the cannabis brand from the agriculture industry. Denney spoke with GreenState about the cultivation method, which entails controlling irrigation and environmental aspects of the grow to get a specific response from the plant.

“Crop steering is the most common term used, but I like ‘plant empowerment,’ a term coined by the Dutch authors of The Principles of Plant Empowerment,” he said,” They’re not exactly the same, but many of the concepts are similar and the end goal of both is to ultimately grow a balanced plant.”

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Crop steering basics

Most cannabis cultivators are using this method, even if it’s unintentional. Adjusting irrigation during the crop cycle is technically crop steering or plant empowerment. But being intentional has its benefits.

The point of plant empowerment is to encourage specific morphological growth in a plant. The grower will read plant cues and respond with the appropriate environmental shift to get the desired outcome.

There are vegetative cues, which hone in on promoting leaf and stem growth. This phase will set a foundation for bulkier flowers. Generative cues are key to plant growth. Adjusting the environment to these cues will decrease the space between flowers on the plant and bulk up buds before harvest.

At Holistic Industries, Denney and the team follow a weekly crop steering schedule. These protocols are slightly changed to cater to different strains. Those are the cues, but how do you read them?

“Usually sensors,” Denney explained, “along with environmental and irrigation controls, are needed to control your growth parameters. However, you can get away with a low-tech setup, especially if you are collecting basic data such as irrigation volume, runoff volume, light intensity, etc.”

Decked-out setups with high-tech sensors and space-age management systems are top-tier. But Denney says a few cheap items and ingenuity can empower plants. Some irrigation cups and a hygrometer will work, too. Extra tools, attention to new details, and the learning curve–is getting keen on crop steering worth it?

Benefits of crop steering

“I think most growers see the fruits of their work in terms of improved yield and/or quality, but if I could distill it down to one thing, it would be maximizing the genetic potential of the plant,” Denney shared. “To do this, the environment, irrigation, and plant care must be balanced with the genetic predispositions of the plant and end goals of the operator”

There are many ways to cultivate cannabis. Though cultivators all over the world may differ in their methods, the end goal is usually the same: grow dank weed. Crop steering, or plant empowerment, maybe one way to get a sticky, icky, stanky crop of cannabis every growth cycle, and it’s possible many unsuspecting cannabis farms (and saavy home growers) have already started without even knowing it.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.