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Aurora: ‘No Place For Outdoor Cultivation in Our Global Empire’

outdoor cultivation
Written by Peter McCusker

While many yearn for a focus on low-cost, environmentally-friendly outdoor cultivation, Aurora says its ‘re-inventing cannabis production’ on its way to building a  ‘global empire’.

The leading Canadian cannabis company says its U.S. $100 million-plus, hi-tech ‘Sky’ rooms are capable of producing over six crops a year in eight week continuous growing cycles with a total annual crop of almost 100,000 kilograms per site.

Aurora Cannabis’ Chief Corporate officer Cam Battley says it has no interest in retro-fitting former greenhouses and described outdoor cultivation as ‘too risky’.

Outdoor Grow is ‘Too Risky’

In an interview with CBD Testers at the Canadian Cannabis Capital Markets Conference in London earlier, he said: “Outdoor cultivation is fine. It’s a piece of the puzzle. We are doing it fine, Canada, Latin America, but the problem is that you cannot build a global empire on that basis; it’s just too risky.

“Think about it; a big wind comes wipes out the crop, or a heavy rain storm washes all the trichomes, the crystals of cannabinoids off your buds and now all you have is a bunch of useless biomass, and you’re vulnerable to disease to pests and to pesticides from surrounding agriculture.

“Then you only have one cycle a year, two if you’re lucky, whereas we get 6.3 cycles a year and we get consistent levels of cannabinoids and perfect plants. So it’s good for extraction, as a piece of the puzzle, but you cannot build a global enterprise on that basis, a pharmaceutical company would not take the risks of losing all of its drugs.

“I think it (outdoor) can work in Canada, but not as a basis for a global enterprise.”

High Utility Costs

outdoor cultivation

Cannabis cultivation consumes 1% of the United States’ energy

His words will disappoint many in the industry wanting to see cannabis producers slash their huge carbon footprint driven by high utility costs; including electricity and water.

One estimate of cannabis cultivation – legal and illicit – in the U.S. is that it consumed an estimated 4.1 million MWh of electricity in 2017 – amounting to over 1% of total US electricity consumption.

And they come as fellow Canadian firm 48North Cannabis Corp embarked on its quest to create the world’s largest outdoor cannabis cultivation farm. It will shortly start planting at its 100-acre facility near Hamilton, Ontario, in expectation of a harvest of over 40,000 kilograms of organic cannabis later this year.

Good For Planet and Balance Sheet

Jeannette VanderMarel co-CEO of 48North, told CBD Testers its focus on outdoor growing is good for the planet and its balance sheet. With indoor growing facilities costing up to $1.5m per acre to build, some of the larger them require an initial outlay of  over $100m, she says. 

“Our initial investment is $5m, there is no need for artificial lighting and the crop will be watered by the rain, this will allow us to produce cannabis at 25 cents per gram compared to (Canadian) $2 for some indoor growers.

“One crop a year, we have 4.3m sq ft of space, with a total of 3.7m sq ft of growing area, compared a to a 1m sq ft greenhouse, which will probably have 600,000 sq ft for cultivation, yes, they can get four crops but over the year my crop can match that.

“Another advantage is that I can grow a much bigger plant, in a greenhouse or indoor you are limited by the pot size for the root mass as well as the height of the canopy which is limited because of the lights and other infrastructure.”

16 Weeks To Harvest

48North’s aim is to plant 300,000 plants, roughly 70 per cent of which will take anywhere between 13 to 16 weeks from seed to harvest. Ms VanderMarel continued. “It’s important to grow from seeds. Those grown from seeds have a stronger tap root system, that will allow for a more robust plant.”

outdoor cultivation

Cannabis plants grown outdoor, from seeds, have a stronger root system

She describes 48North estimates of a 40,000kgs harvest as ‘conservative’ and added: “We are producing lower cost, eco-friendly and organic cannabis for all the valuable added products that are coming.”

Of that outdoor harvest, the company expects to earmark 10 per cent for sale as dried flower and the remainder for extraction and use in the products which are due to be legalized in the coming months.

Come October recreational cannabis will be available in additional products including topical and edibles and as a result, many Canadian growers are looking to ride this next cannabis wave.

200 Outdoor Growers in Limbo

As the warmer weather builds in the Northern Hemisphere BNN Bloomberg reports that almost 200 cannabis growers are waiting for the go-ahead for a license from Health Canada. Many now fear they may miss their planting deadlines exacerbating the problematic shortage already plaguing the Canadian market.

Brenna Boonstra, director or quality and regulations with consulting firm Cannabis Compliance, told BNN Bloomberg:  “If all goes well, growing outdoors could be a viable business model, but the potential for losing or producing a non-compliant crop is higher than at indoor facilities.” 

With a market value of U.S. $11 billion, Aurora is one of the largest and fastest growing cannabis companies in the world. It has embarked on an aggressive international expansion which currently sees the company with sales and operations in 24 countries.

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About the author

Peter McCusker

Peter McCusker is an experienced news and business editor, who believes it’s time to fully embrace the multiple, proven, medical benefits of the cannabis plant.