Natura Life + Science (Natura), a contract manufacturing company, will soon be one of the largest vertically integrated cannabis campuses in California. Natura’s facility will encompass 265,000 square feet with 180,000 square feet of greenhouses that when fully operational, will provide a full-service offering through its own in-house capabilities including cultivation, manufacturing and extraction, wholesale packaging and distribution, a delivery-only dispensary and branding and marketing services. The company is scheduled to begin cultivation, manufacturing and distribution in early 2020.
Agra Tech’s Director of Sales Adam Pound says the construction is underway and on schedule. “The 180,000 square foot greenhouse facility will boast a labor force of less than 10 and an unprecedented 90% floor to canopy utilization,” Pound said. “All materials were delivered by Agra Tech ahead of the tight shipping schedule and the progress has been impressive.”
Natura’s facility will be capable of producing upwards of 80,000 pounds of premium dried flower and processing of 750,000 pounds of dry material annually. Sustainability is an integrated part of all operations, including a cultivation process designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water-efficient irrigation, and the cooling, collection, treatment, and re-use of all run-off water.
Natura’s COO Craig Powell began visiting different greenhouse operations last year to find the best solution for his company. “In 2018, we took a deep dive into our greenhouse design looking at the major suppliers and manufacturers,” he said. “I spent a week in Israel looking at other companies’ greenhouse designs and talked to a few here in the United States when a consultant we respect suggested that we take a close look at Agra Tech.”
Once Natura saw the facts as presented by Agra Tech, it was go-time, Powell said. “The automation piece really allowed us to look at the facility in a different way. This enables us to dramatically increase the overall efficiency and our throughput. By doing it this way, we are mitigating risk as well. Agra Tech’s plan made an incredible amount of sense to us. We know that by using this system, we will increase our net utilization 15% to 20%.”
In addition, there are some significant labor efficiencies and advantages associated with the automated system, Powell said. “Our labor benefits are extraordinary—it’s so good it’s almost ridiculous! We are going to be able to cut back on labor by orders of magnitude. Unemployment is way down, so finding good people can be problematic.
“It’s a much more ergonomically efficient and effective method of moving plants within our greenhouses,” Powell said. “So, we’ve taken some very labor-intensive tasks that are not necessarily ergonomically friendly out of the equation and the machines will now do that for us. Now we can estimate that instead of 60-plus people, we can do the same job in the same space with 8-10 people.”
When human beings touch plants, it often leads to issues down the road, so relying on robotics can strip out much of the “human factor” Powell explained. “If we can eliminate contact and leave the plants alone, the better it is from the perspective of the plant’s health. We want to put the plants in an ideal environment, and we want to let them do what they’re designed to do, because people are disease vectors.”
Agra Tech Sales Engineer Jim Bergantz was honored to play an integral role in this project. "It has been and continues to be extremely exciting to work with this customer, Agra Tech’s knowledgeable vendors and the brilliantly talented people of Agra Tech's technical support department on this project. The seamless collaboration we share has fostered timely construction progress. We look forward to more innovative projects going forward."
Pound is happy to be part of this revolutionary project. "This is a project we are very proud to release to the world," he exclaimed. “Tightly controlled environments are needed for such a highly regulated, tested, and consumer scrutinized crop. Natura has such an amazing team they truly blend and balance their backgrounds in Big Ag to cannabis. They will undoubtedly be a leader in the cannabis game for years to come and their ability to embrace technology certifies it."
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