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Beyond whole flower: How Cannatrek is deploying innovation in Australia's evolving cannabis market

Australian medicinal cannabis company Cannatrek is expanding its cultivation capabilities to meet the increasing demand for plant-based products. Cannatrek’s Shaya Rubinstein shares how they are developing infrastructure to support a variety of cultivation methods to meet the accelerating demands of the Australian market.

“The Australian cannabis market is still heavily reliant on imports. Demand is frequently exceeding the supply capabilities of cannabis companies operating in Australia, while the number of patients is continuing to increase rapidly,” says Shaya Rubinstein, Cannatrek’s Head of Capital Projects and Cultivation Operations. 

Given the state of the market, Cannatrek is working on increasing their production capacity. While they already have a fully operational cultivation site in Queensland, Cannatrek is also working on three major new projects in Shepparton, Victoria. “Once everything is done, we will be growing outdoors in polytunnels, in glasshouses, and in indoor environments, allowing us to focus on the delivery of specific end-product streams. There are a lot of directions the Australian market can go, and we believe it’s important to be ready for anything,” says Shaya.

Methods of cultivation 
Cannatrek has just finished building a manufacturing and distribution facility in Shepparton. “Within a few months, we hope to have full GMP accreditation for packing whole flower at this new site,” says Shaya.

At another of Cannatrek’s Shepparton sites, two projects are progressing rapidly: a nearly completed outdoor cultivation project and an indoor cultivation facility that will include a GMP-compliant post-harvest processing facility. “While we aim to supply the domestic market, we also need to be compliant with the import requirements of other countries. Therefore, the post-harvest facility will be compliant with international GMP standards. We hope the facility will be completed within the first half of 2024.” There are also plans for a glasshouse to be built adjacent to the indoor cultivation facility.

Currently, the dominant product segment in Australia is whole flower. “This is in line with our sales as the majority of our sales is whole flower. To produce the highest quality whole flower, we must grow in an indoor facility where we have full control over the environment. You can also achieve high quality in a glasshouse, but you don’t get as much repeatability and dependability.” 

Another reason for prioritizing indoor cultivation is that the Australian capabilities for extraction are not yet optimal, Shaya says. “In a glasshouse, you tend to get a higher proportion of the yield that is more suited for the extraction of the cannabinoids and not for whole-flower packaging. But the Australian market is not mature enough yet to support extraction at a large scale. There are some extraction facilities that exist, but not to the scale or quality that you see in North America, for example. So at the moment, it is not our target to grow specifically for extraction until the proper infrastructure is established.”

Challenging regulations 
According to Shaya, one of the major challenges that Australian medicinal cannabis growers face is the fact that they have to irradiate to achieve a bioburden of less than 200 CFU. “We don’t necessarily need to irradiate, but the TGA has set the microbial growth threshold at 200 CFUs per gram. That is very strict and can only be achieved right now through irradiation. It’s a major factor in the industry that affects every cannabis grower here. We are essentially competing with the illicit market, trying to encourage Australians to obtain their medicine via a legal and safe pathway. It is very challenging to have to offer patients who want a legal prescription medicine that looks, smells and tastes like it’s been microwaved. There are other countries that have much higher bioburden thresholds where cannabis is deemed safe for consumption. Take the state of Florida, for example, where medicinal cannabis bioburden has a threshold of 100,000 CFUs per gram, deemed as safe for inhalation. It would be a great help to the Australian industry if the TGA recognized the higher bioburden levels deemed safe by various jurisdictions outside of Australia and raised this threshold.”

“The only way we’re going to encourage patients to turn to their doctor and obtain a cannabis prescription legally is if we deliver a safe product at the same quality and consistency as illicit market growers,” Shaya says. “The legal market definitely offers consistency and safety in their products. But the challenge is that illicit market growers often have a much higher terpene presentation and a more appealing aesthetic presentation. The quality of medicinal cannabis is too often measured only by lab tests, which is unfortunate.” 

Cannatrek is focused on producing high-quality, safe, and aesthetically pleasing medicinal cannabis products. Shaya says aesthetics matter to Australian patients. “We strive to provide product in a manner that patients want and need,” he says.

For more information:
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