Unique aeroponics cultivation
SUMO Cannabis’ four-layer aeroponics cultivation is found nowhere else in the world
May 3, 2023 By Treena Hein
Trois-Rivieres, Quebec is Canada’s oldest industrial city. Its first foundry was established in 1738, and it produced iron and cast iron for 150 years. The city was also known for lumber production, and was named decades ago as the pulp and paper industry capital of the world.
Trois-Rivieres has gained another distinction however: innovative aeroponics cannabis production. In fact, SUMO Cannabis is the first four-layer aeroponic cannabis operation in the entire world.
It was 2013 when co-founder Francis Descôteaux began to dig into the industry and plan his entry. He looked at the evolution of the cannabis market, the products, the regulations and various production systems. By 2015, he was forming a team that included Jonathan Bossé, who eventually brought in Eric Morel, who had a lot of business experience.
Together, these three co-founders officially started the company in 2019. They found about 20 investors to make the company a reality, and have established a solid relationship based on the core values that unite them – namely integrity, good communication, responsibility, respect and a commitment to quality.
The present 20-strong SUMO team, including management, will soon be ready to kick off sales in Ontario, Quebec and Germany.
“We will then target other Canadian provinces as well as various European markets,” says Descôteaux.
Cultivation, location, expansion
In Trois-Rivieres, they found just the right empty building with a 30,000-sq.-ft. footprint and ceilings of 34 feet.
“This was a perfect space to fully exploit the vertical culture of cannabis, and it also met our electrical needs and expansion potential,” says Descôteaux. “We had great media coverage and no resistance from the community. Instead, we anticipate that the community will be proud of our success. We are in the planning stages to add two more flowering rooms, and if all goes well, the expansion could begin in late 2023 or early 2024.”
SUMO started production in two flower rooms in 2022, aiming for yields of 360 grams per square foot.
They considered vertical rack systems from two companies that offered essentially the same type of product and went with Montel.
“Among other things, they have a factory in Quebec and representatives in our region,” says Descôteaux. “Each room is composed of five rows of Montel racking that can move from left to right on a rail. In the propagation room, the cuttings (coming from our mother plant rooms) are started and are transferred to one of our two flowering rooms when they are ready.”
There are 160 growing tables in each flowering room, which are 30 feet high with four floors of culture. Staff members work on the upper floors with the help of lifting platforms.
Workers are recruited online and staff is retained through striving to create what Descôteaux calls, “a great company culture, where employees feel respected and valued.”
The choice of aeroponic cultivation was clear from the start for the SUMO team. It would enable them to offer recreational and medicinal cannabis of superior “precision craft” quality. It would also allow them to save labour, water, nutrient costs and minimize rockwool waste.
“We adapted the AEssence aeroponic growing systems (called AEtrium-4) in the Montel racking, which were designed for us according to the specs of the AEtrium tables,” says Descôteaux. “The AEtrium-4 systems are usually configured on one or two floors, and this is the first time that the system has been installed on four floors.”
About 4,000 litres of water per week per flowering room is consumed. Water is not recycled, but circulates for a week, with the same solution being used with only small adjustments as the week progresses.
“We generate almost no waste compared to other growing techniques,” says Descôteaux. “We’ve been surprised at the speed of plant growth, which requires tight management of the work schedule. It was one inch per day during the flower transition.”
Automation working well
The automated AEssence system allows the SUMO team to monitor and execute different grow programs involving nutrients, irrigation level, water pH, ambient temperature and LED lighting levels. Descôteaux says it is quite user friendly.
There have been four harvests so far with two different master growers. “So, these harvests were an opportunity for us to get to know the growing system and environment as well as our cultivars,” Descôteaux explains.
Both the water temperature and the ambient air temperature is controlled. Descôteaux says in both cases, care must be taken to maintain the ideal temperature, depending on the needs and the stage of growth. Lighting use has been fairly standard. There was one disease issue with a cultivar arriving from another facility.
Now that they have four harvests under their belts, Descôteaux says, “Everything seems to be working very well. We just need to continue to improve our HVAC control (we drilled more holes in the ventilation tubes so far) and our efficiency in cleaning the rooms after harvest. With experience, our procedure is more detailed and precise, and we developed some tricks as well.”
The big picture
From the start, SUMO represented many things for Descôteaux and this hasn’t changed.
“For example, the amazing possibilities that come from the combination of dedicated and committed people,” he explains. “You go a long way with a great team. Also, just living in a time when cannabis consumption and cultivation is being legalized all over the world is a source of joy and gratitude for me. To be one of the pioneers who worked on the historic take-off of the Canadian cannabis market is a great source of pride.”
When asked about a regulatory change he would like to see in the Canadian cannabis industry, Descôteaux points to updating the rules and standards surrounding the production and sale of cannabis. He’d like to see them come a little closer to what already exists with alcohol, which he describes as a much more dangerous drug than cannabis.
“I think there should be some tightening of the rules around the sale and marketing of alcohol, while at the same time giving the cannabis market a bit of a break in that area,” he says. “Moreover, the cumbersome rules and procedures in order to obtain permits to grow, sell and process cannabis do not allow small producers to enter and survive in the Canadian market. It would be very good to have streamlining of the permitting processes.”
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