The great cannabis switcheroo

An increasing number of vegetable growers are making the switch to growing marijuana, since the medical (and sometimes recreational) was legalized in countries around the world. Some growers have even emptied all their greenhouses of tomatoes and cucumbers in favor of cannabis. An overview.

Tilray / Enniskillen Pepper: 560,000 sq.ft. (Ontario, Canada)
One of the first big announcements on joint ventures between cannabis companies and greenhouse growers came in August 2017, when Tilray, a licensed medical cannabis company with existing greenhouse production in British Columbia, announced an investment in Eniskillen Pepper.



In the first phase of the project, the property would house a 10-acre cannabis greenhouse facility containing approximately 40,000 square feet of processing space. The property of Enniskillen Pepper is 100 acres in size. The company was founded in 2005 by Jack Greydanus and his wife Christine from scratch. Next to greenhouse production, the Greydanus family is also specialized in raising roosters and hens.

“We embrace all opportunities for growth and development. From pepper plants to cannabis, our region is known for its agricultural capability. This investment will allow our community the chance to be part of a growing industry and allows the region to showcase its agricultural capability”, Jack Greydanus commented on the investment in his company. In a recent article on HortiDaily, Jack tells us more about his company's transition.

In April, the joint venture's name was revealed: High Park. The company also announced that the current acreage would be expanded to up to 1.3 million square feet.

WeedMD / Perfect Pick: 610,000 sq.ft. (Ontario, Canada)
With 2017 drawing to a close, the medical marijuana market was heating up. In November, greenhouse vegetable grower Perfect Pick leased 217,800 sq. ft. or 5 acres of greenhouse to WeedMD, with an option to expand into the balance of 392,040 sq. ft. or 9 acres of greenhouse space at its discretion.



“This transformational partnership represents an outstanding opportunity for WeedMD, with the potential to increase our production capabilities more than twelvefold in the first year and the optionality to materially increase our footprint in a risk-free, sustainable way over the long-term,” said Bruce Dawson-Scully, CEO of WeedMD.

“Having the opportunity to participate in the cannabis industry, as both a shareholder and an operator, is very exciting for Perfect Pick,” stated Jerry Zakaria, CEO of Perfect Pick Farms. “Produce cultivation and management has been passed down for three generations in our family and now we have the opportunity to apply that expertise and knowledge towards large-scale cannabis cultivation."

Aphria / Double Diamond: 1.4 million sq.ft. (Ontario, Canada)

In January of this year, Aphria entered a strategic relationship with tomato, pepper, cucumber and eggplant grower Double Diamond Farms to provide an additional 120,000 kgs of annual cannabis production. Aphria will have access to almost 32.0 acres (just less than 1,400,000 square feet of greenhouse) plus 72,000 of infrastructure to service not only the almost 32 acres, but a future build of another 32 acres.



“Since the Aphria journey began in early 2014, a key pillar to the Aphria success story has been our unwavering commitment to 'powered by the sun', and nowhere is that more effective than in Leamington, Ontario, where average daily sunlight hours, intensity of optimum lighting and moderate climate provides for ideal greenhouse growing,” Vic Neufeld, Chief Executive Officer of Aphria, said of the acquisition.

“The staff at Double Diamond Farms are excited about this new challenge and to be able to participate in the burgeoning medical and adult recreational use cannabis markets,” Benji Mastronardi, President and COO of Double Diamond Farms, commented.

Partnering with Double Diamond and getting a ready-built greenhouse campus saved up to 18 months toward Aphria realizing its expansion plans, according to an article in the Windsor Star.

Canopy Growth / Serres Bertrand: 700,000 sq.ft. (Quebec, Canada)
January 2018 was a productive month when it comes to cannabis joint ventures, with tomato grower Les Serres Stéphane Bertrand joining the bandwagon. Canopy Growth took over a 700,000-square-foot organic greenhouse in Mirabel, Que., owned by the largest North American producer of pink tomatoes.

"We want to establish production in every province because it seems like there's going to be some preference for local producers," Adam Greenblatt, Canopy's Quebec brand manager, told The Globe and Mail about the move.

Sylvain Miron, general manager of tomato producer Les Serres Stéphane Bertrand in Mirabel, saw it as an opportunity to be safer for a longer-term period. "The market for tomatoes – there's a lot of competition from Mexico, from Ontario. … We're already a good producer, and we don't have a very big margin."

Artiva / LiveWell Foods: 540,000 sq.ft. (Ontario, Canada)
Also in January, LiveWell Foods, through subsidiary company Artiva, turned an existing 540,000 square feet tomato, bean and cucumber greenhouse into a cannabis production facility. The first phase of the retrofit (57,000 square feet) is expected to be completed in Q2 2018.

Peter Abboud, LiveWell Co-CEO, said of the conversion: “We are absolutely delighted that city council is supporting our plan to bring our project and hundreds of jobs to rural Ottawa. The farm was in my family for almost 25 years, and as we transition from cucumbers to cannabis and hemp, I couldn’t be happier that LiveWell will be using its technology, research and innovation to advance our knowledge of the health benefits of the products we will be producing."

Earlier this month, LiveWell announced a strategic agreement with Canopy to accelerate the development and commercialization of Livewell’s two large scale cannabis projects located in Ottawa, ON and Pontiac, QC, which collectively represent over 1,500,000 sq. ft. of future cannabis production and processing infrastructure.

“This new partnership represents further validation that Canopy is the platform of choice in the cannabis sector,” said Bruce Linton, Chairman and CEO of Canopy Growth. “Canopy has an unmatched ability to collaborate with partners given our breadth of operational knowledge, technology, investment capital, and cultivation expertise.”

Canopy’s team will provide Livewell with genetics for initial cultivation, access to trained personnel for guidance/support, assistance with standard operating procedures for compliance, and other strategic and financial support as needed to assist LiveWell in getting its facilities licensed and fully operational. Once licensed, LiveWell will also benefit from launching its brand(s) via Canopy Growth’s extensive distribution network.

Canopy Growth / SunSelect: 1.3 million sq.ft. (British Columbia, Canada)
In February, Canopy Growth announced the reception of a cultivation licence for the first of its two sites operating under the BC Tweed banner.

The rapid licensing of pepper grower SunSelect's Aldergrove site, the largest federally licensed cannabis site anywhere in the world, covers over 400,000 sq. ft. of growing space, allowing vegetative growth so that the mature plants can be spread into the full 1.3 million sq. ft. in the coming months for flowering and ultimate harvest.

"As proud native British Columbians and long-time horticulture producers we are excited to continue the proud tradition of BC bud on a national scale," said Victor Krahn, who runs operations for BC Tweed. "Working with Canopy Growth we're going to take the Tweed brand to the next level on the West Coast and bring the best our province has to offer to the country and the world."



Emerald Health Therapeutics / Village Farms: 1.1 million sq.ft. (British Columbia, Canada)
In March, another big fish started growing cannabis. Already announced in August 2017, Village Farms' joint venture with Emerald Health Therapeutics, under the name Pure Sunfarms, got off to a start after receiving a licence for 1.1 million square feet. The growing facility in Delta, BC was conservatively projected to produce 75,000 kg of quality cannabis annually at full production.



“Growing any agricultural crop on a large scale and repeatedly delivering expected quantities and consistent quality, with full regulatory compliance, at a competitive price is an extremely challenging proposition for even the most experienced agricultural producers. The goal is for the Joint Venture to set the standard in this regard in the Canadian cannabis industry and establish itself as a preferred supplier for both the short- and long-terms,” said Michael DeGiglio, CEO, Village Farms International. “In addition to production ramp-up, in 2018 the Joint Venture will focus on product development and developing its marketing strategy to become a vertically integrated leader in the Canadian cannabis market.”

Conversion of the first 250,000 ft2 section of the 1.1 million ft2 Delta 3 greenhouse to cannabis production was expected to commence production in April 2018. Conversion of the remainder of the 1.1 million ft2 is expected to be in production in 2019. The Joint Venture holds options on two additional greenhouses owned by Village Farms (Delta 2 and Delta 1, with 1.1 million ft2 and 2.6 million ft2 of growing capacity, respectively). Exercising these options would expand the Joint Venture’s production facility to 4.8 million ft2 and make it one of the largest cannabis producers in Canada.

With all this talk about food greenhouses being converted to cannabis operations, local politicians took notice too: The Delta Optimist reported on a moratorium by Central Saanich, asking the provincial government of British Columbia to halt any cannabis production on prime agricultural lands until a proper analysis of what it could mean to food production. Mayor Lois Jackson of Delta is reportedly interested in such a moratorium too, but Council decided to first seek comment from Delta’s agricultural advisory committee and the Delta Farmers’ Institute.

MedReleaf / VeriFine: 1 million sq.ft. (Ontario, Canada)
Despite any misgivings, the gravy train shows no sign of stopping. In February, MedReleaf announced it would acquire 1 million square feet of existing greenhouse infrastructure on a 69 acre property in Exeter, Ontario and 95 acres of adjacent land for $21.5 million in cash and 225,083 common shares of MedReleaf.

The greenhouse and land, according to The London Free Press, had been previously owned by VeriFine, which has other facilities around Exeter. The company’s operations on Thames Road West in Exeter are not included in the deal, MedReleaf vice-president of strategy Darren Karasiuk said.

The medicinal marijuana company will start retrofitting of the Airport Line greenhouse this month ahead of their planned inaugural harvest in the first quarter of 2019. When it’s up and running, MedReleaf’s Exeter facility will be able to produce 105,000 kilograms of cannabis each year.

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