Ottawa Valley pot firm Burnstown Farms betting on sustainable, outdoor growing

Outdoor marijuana
Firm plans to raise $2.9M to purchase and fit-up a plot of land for cannabis production.

A would-be cannabis producer is eyeing 225 acres outside Burnstown in the Ottawa Valley for an outdoor grow-op, a production method that’s not yet legal in Canada but that could have a substantial impact on the industry’s carbon footprint.

Burnstown Farms announced Thursday that it’s raising $2.88 million to purchase and fit-up a plot of land for cannabis production. The firm, just a few months old, is raising that money mostly from friends, family and business associates and will source the rest from accredited investors.

Burnstown plans to sell its product mainly to other producers and processors to use the oils in cannabis derivatives – edibles, topicals, capsules and vaporized concentrates. The company will apply for a production licence after the land deal is final.

Its team of 16 boasts more than 100 cumulative years of experience in the cannabis industry, though its CEO and founder Mark Spear has a more personal connection. A serious motorcycle accident years ago introduced him to medical cannabis when other pain relief methods were insufficient.

That interest led him to a research and development job with Tweed in Smith Falls, where he made several contacts in the industry, Spear tells OBJ. Today he works with Rambridge Wholesale, a hydroponics and lighting supplier for cannabis producers.

Spear’s team at Burnstown includes his boss at Rambridge and his neighbour, who happens to be the CEO of a medical cannabis consultancy. The early members have been talking about their idea – an environmentally sustainable, outdoor growing operation – for years, Spear says, but recent developments helped put the plan in motion.

He says they were “pleasantly surprised” last November to hear that Health Canada was considering regulations that would allow for outdoor cannabis production, which remains illegal at this point in time.

If the team has timed its plan right, outdoor growing regulations will be in place before the fourth quarter of 2019 when Burnstown Farms anticipates it will begin production.

The great outdoors

There are two main benefits to outdoor cannabis production: cost and energy. Spear says Burnstown will produce each gram of cannabis at a “fraction of the cost” of indoor methods, which rely on expensive and energy-intensive greenhouse growing conditions to produce pot.

The other part of that equation – the huge energy demands – are drastically reduced in an outdoor environment.

“The current way cannabis is produced in Canada is not the least bit sustainable.”

“The current way cannabis is produced in Canada is not the least bit sustainable,” Spear says. “There’s really no reason to produce cannabis… indoors or even in greenhouses.”

Burnstown Farms estimates an annual crop of 52,000 kilograms once the firm is at peak production. Spear says that if you were to grow a yield of that size indoors, it would cost the energy equivalent of powering 12,000 Canadian homes for a year. Moving that production outdoors, he claims, is the equivalent of taking 44,000 cars off the road annually in terms of carbon dioxide levels.

The Health Canada consultation from last November indicated that outdoor cultivation was indeed the most economical and environmentally sustainable way to grow cannabis. Though a majority of respondents said they supported legal outdoor growing, comments to the contrary worried about threats of theft, risks to adjacent crops and odour management.

Burnstown will take a hit on its annual crop because of these production methods. There’s no year-round growing season in the Ottawa Valley, which leaves the firm limited to shorter-flowering strains with a single harvest in September. Spear adds that the firm will also have to keep an extra eye on disease and pests.

Burnstown Farms’ CEO is confident that Health Canada regulations will match the firm’s ambitions, but nothing is certain. Plan B, Spear says, is to focus on greenhouse cultivation until outdoor growing is permitted.