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Marty Johnston and Kyle Primeau, Lune Rise Farms:

CAN: “Making our own nutrients had a major impact”

"We started making our own nutrients last year to slowly transition away from purchased nutrients. Our motto is: if we wouldn't put it into our own bodies, we won't give it to the plants. I take that quite literally: taste-testing is sometimes part of the job," says Kyle Primeau, Cultivation Manager at Lune Rise Farms. The Ontario-based company grows 6 acres of cannabis outdoors, growing for its wholesale customers as well as its own retail offerings. "The farm has been in our family for 37 years," says Marty Johnston, Co-Founder of Lune Rise Farms. "Our focus is on the concentrates market, so we've spent a lot of energy and investment on achieving premium-quality frozen cannabis. Outdoor growing is perfectly suited for terpene-rich extracts."

The founders: Marty Johnston and Chris Johnston

Growing outdoors
According to Kyle, they are lucky to have a good climate at their farm's location. "We have a good consistency in our climate, which helps a lot. Of course, we have the regular concerns that all outdoor growers have, like watching out for the first frost. But we ensure that we're growing varieties that can handle the outside weather. Moreover, we harvest in September and October. So we can't be growing long flowering sativas that may not be finished until December or January. Once we know the flowering time, if the variety can tolerate our climate and it fits the marketplace, then we're happy to plant them in the field."

Marty adds that there wasn't a lot of data available when Lune Rise Farms started in 2020. "We did not know yet what would grow well and what wouldn't. Therefore, we started with 41 cultivars in our first year. About 25 of those survived. Some strains were too common for us, others were not pest-resistant or attracted powdery mildew. We also found that bud structure was important. With the plants that had a really dense bud structure, we had a higher risk of mould than with the plants that allowed more airflow. We still grow a trial row of new genetics every year."

Natural inputs
Sustainability is also an important factor for Lune Rise Farms. "That's why we like to focus on more natural inputs, which impacts our quality as well. Making our own nutrients had a dramatic impact on our terpene and THC content, and the plants are noticeably healthier," Kyle says.

Why does it make such a difference? "We have more of an emphasis on combining biology and nutrients. The ability to have the plants interact with the micro-organisms in the soil is really important to allow the plant to express its full genetic potential. Also, the amount of salt that's in purchased nutrients compared to what we're creating naturally: it's a night and day difference."

Last year, Kyle worked on a recipe for 'fermented fruit juice'. "It's just bananas, squash, and cantaloupe, fermented with brown sugar." As simple as this may sound, switching over to making your own nutrients requires a learning curve, Kyle says. "It takes practice and it's important to not do everything at once. Begin with some experimentation and decide whether the extra effort is worth it for you. For example, this year we're looking at mycorrhizal inoculants, a fungus that will interact with the roots. Instead of applying it to the entire field, we're just applying it to a couple of rows. We will then compare all the data to see if the biologicals scientifically make a difference. So we're combining biology with data: using data to drive our decision-making. We encourage other growers to try it out as well, as we've seen great results so far, but be prepared to put in the extra work."

Time for the taste test

The Canadian market
Marty says that the Canadian cannabis market has been challenging these past few years. "A lot of companies overinvested. It's a new market, everyone's trying to figure it out. This is happening globally, not just in Canada. The companies that are more nimble now are very frugal with their investments."

"It's also important to find a part of the market that you're really good at, don't try to be all things to all people," he continues. "In the next two years, I expect companies to emerge that are very efficient and that have figured out how to work with other companies and leverage synergies there." As the market matures, Marty expects to see three separate tiers of companies, instead of more vertically integrated companies. First, the growers. "Farmers that are focused on the input and output, and don't try to be more than that. They're focused on cost efficiency, output and quality. Secondly, the processors. They just focus on transforming the product, but don't try to grow or sell. Lastly, the brands, which are focused on hitting retail and being successful there."

Selling its products to wholesale customers is around 95% of Lune Rise Farms' business. "Offering our customers premium frozen flower, we need to give them multiple years of data, as they want to know that there's consistency in our supply. It's difficult for those companies to buy frozen flower. When you buy dried flower, you know what it looks like and you can sample it properly. Frozen flower has to be transformed into the final product. So it's a much more challenging buy cycle for the customer. It's important for producers to understand these challenges and provide data points and samples. Because we've had multiple years of success with that, we're able to differentiate ourselves as growers."

For more information:
Lune Rise Farms