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.

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

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

A historic home near Granny’s Fruit Stand in Summerland was the home of two of the community’s mayors. J.R. Campbell and Don Cameron both lived at the home on Highway 97 in Summerland, but not at the same time. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Historic house was home to two Summerland mayors

Building along Highway 97 was constructed in 1906

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

(Pixabay photo)
Black Press Weekly Roundup: Top headlines of the week

In case you missed it, here’s what made waves throughout the week

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Administrative headquarters for the Regional District of Central Okanagan in Kelowna. (File photo)
Tempers fly over a pricey picnic shelter in the North Westside

Lack of detail on $121,000 shelter expenditure further incites self-govenance wishes

Big White Village on Dec. 16. (Big White photo)
11 more COVID-19 cases linked to Big White cluster

Interior Health provided an update on the cluster on Friday

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital surgical unit

Despite 6 South being a surgical unit, RIH said surgeries are continuing at the hospital

Send your letter to the editor via email to news@summerlandreview.com. Please included your first and last name, address, and phone number.
LETTER: Historic poem is appropriate for new U.S. president

In 1941, Roosevelt made reference to poem by Longfellow

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘It’s incredibly upsetting’: Kelowna health care worker demands WestJet ticket refund

Kelowna woman has been waiting almost a year for a refund on her Kelowna to Edmonton flight

Most Read