November 23, 2017 By Gary Jones
The talk of the town at this year’s Canadian Greenhouse Conference was, you guessed it, marijuana. Not shady back-of-hall cloakroom conversations, but openly in the show aisles, on the bus during the tours and over dinner. One of the tour stops was even to a production facility: “… Aphria, the former Leamington flower grower that transformed its flower greenhouses into a state-of-the-art regulated medical marijuana production facility.”1
According to Health Canada2, effective May 25, 2017, lots of people have taken the route towards medicinal cannabis ‘licensed producer’ status.
- 1,665 applications were received, of which,
- 265 have been refused.
- 428 applications are in progress.
- 69 withdrawn, and
- 858 were incomplete (returned).
Sixty-seven licences have been granted, mostly in Ontario (38) and B.C. (16)2. But the situation is surely already different. Every day there’s news of another large producer.
Tantalus Labs is growing in a greenhouse in B.C. Village Farms announced they’re phasing in the conversion of 25 acres, starting production April 2018. Another large B.C. greenhouse is partnering with Canopy Growth Corporation to grow up to three million sq. ft. beginning July 2018, also converting from vegetable crops. Lots of smaller producers (e.g. Agrima Botanicals) are continuing with indoor growing. Ontario has somewhere around one million square feet mostly converting from floriculture.3 The big driver in Canada is the anticipated legalization of recreational use in 2018, but it’s not just a Canada phenomenon.
While not differentiating here between medicinal and recreational use, nor between legal / decriminalized, commercial production has gone global. The new Dutch government has announced plans to allow the cultivation and sale of legalized cannabis in a number of municipalities. One million square feet is going up in Australia, custom built with “capacity to produce 100,000 kgs of high quality cannabis per year, worth between C$800 million and C$1.1 billion (based on current pricing metrics in the Australian cannabis marketplace).”1 The crop has just been legalized in Peru.1 South Africa, Spain and Uruguay appear to be legal. In some U.S. states its legal while being illegal at the federal level. About a dozen countries in the EU have now legalized marijuana to varying degrees, and Canopy Growth is reportedly starting construction of a production facility in Jamaica.
But unanswered questions abound:
- Investment is based on a certain crop value. How will the dramatic increase in production volume affect crop prices? How will production affect, or be affected by, demand?
- How will that affect business viability?
- Where will the growers come from? Will marijuana make recruiting in the greenhouse industry worse or better? Will it ‘compete’ with conventional companies?
- Conversation around issues always turns to control of pests and diseases like powdery mildew. This is particularly challenging for medicinal grade produce, which has to meet strict Q.C. and contamination (e.g. pesticide) specifications. ‘Clean’ crop reputation must be earned and protected to build consumer and regulatory confidence.
- How will employers manage workplace safety (e.g. operating machinery) once legal?
- Health Canada requirements around safety and security are a new issue for growing in glasshouses, where the objective is usually to let as much light (= visibility) in as possible.
Interesting times ahead. Lots to continue talking about.
- www.HortiDaily.com various publication dates, October 2017
- Health Canada website, accessed Oct. 19th 2017. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/medical-use-marijuana/licensed-producers/authorized-licensed-producers-medical-purposes.html
- Laura Bryce, KPU / Flowers Canada, personal communication.
Gary Jones is co-chair of Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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