A new $8-million, 9.5-acre cannabis farm set to start growing this spring in Kamloops has been collecting strains from around the world, as part of a one-time amnesty allowed under federal cannabis growing regulations.
Dunesberry Farms CEO and president Bill Bilton said licensed cannabis growers are allowed a one-time declaration to pull strains from the black market. After that, he said, new strains must come from other licensed producers. Canada’s cannabis regulations shows the declaration can be made, via section 10(2) of the Cannabis Regulations.
“It’s a very valuable tool,” Bilton said.
Bilton said licensed producers that rushed to market amid legalization in 2017 missed opportunity to legitimize cannabis genetics, bringing on board perhaps only a handful of strains with medium THC levels. Bilton said Dunesberry Farm spent two years building a genetics bank, with 275 strains, including high terpene and THC levels. Bilton said contacts were made at the Lift and Co Expo, a three-day cannabis event held in Vancouver before the pandemic.
“We made a ton of contacts there and, through those channels, and the internet, we were able to secure our genetics,” he said. “But we’ve also known and met some people from the legacy market and, so, obviously those folks had plants and genetics. We were able to bring those in and declare them. To that point, we’ve had people say, ‘Look, I’m done with the illegal market, I’m jumping to the legal side.’”
Bilton said marketing in the cannabis industry is difficult, due to packaging restrictions, and time invested into obtaining strains gives the Kamloops farm a competitive edge. Bilton said the farm will grow its seed bank, with an eye on cannabis legalization elsewhere in the world. In addition, Dunesberry Farms will grow plants. The farm received in 2020 a standard cultivation license, which allows cultivation and selling of seeds, but also outdoor growing and sales of plants and dried flower. The farm also has a 14,400-square-foot processing facility with drying rooms. Dunesberry Farms is expected to yield 5,000 kilograms of cannabis in the first year and double that in the second year and thereafter. The farm’s first crop will be planted outdoors in mid-May and Bilton expects that product will hit shelves in stores in British Columbia in June. Bilton touted Kamloops climate as ideal for growing pot, due to its dry, long and warm summers, sunshine, elevation, soil and fresh river water.
Bilton said the past couple of years was also spent growing test plants in backyards in Brocklehurst. Cannabis regulations allow four personal plants and Bilton leaned on friends. The company now has a list of about 50 seeds, including legacy strains, that will grow well in Kamloops and it plans to focus on high-THC plants.
Bilton is excited to be nearing the first grow, due to the rigorous process undertaken for licensing via stringent new Health Canada regulations that required the farm facility to be built and everything completed before application. The application then included video of the facility, extensive background checks and completion of an application some 300 pages in length. Even after approval, regular reports to and visits by Health Canada continue.
“It’s the fruits of your labour and everything coming together, finally,” Bilton said.
The company currently employs seven people and is expected to grow to around 20 staff, during growing season. The private entity is funded by an investment group of 28 investors mostly from the Kamloops area and including current employees. The cannabis industry was abuzz amid legalization, though profitability was later questioned. Bilton said pot stocks went up and dropped due to high production costs of indoor growers and excess supply, resulting from the slow rollout of cannabis stores across the country. Stores have since increased, he said, and outdoor growing costs a fraction of indoor growing.