Re­gion farm could have first cannabis crop

A former nurse with a farm back­ground heads a com­pany ap­ply­ing for an out­door grow li­cence

The Beacon Herald - - NEWS - DALE CAR­RUTHERS

Canada’s first crop of com­mer­cially grown out­door cannabis could sprout from the ground of a former or­ganic farm in South­west­ern On­tario this year.

Mar­i­juana pro­ducer 48North has ap­plied for an out­door cul­ti­va­tion li­cence — the only cannabis com­pany to do since the gov­ern­ment ap­proved out­door grow­ing in the sum­mer — to plant mar­i­juana on its 40-hectare prop­erty out­side of Brant­ford in one of the na­tion’s rich­est farm belts.

Com­pany co-chief ex­ec­u­tive Jean­nette Van­derMarel, who hails from a fam­ily of ap­ple pro­duc­ers, says she’s draw­ing on her agri­cul­tural back­ground for the en­deav­our.

“Ba­si­cally, I’m plan­ning this like an or­chard,” she said, adding work on the op­er­a­tion is well un­der­way while the com­pany awaits ap­proval from Health Canada.

“I know that I need to work the ground this fall in or­der to have it ready for spring plant­ing.”

The out­door op­er­a­tion would yield 40,000 kilo­grams of cannabis a year, Van­derMarel said. By com­par­i­son, 48North’s 4,230-squareme­tre in­door site in Brant­ford, which in­cludes ware­house op­er­a­tions, har­vests 1,000 kg a year and its 3,780-square-me­tre Kirk­land Lake fa­cil­ity pro­duces around 2,500 kg a year.

The out­door crop would be used to make cannabis ex­tracts, Van­derMarel said.

“It’s a huge vol­ume that has to be pro­cessed all at once. The most ef­fi­cient way to do that . . . is to process it into oil,” she said. “But the qual­ity of out­door grown ver­sus green­house is ba­si­cally the same.”

After the gov­ern­ment an­nounced it was lift­ing the ban on out­door grow­ing, some of the largest li­censed pro­duc­ers pushed back, rais­ing con­cerns about such is­sues as prod­uct se­cu­rity and cross-con­tam­i­na­tion from other crops.

The head of a cannabis in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion echoed those con­cerns, but says out­door cannabis will be an im­por­tant part of a di­ver­si­fied sup­ply mix.

“Out­door will be a very vi­able and suc­cess­ful part of our cannabis mix in Canada,” said Al­lan Re­wak of the Cannabis Coun­cil of Canada, an um­brella group rep­re­sent­ing some of the coun­try’s largest pot pro­duc­ers, in­clud­ing Canopy, Til­ray and Aurora.

“It will never re­place in­door and green­house grow­ing en­tirely, but it will be a part of a constellation of dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tion meth­ods that all feed to­ward one com­mon goal: grow­ing great cannabis con­sis­tently and in the vol­umes that Cana­di­ans need.”

Other pro­duc­ers are hes­i­tant to jump into out­door grow­ing, Re­wak said, be­cause of un­cer­tainly over a gov­ern­ment-im­posed ex­cise tax that’s cal­cu­lated on weight, rather than the con­tent of tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol (THC) and cannabid­iol (CBD), the two main com­po­nents in mar­i­juana. “So the com­para­tor would be for beer, pay­ing an ex­cise tax on the amount of bar­ley you’re us­ing to cre­ate the beer, as op­posed to the al­co­hol con­tent in the beer,” he said.

“I think we’ll see fur­ther li­censed pro­duc­ers fol­low (48North’s) lead in out­door cul­ti­va­tion, but this mar­ket will not be fully ma­ture in terms of pro­duc­tion for years.”

Health Canada has im­posed the same strict se­cu­rity rules for grow­ing pot out­side as it re­quires for in­door cul­ti­va­tion. Those in­clude sur­veil­lance cam­eras, perime­ter mon­i­tor­ing, in­tru­sion de­tec­tion and alerts, ac­cess con­trol, track­ing any­one who en­ters or ex­its the site and mi­cro­phonic ca­bling to de­tect move­ment or vi­bra­tion near the fence.

“Within so many feet of the fence, and I won’t say how many, we get an alert even be­fore some­body comes to the fence,” Van­derMarel said.

Van­derMarel worked a nurse at McMaster Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal prior to co-found­ing the Green Or­ganic Dutch­man, one of Canada’s largest li­censed cannabis pro­duc­ers. She be­came co-chief ex­ec­u­tive of 48North after the com­pany ac­quired Good and Green, a Brant­ford-based pro­ducer Van­derMarel also co-founded.

The com­pany em­ploys 55 peo­ple at its op­er­a­tions in Kirk­land Lake and Brant­ford, but that num­ber will dou­ble by next year, Van­derMarel said.

“We’re go­ing full steam ahead,” she said.

Ba­si­cally, I’m plan­ning this like an or­chard.” Jean­nette Van­derMarel

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