Medical cannabis is big business around the globe. The North American market has been dominating headlines lately, but on the other end of the planet, growers have been making headway too. One of them is Medifarm, Australia's first licensed medical cannabis producer authorized for therapeutic use. Steffen Kraushaar, the company's Master Grower, tells us more about cultivating cannabis and how he got into the industry.
"I started building my pathway back when I went to school", Steffen recalls. "I did my major in Biology and Plant Science. Later when I went to university, I started studying Agriculture and Technology with my Major in Plant Physiology. Then I researched coir, looking at plant responses. Afterwards I focused on commercial operation to understand the 'know how' behind the scenes." Starting as a junior, he worked his way up in the industry.
Although he was born in Germany and raised in Belgium, Steffen has always had a soft spot for Australia. "My dad planted the seed in my head when I was a little kid. He always told me about the Great Barrier Reef, the outback and the Land of the Opportunities. So I came here in 2010 as a backpacker… and never left!"
Steffen's first foray into Australian greenhouse horticulture was at Sundrop Farms, which, he says, "played a pivotal role in my life. It wasn't just the technology - but more about the people and mentors I had around me."
Steffen also gained invaluable experience running a greenhouse business at Sundrop: "Managing large work forces and growing large truss tomatoes in a semi closed greenhouse while outside temperatures are well above 40 makes you learn quickly... there is no room for errors."
In 2018, Steffen moved on to Medifarm, which gave him the chance to fulfil one of his childhood dreams. "Back when I was a little kid, I remember my neighbour medicating with Cannabis Sativa. It was the only thing that worked for him. I was and still am fascinated about the healing power of cannabis."
Asked about the particular challenges of growing cannabis, Steffen points out that as with any other horticultural crop, you must stay on top of your insect pressure. "Now since this is used for medicine, we can not afford to spray toxic chemicals on the plant. So crop hygiene is key."
In order to help them grow high-quality medical crops, the team at Medifarm uses a range of technology, depending on stage and climatic conditions. For instance, they use humidifier and dehumidifier technology, as well as Priva to control the parameters.
And it all starts with seeds, of course. Medifarm's supplier of choice is Tikun Olam from Israel. "Their strains and their stable genetics are the keys to success", Steffen says. "Tikun Olam has certain strains which can be used for specific illnesses."
"It's going to be epic"
Regarding the future of the horticultural industry and the protected cropping industry, Steffen sees those gaining momentum every year. "As long as the population continues to grow, we will need to produce fresh food and vegetables."
He sees a particularly bright future for the cannabis industry: "This is going to be epic. Look at the USA and Canada... I get goose bumps thinking about where we are in 5 or 10 years. This industry will take off without a doubt. Patients are screaming for decades to access medical cannabis. Let's get it to them first. The rest will fall into place."
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