Canada’s first licensed outdoor producer weighs in on canopy size

It may come as a surprise to those who chalk up Canada's climate as prohibitive to growing cannabis outdoors, but there are now more licensed square feet of outdoor canopy in Canada than there are indoor.

According to a report released by Health Canada on January 31, as of October 2019, there were 1,211,615 square metres of licensed indoor grow area, and 180 hectares of outdoor area. Inside, that's just over 13 million square feet, and outside, it's a little more than 19 million square feet. What this means for the market yet is not quite clear, so Inside the Jar reached out to a producer selling outdoor-grown cannabis to find out more.

Reframing quality

In Canada, outdoor-grown cannabis is often considered “schwag”. But Alex Rumi, co-founder at Salt Spring Island’s Good Buds, is hopeful that the reputation of outdoor flower will change as more consumers have the opportunity to try it. Situated on 24 acres of land, 13 of which will be dedicated to cultivation, the LP was the first to receive a licence from Health Canada to grow outdoors and was certified as an organic facility earlier this week.

“People give outdoor a bit of a hard knock because they think it’s not as good, probably because historically if you are growing outdoors in the illegal market, you have to bush-grow… and when you’re growing in the bush in the middle of the forest, you’re not going to grow the best weed,” he told Inside the Jar by phone from Toronto.

Planting quality genetics directly in the ground in organic soils yields a much better result than what consumers have come to expect from outdoor-grown cannabis, he said. And while the content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in bud grown outdoors is generally lower than in that which is grown in a highly controlled environment, he’s confident that other aspects, such as flavour, will begin to factor into consumers’ decision-making processes.

Good Buds released pre-rolls in two provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) late last year. So far, the co-founder said reviews have been “good” despite their lower THC range of about 12 to 13 per cent.

Affordability versus risk

There are several ways having more outdoor canopy will affect the legal market, the most obvious of which “relate to the ability to sell a consumer product at a more affordable price”, he said.

Passing on the savings of not having to pay for the overhead costs associated with running an indoor facility while utilizing “nature’s most renewable energy source” could have huge implications on consumer pricing across the board.

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But growing outdoors comes with a rather long list of variables: inclement weather and the risk of contamination are just two things that factor into potential yield size and product quality, making harvests unpredictable.

Rumi plans to mitigate some of the challenges presented by Salt Spring’s wet weather by planting early, staggering growth, and having early and late finishers. Luckily for his firm, he says the risk of contamination is far lower than for outdoor farms in other parts of the country.

“We’re lucky on Salt Spring Island that everyone around us is organic farming as well.”

Something different

“Another piece that we’re excited about is the reconnection with the land,” Rumi said.

Farm gate sales are not yet permitted in British Columbia, but the Good Buds team is hopeful that the government will amend regulations so farms like theirs can be open to the public. Rumi said that if and when such sales are permitted, seeing what he referred to as “the field of dreams” would feel more like a vineyard experience to the consumer than visiting an indoor production site to make a purchase.

The lesser impact on the environment is something that could not only draw in consumers who prefer to spend their money on more sustainably grown products, but also provide those consumers with a different type of experience.

He recalled the lead up to the legal recreational market, when firms were building multi-million dollar “mega facilities” with the idea that large, indoor spaces would be the best way to grow large quantities of cannabis.

“While you can get good results that way, you can also get awesome results outdoors by having really good genetics, really good soils, and good environments,” he said.

“We see that as a cool way to help the market evolve into being more directed to the consumer, and not investors building big facilities."

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.