Cash Crop Today Interview with CEO of Open Grow™ João Melo

Open Grow™ is a company located in Portugal that is dedicated to the research and creation of automation solutions for the agricultural growing environments. Their company aims to provide innovative and versatile technology with an extremely easy-to-use interface, allowing every grower to use it. Open Grow™  are committed to developing high quality systems at an affordable price.


1) When was Open Grow founded? What experience in your career lead you to starting the company?

Open Grow is the company that makes GroLab, it started in 2014 but the project goes way beyond that. When I was doing my degree in electronics I was also a grower and right away I understood that I could control a lot of variables with my electronic inventions. So I started to create some prototypes to control my grow and after some while doing this as a hobby and working as a developer I realized I could make it into a product. In 2014 after a few years of being in the entrepreneurial world and understanding the inner workings of creating a business I developed OpenGrow and started to work to create GroLab. After 2 years, in 2016, GroLab was fully developed and we started to commercialize it.


 2) What are the benefits of using a fully automated agricultural system when operating a cannabis cultivation?

The first, and main thing, is that you are ensuring the best climate for your plants. Not only climate, but the nutrients, the pH on your solution tank and  your irrigation will also be fully automated which means you are also saving a lot of money on water and fertilizer and,  even more importantly, you are also saving time on daily tasks and preventing your crops from suffering from possible problems.


3) What are the different aspects of a cultivation that your technology can automate?

We can automate most of the variables in a grow. So your lights, your fertilization and your irrigation. We can even do your irrigation based on your soil moisture, so you only irrigate when your plants really need it. For hydroponics we can automate the pH correction so you don’t have to go there everyday and measure the pH and do the corrections because the system will do that for you. With the automatic refill of  your tanks the system will feed the nutrients you need on your tank.

We also provide security features, so if you have a flood you can shut down all your water pumps, for example, until you solve the problem. In case of a fire you can shut down your ventilation, or lights if you’re growing indoor, to prevent the fire from propagating.______________________________________________________________

4) Is it more effective to utilize your technology for a larger scale operation as opposed to a smaller one?

GroLab is currently directly marketed to the small grower but the system is fully scalable and we also have bigger installations that are using it. So, there no real restriction on the size of your grow. How many modules you get is up to you, how many features you want in your grow is up to you. The only limitation so far would be the connection because its done wirelessly so you need to have a maximum of 50  meters between each module, which is not a lot, although, we have a cable version that we can provide to clients so, in that way, the grow facility can be much greater.


5) Are you able to remotely use your technology if you are away from your grow operation? Are there any limits to running your operations when traveling?

Yes. We wanted the automation to not only be controlled locally from, let’s say a wifi network, but we also provide access through remote control so you can even be in China controlling your grow in the United States. For now our software is totally free so you can use it with no restrictions. You just need a PC and know your public IP where the system is and you can do whatever you need to do when you connect.


6) Explain what SOILBOT does and how it helps regulate the health of your customers plants.

SOILBOT has three major features.

The first is Soil Moisture Analysis. It is constantly checking the moisture in your plants and irrigate them when they need it. The second feature is Flood Detection. When you have a flood detector on the floor or in a critical spot you can create procedures to shut down all the systems. Last, but not least, it comes with a temperature sensor that you use on soil, water, or air. Usually it’s used for the control of temperature in the cloning chambers. It’s mostly an analysis module so it doesn’t act on anything, but in conjunction with the other modules that we have it can do a lot of stuff.


7) What are some of the benefits of using your TANKBOT module for growers?

It’s one of the most complete modules that we have, and actually the most sold one. It can sample the pH and the EC for you in any water solution. It also has four outputs that can be used to controldosing pumps or even solenoids. So you can control your irrigation paths, and ensure that you are constantly sampling the pH and EC values in real time and if something goes wrong you have the capability to act on it. Since it has switched inputs you can connect with any kind of switch there,from motion detectors, smoke detectors or even a fire detectors- it’s really up to the client.


8) What is the setup process like for customers starting to use your technology and software? How does your company help assist with this process?

We call GroLab a system that is “plug and grow”. You get a box that contains all the necessary modules, cables, connectors, instruction manuals and software with all of our kits. The procedure takes about 10 minutes and you just need to open the box, install the modules- which is really just plugging in two or three cables and put in the antennas, open the software and connect to your GroNode by inputting the serial number and the system automatically finds it in your network. All that’s left after that is configuring your modules and creating the procedures for automation.

Clients can reach us in many ways. We provide video tutorials that go with the software inside the box, we have a support webpage, an email for support and we have quick response direct chat on our website.

The basic installations are pretty simple and people can do it by themselves. If they want to create more complex automations they reach out to us and we help to with any issue for free.


 9) Is GRONODE a type of control panel?

It’s the central module, it’s basically the “brain”. All the other modules are controlled by it. So when you turn on your software you use it to configure GroNode. You don’t need to have a computer always running. When you put all the schedules, alarms and tasks inside GroNode you can shut down the computer because it manages all the modules and automations you’ve configured.


 10) Is your software only for soil-based cultivation projects? Can growers with a hydroponic based cultivation use your software too?

WE made sure our system could fit both soil based and hydroponic based grows. So you have SOILBOT, for example, that helps you irrigate a soilbased system but, on the other hand, you have Tankbot that helps you to manage the nutrient solution tank for hydroponics. You can even mix different growing systems in the same software. GroNode will manage them differently and understand that one is hydroponic and the other is soil.


 11) What sort of statistics and analytics can your software track for cultivators?

We basically track it ALL. So GroLab provides a series of sensors, let’s call them variables, and also a bunch of actuators like lights, ventilation and stuff like that. So whenever something changes, whether it be that a light turns on or your temperature changes, GroLab logs that data and gives you a graph that maps the growth from beginning to end. (what was the average, what went wrong, when did the ventilation turn on, etc.)


12) How long does shipping to customers take?

It honestly depends on two things: what’s in our stock and what country we are delivering to. When our products are in stock, it usually takes about 7-14 business days to ship our systems out to the U.S. and about 2-3 business days if it’s somewhere in Europe.


13) What are maintenance requirements for your modules like?

So the maintenance also depends on each module. Maintenance is usually required more for our TankBot because it has probes that have to be placed in water and they are constantly in water; so you need to recalibrate and clean these probes from time to time. It honestly depends more on the quality of the probe you have, not necessarily the module. Our cheaper probes  have maintenance requirements of about 2-3 weeks while our more expensive ones can go about 2 months without recalibration and cleaning.


14) Do you manufacture in Portugal?

Yes, we have a small productions line that is for now fully cable of fulfilling all requests we currently receive.


15) Are there current plans for expansion of your product line?

Yes, actually at the moment we are developing a C02 sensor. From the growing variables that we can currently sample, that is the most important one that is missing & the one that a lot of clients are asking for. The thing with C02 sensors is that they are quite sophisticated and generally expensive so our ultimate goal is to reach a fair price like we did with our GroLab automation systems.


16) Is GroLab in the development of a mobile application?

Because our systems were originally windows based, we are actually in developments of a mobile app so that our systems can be compatible with IOS, Windows, and Android.


Cash Crop Today would like to give a special thanks to the entire team at Open Grow!