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Derin Gemmel, Village Farms

Leveraging 30+ years of experience in CEA to grow cannabis

The medical cannabis industry is a very special subset of horticulture. And as such, it has a lot to learn from horticulture. When it comes to growing crops in large scale operations, where efficiency is the keyword, horticultural knowledge is particularly necessary. That is one of the main reasons why a number of cannabis growers went through hard times when they found themselves switching from growing a few plants in the basement, so to say, to growing cannabis commercially in a large-scale facility. However, Village Farms is a company that did not encounter any of these issues, as they have long established themselves in the CEA produce market in North America. “We produce and distribute fresh quality produce throughout the year, in the US and Canada,” says Derin Gemmel, Director of Human Resources with Village Farms. “We account for more than 9 million sq.ft. of Controlled Environment Agriculture in British Columbia and Texas. On top of that, we also have other partner greenhouses in BC, Ontario and Mexico which adds millions of additional Greenhouse square footage.”

Growing in controlled environments
Therefore, when it comes to growing crops in highly technological and controlled environments, Village Farms knows very well what needs to be taken into consideration, and what kind of challenges might come with such an endeavor. “There are four main elements that are crucial to ensure a successful and efficient grow in CEA,” Derin points out. “Climate is, of course, the first crucial aspect: you need to have a carefully thought out greenhouse, or growing room. You need an adequate control system that guarantees a thorough climate management. These things must be considered immediately, during the early stages of the designing process.”

“Then comes labor. I have seen many operations where the amount of labor has been underestimated. Labor requirements are very high: you need a management team, a strong HR team, and, of course, experienced growers.”

“One of the trickiest elements, if not the trickiest, is the ramping up,” Derin explains. “There are not many operators that can rely on an extensive experience and deep knowledge of growing in controlled environments like us. Therefore, you see that a substantial number of growers encounter obstacles when it comes to scaling up their operations – that is, growing big. As I said, it is important not to underestimate anything when setting up these kinds of businesses, and to rely on experts that can guide the less knowledgeable growers through such processes.”

“And, of course, the last important element is pest and disease management. This sector is highly competitive and regulated: efficiency is a must. Growers cannot afford to see their yield going down because the IPM was not carefully thought out.”

Setting up the operation
Derin takes care to explain how Village Farms’ experience helped them to set up a successful cannabis operation. “First of all, we studied the climatic conditions of the area where we wanted to start off in a very thorough manner. Then, we investigated further the kind of equipment we wanted to deploy, and in which ways we could have even more control over our controlled environments. Then, our HR department conducted extensive research in order to find the best people for carrying out that operation in a proper fashion. All of this was executed perfectly, thus allowing us to ramp up production as soon as we think it is necessary.”

“At the same time, our experienced and highly skilled growers ensure that our crop is always healthy,” Derin points out. “Our team revises SOPs if necessary, in order to make the grow more efficient. Because the greater your control over the grow, the more and healthier cycles you can make throughout the year.”

Moving onwards
As the cannabis industry moves towards the second phase of the regulation era, Derin says that Village Farms will continue to leverage its more than 30 years of experience to thrive within the cannabis sector. “We continue to carry out R&D in order to constantly stay ahead,” he says. “The sector is still at an infancy stage. Our mission is not only to provide patients with consistent and safe medicines, but also to be one of the major players that can utilize dozens of years of experience in CEA to make this industry thrive, for the benefit of patients, and for the sector as a whole.”

For more information:
Village Farms