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Mike DeGiglio, Village Farms:
"Staffing and managing labor major challenge in cannabis cultivation"
Village Farms has a 30-year history in large -- some would say -- mega-scale hydroponics, 750 years of combined master grower experience, and 10.5 million sq. ft. of greenhouse capacity, located in both Canada and the United States. In its new joint venture, the company will apply its years of experience to the rapidly growing cannabis industry in Canada with the potential to scale up to more than 300,000 kilograms of production per year. That production level could be reached by converting all of Village Farms’ existing 4.8 million square foot greenhouse complex in Delta, B.C., the largest single site greenhouse operation in Canada, to cannabis. The CFN Media Group published an article on these developments to create awareness on the company among investors.
Staffing and managing labor
One major challenge -- and Village Farms’ CEO Mike DeGiglio would argue, the most important -- that is easy to overlook is that of staffing and managing the labor for such a large operation where the task is to grow living things that are susceptible to disease, stress and pests. To be sure, greenhouses are not widget factories with automated production lines. All kinds of headaches can arise as a producer ramps up from small-scale to large-scale production, and finding and training a reliable, knowledgeable workforce -- and keeping them -- is chief among them. When Village Farms built its most recent greenhouse in Texas a few years ago, the company went through literally thousands of workers to establish a stable workforce, highlighting the difficulty of finding the right employees. The Pure Sunfarms facility comes stocked with just such an experienced, reliable workforce already in place, which should avoid some of the growing pains that other producers are likely to experience.
Another underestimated challenge is that of regulatory compliance and safety -- always of critical importance for any product ingested by people. Considering some of the widely documented pesticide related recalls in the cannabis industry, the fact that Village Farms has been safely producing food plants for 30 years without incident is reassuring. The company’s VP of Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs, Dr. Michael Bledsoe, is a renowned expert and advocate for the research and registration of safe pesticides, sitting on the USDA’s IR-4 Governing Board and often providing his expertise to Canada’s counterpart, the PMC. He has also begun discussions with Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency to register Canada’s first conventional fungicide for cannabis.
As the recreational marketing in Canada looms, the big question is how successful licensed producers will be at actually meeting their cultivation targets. It’s easy to throw money at building a high-tech cultivation facility, but hiring employees, managing them effectively, and continuously harvesting massive quantities of high quality cannabis in full regulatory compliance is another matter. Many licensed producers have run small-scale operations, but haven’t proven their ability to efficiently scale up much larger. "Village Farms has a proven track record in this regard which could serve to de-risk its production and expansion plans. Factor in the likely commoditization of cannabis flower as the market matures and supply meets demand, and the company’s long experience in producing high quality, low cost agricultural products looks even more attractive", the company states.
Publication date: 5/11/2018
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