48North Cannabis Corp. chief executive Charles Vennat, shown in this undated handout image, runs a 100-acre outdoor cannabis farm in Brant County, Ont. , which he says is far cheaper than keeping indoor pot facilities. Health Canada began handing out licenses to cultivate cannabis outside in 2019, but interest has since grown steadily. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-48North Cannabis Corp.

Growing with the sun: Cannabis companies look to outdoor cultivation

Health Canada began handing out licenses to cultivate cannabis outside in 2019

A planting machine crawled along the 100-acre Good Farm in Brant County, Ont. on a sunny June day, dropping seeds into the soil in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Behind the wheel was an employee of 48North Cannabis Corp. one wouldn’t usually expect: chief executive Charles Vennat.

“I joked with my team that I was the most expensive farmhand in southwestern Ontario,” said Vennat, who professes to keeping a pair of hiking boots in his car trunk for such impromptu jaunts.

“I’ve always had the leadership philosophy that you should never ask anybody to do a job in your company that you would not want to do yourself.”

Vennat, who visits the farm once a week during warm months, was at work on his company’s second crop of outdoor cannabis — a fairly new venture for licensed cannabis producers.

While many pot producers started out with massive indoor facilities to prepare for the legalization of cannabis in Canada, a handful have turned to outdoor cultivation in order to take advantage of savings from free sunlight and lower electricity and staffing costs.

Health Canada began handing out licenses to cultivate cannabis outside in 2019. Interest has since grown steadily.

Health Canada told The Canadian Press there were 391 cannabis license holders as of May 31. About 56 are authorized for outdoor cultivation, up from 28 last December.

As of March 2020, licence holders had dedicated more than 2.7 million square metres of land to outdoor growing and about 1.9 million square metres for indoor cultivation.

Most say savings make outdoor cultivation attractive. A 48North spokesperson said some studies show cannabis grown indoors can cost $2 per gram to cultivate.

“We cultivated 12,000 kilos last year at 25 cents a gram, which is obviously disruptive,” said Vennat.

“We’re quite bullish on the fact that we will do it again this year with even better quality and a lower cost per gram.”

READ MORE: Cannabis retailers call for change in B.C.’s legal sales regime

While Vennat boasts about the price, he admits that the company didn’t harvest as much as it hoped and didn’t have the right licensed drying spaces.

“Some went just extremely large scale where other producers started with a more slow and steady approach and I think are scaling up moving into this season,” said Robyn Rabinovich, a senior account director at Hill and Knowlton Strategies, who has worked for CannTrust Holdings Inc. and TerrAscend.

While many companies were instantly interested in outdoor cultivation, several licensed cannabis producers fought it because they had already invested in large-scale greenhouses, she said.

They eventually came around on the idea, which many experts believe could become even more popular because of the cost savings and how easy it is to physically distance on outdoor farms compared to indoor facilities.

Those benefits aren’t lost on Canopy Growth Corp.

It first got into the outside growing game last year with a test crop in Saskatchewan, but is back at it again this year. It hopes to use its crop on edibles, cannabis beverages and vaporizer pens.

“Your electricity bill is practically nothing when you grow with the sun,” said Adam Greenblatt, a senior communications adviser with the Smiths Falls, Ont. company.

“When you consider indoor growing, you’re talking about easily 1,000-watt lamps for every 20 square feet or so and rooms with 100,000 watts of lights, burning 12 to 18 hours a day. It’s incomparable.”

Outdoor cannabis farming also allows for a drop in labour costs. Greenblatt estimates a dozen workers tend to Canopy’s Saskatchewan cannabis farm, in comparison to its headquarters, where roughly 1,000 people work.

READ MORE: B.C. Interior First Nation breaks ground on farm-to-gate cannabis cultivation facility

Canopy’s indoor growing team is much larger because it involves more labour intensive work such as trimming the flowers and maintaining and operating fertilizer tanks and high-powered lighting.

Outside growers can often do their harvesting completely mechanically because the cannabis is being grown to become ingredients for pot products.

Even with its benefits, outdoor cannabis farming isn’t always a smooth venture, said Andrew Condin, the chief executive at Saskatchewan-based Bold Growth Inc.

He’s always paying close attention to Mother Nature because hail or high winds can wreak havoc on his cannabis crop.

Condin wanted to plant 15 acres of outdoor cannabis this year, but COVID-19 has disrupted that plan.

Pandemic-friendly policies have meant Bold’s indoor growing operations has to split its workers into two groups and can’t spare enough to tend to a full farm doing outdoor cultivation.

“We basically divided our teams and had no crossover so we didn’t have COVID coming through the facility and transmitting through our workforce, but it’s been difficult to manage that and to keep that level of protection on our team members,” Condin said.

When COVID-19 is over or at least subsides, he envisions all 15 acres growing and predicts, “You will see an increase in outdoor cultivation.”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

cannabis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chilliwack Mural Festival comes alive in the downtown core

‘Murals offer a safe way for people to enjoy socially distanced artwork,’ says organizer

Chilliwack museum looking for public feedback on exhibits

Online survey will help drive three-year plan for future exhibit possibilities

Mission man who nearly died from COVID-19 at Abbotsford hospital reflects on one-month battle

Robert Billyard was in an induced coma to ensure his body would not fight the ventilator to breathe

Lavender hand sanitizer sale raises cash for Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation

Golf course and lavender farm partner up to support health care in the Fraser Valley

Donations of fresh produce sought from Chilliwack backyard gardeners

Hamper program from Chilliwack Citizens for Change to serve those with special dietary needs

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Watchdog clears Okanagan RCMP in death of man after arrest over alleged stolen pizzas

The man died in hospital after having difficulty breathing and broken ribs

35,000 doses of fentanyl part of huge Maple Ridge bust

Largest seizure in RCMP detachment’s history included submachine gun, body armour

Have you seen Berleen? B.C. pig destined for sanctuary goes missing

Berleen was less than two weeks from travelling to Manitoba when she vanished

Health Canada says several kids hospitalized after eating edible pot products

People warned not to store cannabis products where children can find them

‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

Police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna’s staff

Michigan plans dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles

First study of its kind in the U.S. to figure out whether existing lanes or shoulders could be used

Most Read