British Columbia

THC trumps tomatoes as Delta farm eyes cannabis market

Houweling's Tomatoes partners with AgraFlora Organics with plans to convert Delta greenhouse space into one of Canada's largest cannabis producing facilities.

Houweling's Tomatoes partners with AgraFlora Organics with plans to grow cannabis products by next year

A Delta-based tomato farm plans to convert the bulk of its space to cannabis growth. (Elaine Casap / Unsplash, CBC)

A Delta farm has its sights set on becoming one of Canada's largest cannabis-producing facilities.

Houweling's Tomatoes has partnered with cannabis company Agraflora Organics in a move that will convert a 2.2 million square foot farm into one of the largest cannabis producing facilities in Canada.

"Part of its market driven, part of it's seeing opportunity," said David Parry, the man who has been appointed CEO of the partnership company dubbed Propagation Services Canada Inc. The joint venture aims to produce high-CBD hemp, seedlings and cannabis flower.

Houweling's currently provides greenhouses across North America with 12-14 million tomato starter plants each year. But Parry says a number of its clients are making the switch to cannabis amid legalization.

"To keep full employment and to keep the facility working, they've had to also pivot with their clients and start providing cannabis and hemp starter plants as well as tomato, cucumber and peppers," said Parry.

According to Agraflora Organics, the facility would be capable of producing 250,000 kilograms of cannabis products each year, placing it only behind Canopy Growth's Smiths Falls facility in Ontario.

A 3 phase project

Parry said some of the near 50-acre greenhouse facility will remain dedicated to vegetable production, but a three-phase plan to retrofit the space for cannabis production is underway with full-scale production targeted for 2020.

As many companies look to secure land to produce cannabis, the switch is easier for companies like Houweling thanks to the infrastructure that is already in place.

"We're fully built already. It's a very modern facility," said Parry. "Basically, what we're doing for our build-out is really just defining some of the spaces we have to be a bit smaller, adding some additional lighting and put some security out."

Some sustainable food experts are alarmed by the amount of farmland that is being targeted for cannabis production (Aphria/Canadian Press)

Farms making the switch

Prior to legalization, Delta politicians were concerned with an influx of applications to grow cannabis on property inside the Agricultural Land Reserve on land designated for farming.

In July, The Union of B.C. Municipalities called for a moratorium on cannabis growth in the ALR, as the province took steps to modernize farmland regulations.

Studies suggest that only half of B.C.'s agricultural land is actively farmed.

According to Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, large scale cannabis production is starting to eat up what's left, leaving future food production vulnerable.

"We are challenged to bring forth a sustainable food system, and we need to strategically assign resources to producing food sustainably," said Mullinix. "Once again, non-agricultural, non-food producing economic interests trump food production."

The province has given local governments authority to regulate pot grown on ALR land, allowing municipalities to prevent construction of industrial-style, cement-based and cannabis-production bunkers in their communities.

Pot critics say those types of facilities on farmland can permanently destroy fertile soil.

But in the case of Houweling, the greenhouses were already in place.

"We've been growing for more than three decades where we are," said Parry. "Really, if it's tomatoes or if its medical grade cannabis, it's still agriculture — and it's still what that land's there for."


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