Thursday, 19 April 2018 15:42

‘It’s the highest technology used in agriculture anywhere in the world’

Written by  Collin Gallant, Southern Alberta Newspapers
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Aurora Cannabis is bullish on the future of medicinal marijuana and, likewise, will aggressively seek to be a major player in the legal recreational pot market later this year, the head of the company told the Medicine Hat News on Tuesday.

Also, a planned 1.2 million square-foot production facility in Medicine Hat, announced Monday, will be more like a pharmaceutical laboratory than a traditional greenhouse with good paying jobs and a long-term growth plan.
“People don’t know what to expect with a medical cannabis facility,” said Cam Battley, Aurora’s chief corporate officer on Tuesday.
“A lot of the time they think of a warehouse full of plants. But it’s a very tightly controlled environment. Workers are gowned with hairnets and boots; it’s a completely sterile environment to ensure quality.”
“It’s the highest technology used in agriculture anywhere in the world.”
Southeast Alberta has a long history in greenhouse industry — Redcliff, the “Greenhouse Capital of the Canada” is currently home to half the greenhouse acreage in the province.
Medicine Hat also is home to sapling production and some vegetable growers thanks to generally sunny weather and historically low utility rates.
But the industry has traditionally been thought of here as low wage, low-skill labour intensive work often taken up by temporary foreign workers.
Mayor Ted Clugston called the announcement a strong move towards diversification, with better than average paying jobs.
“It’s pretty much recession-proof,” he said of pharmaceuticals and especially the export market opportunities.
“It’s outside money coming from all over the world to pay wages in this community that will be spent in this community.”
The relatively high number of employees cited, said Battley, are required to maintain quality regulations for drug production that are enforced by Health Canada and are much more stringent that in typical food production.
Job listings on the company site for other facilities don’t list wages but show some benefits are available.
“Employment will range from harvesters, who are paid above minimum wage, all the way up to those who require advanced scientific degrees (including doctoral degrees),” said Battley.
The Company’s “Aurora Sun” facility in Medicine Hat could produce 150,000 kilograms of cannabis when fully operational in 2019, bringing the company’s total production to 430 tonnes per year.
Production would be channeled in to three streams, said Battley. They are the Canadian adult recreational market, as well as the international and Canadian medical marketplaces.
Aurora has been a licensed producer since 2013, and currently has 45,000 medical customers, and added export markets of Germany and Italy this year.
The sector has seen extreme interest from investors looking to enter the burgeoning industry that is considered in its infancy.
Aurora appears to be growing by leaps and bounds to capture a portion of that market, said Battley.
The company had 35 employees in 2016, a number that could reach 800 this year, not including 450 jobs expected at the Medicine Hat facility.
“We’re selling cannabis produced in Alberta into Germany and Italy’s medical system... very rapidly we’ve become the second largest cannabis company in the world,” said Battley.
The company is currently in the process of purchasing competitor CanniMed, of Saskatoon, for more than $1 billion Canadian. It already owns a majority share of major Eurozone distributor Pedanos, of Berlin, and also owns one-fifth of the shares of Canadian alcohol distribution Liquor Stores North America. That firm is expected to become a major recreational cannabis retailer.
It also holds investments in Alberta hemp production companies, an Australian research firm and an urban cultivator concentrating on traditional greens and vegetables.
In 2016 the company launched the 800,000 square foot “Aurora Sky” facility located on excess lands near Edmonton International Airport, comprising 800,000 square feet.
Another 1 million square-foot facility is underway in Denmark, and the company already operates smaller facilities in Cremona, Alta, and two smaller centres in Quebec.
The facility will be built by Aurora’s in-house design and construction wing Aurora Larssen Projects, though company CEO Terry Booth said they provide oversight of mostly local contractors.

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