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

Grade 5 student Liam Ouellette and Grade 4 student Trigg Jansen read together in Horse Lake Elementary School’s reading room. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Reading, literacy opens doors to learning

Students at Horse Lake Elementary School seek out challenging reads.

100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall. (Kelly Sinoski photo, 100 Mile Free Press).
100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall. (Kelly Sinoski photo, 100 Mile Free Press).
100 Mile mayor calls on residents to ‘work together’ during pandemic

Mitch Campsall also urges residents to follow the health orders.

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

Mailboxes at 108 Mile Ranch were broken into on the weekend. (Kelly Sinoski photo- 100 Mile Free Press).
Police report: Mailboxes broken into at several locations across region

100 Mile RCMP respond to 77 calls for service from Jan. 13-19

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

The top part of the fossil burrow, seen from the side, with feathery lines from the disturbance of the soil – thought to be caused by the worm pulling prey into the burrow. (Paleoenvironntal Sediment Laboratory/National Taiwan University)
PHOTOS: SFU researchers find evidence of ‘giant’ predatory worms on ocean floor

Fossils found the prove the existence of an ancient Taiwanese worm as long as two metres

RCMP officers provide policing for 63 B.C. municipalities under a provincial formula based on population. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. communities warned of upcoming RCMP unionization costs

Starting salaries for city police officers are 30% higher

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Pxhere)
B.C. nurse suspended after using Tensor bandage to trap long-term care patient in room

Susan Malloch voluntarily agreed to a three-day suspension of her certificate of registration

Abbotsford’s Skully White (left), who donated his kidney in December, has started a campaign to find other recipients and donors. The first candidate is retired police officer Gavin Quon. White owns and operates a hotdog stand, Lullys Food Experience, out of the Abbotsford Canadian Tire parking lot. (Facebook photo)
After donating his kidney, Abbotsford hotdog king starts donor campaign

Skully White donated his kidney to customer Tim Hiscock in December

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer was recently scrutinized after years of claiming she was of Algonquin and Metis descent. (CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Haida activist calls for hefty fines, jail time against those who claim to be Indigenous

Filmmaker Tamara Bell proposing the Indigenous Identity Act – to dissuade ‘Indigenous identity theft’

(File)
Man allegedly bites Vancouver cop during arrest for outstanding warrant

The officer was treated in hospital for the bite wounds

Most Read