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How two Leamington growers became Canada’s lowest cost producer of medicinal marijuana

In 2013, renowned Leamington greenhouse growers John Cervini of Lakeside Produce and Cole Cacciavillani of CF Flowers, founded Aphria; the first and still the only 100% licensed medical marijuana greenhouse operation in Canada. We know that we have published a lot about this topic lately, but we would like to bring Aphria's professional approach once more into the spotlight, as the growers transferred years of knowledge from flower and vegetable cultivation into a 22,000 square feet advanced commercial glasshouse operation for the legal cultivation of high quality medical cannabis.

We asked Chris Kiritsis, marketing and communications manager at Aphria, about the challenges greenhouse growers are faced with. His response: the cultivation and production of medical cannabis is much different from what traditional greenhouse growers are used to. The need for specialized positions within the organizations that are unique to the cannabis industry arise when dealing with a product that is going to be used as a medicine.

"Being one of Canada’s only licensed medical Cannabis producer that operates as a 100% greenhouse operation, we are able to keep our production costs down," said Kiritsis. "As a result, we have become a low-cost producer of medical Cannabis in Canada."

"Aphria operates an extremely efficient greenhouse operation. There are standard operating procedures to consider for everything we do. Many companies that enter the cannabis space are not prepared for this and end up taking more time and money than expected to bring their products to market. Our seed to sale timeline was faster than any other of the 26 licensed producers in Canada." 

The 22,000 square foot operation is located within the CF Greenhouse complex; a 450,000 sq ft existing commercial flower production. The group constructed a secure area, by constructing a concrete wall around the marijuana glasshouse. That combined with stringent security requirements allow Aphria to operate within the existing complex.

"We developed a very efficient production process that uses advanced growing techniques, and we are working with a very experienced team. Our chief scientific officer, master grower, director of quality and various other lab positions all have backgrounds in science, biology, chemistry and engineering."

Kiritsis explained that Aphria monitors everything in their greenhouse year-round, from CO2 levels, nutrition and temperature, to humidity, sun radiation and irrigation. Their production can be compared to a year-round tomato producing greenhouse operation, including the advanced humidity controls, energy saving installations and supplemental lighting. Everything is in control with advanced software. An extensive quality monitoring system provides full track and traceability, plus microbiologists recruit beneficial insects to fight pests and diseases, to guarantee a sustainable production without the use of pesticides.

Aphria focuses on new patient acquisition. "We are looking for patients who would not have considered smoking cannabis, but may consider taking cannabis if taken in a capsule or oil form,” said Kiritsis, “And with the granting of our license to produce oil, this opportunity is growing quickly so now it’s a matter of educating patients on how to approach their physicians and physicians on how to prescribe.”

The expected growth has triggered the first expansion for Aphria; this year they completed the first $1 million expansion that doubles the production space of their current operation to approximately 44,000 square feet. Proposals for a second larger-scale development will be presented to the company's board of directors at the end of the quarter. As currently contemplated, the second phase will add an incremental 88,000 square feet of advanced technology greenhouse capacity and will give Aphria the ability to increase production of MMJ to approximately 7,500 kilograms on an annualized basis.

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