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Anvil Agrinomics and the change cannabis game

Anvil Agrinomics and the change cannabis game

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Jim Megerson believes every building should be designed, built and operated sustainably. That’s why at Anvil Agrinomics LLC (AnvilAg), the national mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering design firm he founded uses innovation and creativity to develop sustainable solutions for its clients.

The goal is to optimize the results for its clients’ specific requirements.

Megerson, PE, LEED AP and President, says AnvilAg’s is designed to minimize the effect of the built environment on the natural environment while creating functional spaces to live, work and play. When he started the company, he set out to create an engineering firm different from the others. He wanted one that would be known for its innovative and creative problem-solving—a balance of construction knowledge and technical engineering prowess.

Today, AnvilAg’s efforts to balance design, construction cost, operations and maintenance to achieve the best return on the owner’s HVACD investment continues to make strides. While AnvilAg has experience with many different building types, its focus is on controlled environments for indoor agriculture, namely indoor cultivation and manufacturing for infused products like cannabis.

We sat down with Anvil Agrinomics President Jim Megerson to get an inside peek into the cannabis-based engineering firm.

Can you give us a snapshot of your brand?

Agrinomics is the combination of Agriculture and Economics. It is our goal to provide our customers with Controlled Environments for Agriculture (CEA) systems that provide the fastest return on their HVACD, electrical and plumbing investment.

I have been practicing blacksmithing for about 20 years. Anvils are one of the oldest man-made tools still in use today. They also take a beating and keep working. It just seemed like a good fit with our core values as a company. We also think it’s simple and straight forward from a branding perspective.

What does your company do?

We provide mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection design services (MEP). We focus exclusively on controlled environments for agriculture. In other words, we design life support systems for plants. Due to the market, we tend to find ourselves performing most of our work in the cannabis cultivation and manufacturing space.

What is HVACD?

HVACD stands for Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning and Dehumidification. Like many in the indoor grow space, we use the “D” to emphasize dehumidification. There is generally more moisture to remove from these spaces in proportion to the heat.

What makes your company different from other MEP firms?

We don’t piddle in the cannabis/ indoor agriculture markets; this is all that we do. Most of our team has extensive construction experience. For example, I went through the sheet metal apprentice school while going to college. I have invaluable hands on, tool belt wearing experience. You cannot learn that from books. Others in our firm have done the same in the electrical and plumbing fields.

We believe that with hands-on field experience we are able to creatively and efficiently balance the construction budget with operations and maintenance to produce a superior work product. It is very unlikely that a contractor will be offering up large value engineering options on our projects because those are usually already baked into our designs. If they do, we welcome and openly applaud them for their creativity. As they say, there are many ways to tackle a problem.

What makes cannabis MEP/HVACD so complicated as compared to other spaces?

To keep it fundamental, we are trying to mimic mother nature inside the building as opposed to keeping her out of the building. We want to create the very best outdoor day inside the building every day and night, 24/7. There are no droughts, floods, cloudy days or too hot/cold days in an indoor grow.

The goal is to optimize the growing process so that we can get at least 6 different harvests inside the building instead of the one harvest you get growing outdoors. As I mentioned, we are designing and building life support systems for plants. Without the proper amount of lighting, CO2, watering, or nutrients the plants will die or at best produce lack luster yields. Engineers in this space must have a good knowledge of plant biology along with good engineering fundamentals. That is a difficult paradigm shift to accomplish.

What do you do differently in an Indoor grow that you don’t do in other building types?
It’s all about the plant. We are designing and building life support systems for plants. Without proper temperature, humidity, light, nutrients and CO2, the plants will not thrive and maybe even die. It’s important to understand how plants feed. In high school biology, I walked away thinking that plants sucked up water.

That absolutely does not do anything of that nature. Water moves through the plant hydraulically. The water pressure in the soil has to be higher than in the air. The water will move from the higher pressure to the lower pressure. When doing this, the plant absorbs nutrients dissolved in the water. In order to optimize nutrient delivery, the temperature and humidity in the air must be maintained at precise levels for this to occur. If this doesn’t happen, the plant will not grow and produce proper yields.

What got you into designing cannabis facilities?

In 2014, my daughter was diagnosed with MS. I noticed how cannabis was helping her deal with the symptoms. That showed me that this plant was more than an illicit substance. In fact, most medications come from plants/ mother nature. So why would this be any different. That really got me looking at this in a whole new light.

Naturally, I wanted to help make this more readily available from a medical standpoint. I was also becoming bored with the same old types of projects and indoor cultivation interested me. Trying to create the perfect outdoor day inside a building is much different than trying to keep the outdoor elements outside.

What does the future cannabis market look like to you?

That is a good question affected by many factors. There are only about 12 states left without some sort of cannabis legalization. Those left are probably the most conservative states. Like alcohol, I believe they all will eventually adopt legalization. I think that will transition over the next 10 years.

We are already taking what we have learned from cannabis and translating that to other indoor ag. With the continuing devastation we are seeing with climate change, the push to decarbonization and the trend to decentralize farming into urban areas, we believe that indoor ag will become more popular. That is what we are preparing for.

What do you think will happen if the federal government makes cannabis legal?

It’s my hope that the feds will at least reschedule cannabis or pass a safe banking act. Making the financial market available to cannabis businesses will make it easier to develop projects. Many of the opportunities we see end up dissolving from a lack of financing. Currently, the main access to financing in the cannabis industry comes from the private sector. Most folks cannot get traditional financing because cannabis is still a schedule one drug nationally.

What do you see happening once cannabis is legal nationally?

I hope that the federal government allows the states to individually manage cannabis legalization autonomously, like they pretty much have with alcohol. I think the FDA and USDA will get involved from a regulatory function. There is a large portion of cannabis facilities that are not designed or built to a good manufacturing process or to food safety standards.

Those will find themselves getting shut down until they come into compliance with those standards. Many might even go out of business because of the added financial stress from becoming compliant. We are certainly recommending adopting these standards up front to avoid being forced into it later. These standards provide for higher quality and safer products for the end consumer.

There is a lot of talk about the cannabis industry being very resource intensive. What are you doing to help your clients become more sustainable?

That is very true. The cultivation and manufacturing processes use a lot of water and electricity. HVACD for these facilities use about 58% of the total power consumed. We are constantly looking for more efficient ways to cool and dehumidify these spaces. Many utilities offer rebates for utilizing more efficient systems including LED lighting.

We have been very successful in taking advantage of these incentives for our clients. We also try to promote good water management as these facilities use a large amount.

One-on-One with… Anvil Agrinomics’ Jim Megerson

Describe a typical day. What’s the biggest thing on your to-do list right now?

I’m an early riser. I usually try to get a workout early in the morning. Seems like I spend a lot of time on the phone or on virtual calls. I’m in the process of documenting the how too of designing cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facilities. So that is probably the biggest item on my to-do list.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Coming into the last part of my career, I have really enjoyed mentoring young folks starting out in our industry. In fact, I should give a shout out to my mentors Bill Sirois, Chris Larson, Don Hill and Rex Mustain.

These people all took an interest in me and have had great influence in my development as an engineer but also as a person. I’m hoping that I can pass on some of that knowledge and wisdom to others.

Are there any quotes that resonate with you?

“A man without tools is a man without a job” Spoken to me from a journeyman named Bob Campble on my first day working in the field as an apprentice.

“It’s not a matter of how hard you can hit, but how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.” — Rocky Balboa

What are the core values that best represent you?

I never fail, I either win or learn.
The more people you help the more that will help you back.
I own what I do.
Say what you’re going to do and then do it. If you can’t have a good reason and restate what you will do.
Always do what is right, even if it hurts.

What’s the best thing a client has ever said to you?

“You can expect a lot out of Jim because he expects a lot out of himself.”

How do you like to spend your down time?

My wife and I spend a lot of time enjoying the outdoors. Specifically wild places. We camp, hike, kayak and just about anything that involves being outdoors in nature. I especially enjoy spending this time outdoors with our family.

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