Executive VP Cam Battley provides an update to CBT about its third cannabis cultivation operation.
Aurora Cannabis, Inc. is set to complete construction on Aurora Sky, its 800,000-sq.-ft. facility at Edmonton International airport, in the first half of 2018, with production beginning later this year, according to a company press release. The Canadian cultivator currently operates a 55,000-sq.-ft. production facility in Mountain View County, Alberta, and has also acquired a 40,000-sq. ft.-facility in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, on Montreal’s West Island, which is set to be begin production near the end of 2017, as well.
Cam Battley, Aurora’s executive vice president, spoke with Cannabis Business Times to provide an update on the company’s latest cultivation projects.
Aurora began selling product in January 2016, and as of June 29, it has more than 16,000 active registered patients, according to the company. Aurora is invested in Canna Group Limited, the first Australian company licensed to conduct research on and cultivate medical cannabis, and also owns Germany’s Pedanios, the leading wholesale importer, exporter and distributor of medical cannabis in the European Union.
Aurora Sky will be the world’s largest cannabis production facility, and will be capable of producing more than 100,000 kilograms of high-quality cannabis per year, according to Battley. He added that once the consumer market is legalized next year, it is estimated that the required amount of cannabis to meet demand will be between 800,000 and 1 million kilograms per year, so the new facility will help them continue to supply increasing demand.
“We’re building in more advanced technology than anybody has even considered in the cannabis sector,” Battley said. “It will be extremely, highly automated to the point where, with a facility of that size, we’ll be able to manage it with between 200 to 300 employees. By comparison, at our existing 55,000-sq.-ft. facility north of Calgary, we’ve got 100 people there.”
Battley said the Aurora Sky facility is a hybrid greenhouse, originally designed by the Dutch.. It is a closed system with over pressure, meaning that all critical environmental controls such as light, temperature, humidity and nutrients can be precisely controlled.
“We’ve got the advantages of an indoor grow with the lower construction cost and the fast construction process of a greenhouse,” Battley said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Battley said Aurora spent about a year deciding what type of greenhouse to use, and they chose the hybrid design with three objectives in mind: high-quality cannabis, low per-gram cost and massive scale.
Aurora is also applying additional technology that limits human contact with the cannabis plants during production.
“We will not have people going into the flower spaces, Battley said. “That’s another way of reducing the potential for contamination. Instead, when it’s time for harvest, robotic cranes will lift up entire tables and bring them to the harvest area where the people will harvest the plant.”
Battley also described specialized software that is used in the cameras at Aurora Sky, which keeps close surveillance on the plants to give indications of the plants’ health and provide early warning signs of stress.
When asked about Aurora’s partnership with Edmonton International Airport, Battley said that the airport has been very supportive, and that they understand Aurora’s business strategy.
“Aurora currently has the most well-developed e-commerce strategy in the commerce sector,” Battley said. “We’re the only company with a mobile app for Android and Apple for the purchase of legal cannabis, and in addition to that, we have same-day delivery in two large metropolitan centers and Edmonton.”
Battley said the mobile app and delivery service have been extremely popular, and having Aurora Sky positioned at Edmonton International Airport will give the company the opportunity to expand both same- and next-day delivery strategies across the country and internationally. Battley said being located at the airport also gives Aurora access to outstanding utilities and security.
Aurora Sky’s official groundbreaking ceremony last month drew between 100-150 attendees, including the mayor of Leduc County, the mayor of the city of Leduc and the Alberta Minister of Municipal affairs.
“There’s just a tremendous amount of excitement and support at every level in Alberta,” Battley said. “Everybody sees the economic development potential here.”
Battley said there has been talk of creating an industrial cluster in the center of Edmonton to support the medical and consumer cannabis markets. He said that the city, county and province all hope that Aurora Sky will attract additional investment and companies to the Edmonton area.
“The level of support and enthusiasm from the different levels of government has been tremendous,” Battley said, and it’s “a reflection of how rapidly social attitudes have changed with respect to cannabis.”
Currently, more than 200,000 Canadians hold a prescription for medical cannabis.
“I think that’s been a key driver with the changing attitudes with respect to cannabis because so many Canadians have a friend or family member who have used medical cannabis successfully for the management of the symptoms of a chronic health condition,” Battley said.
According to Battley, Aurora needs to expand its current production capacity just to meet the demand of the medical cannabis market, which is growing at a rate of 10-percent more patients per month. But, he said, given the capacity of the new Aurora Sky facility in addition to the company’s two other locations, they are intending to participate in the forthcoming adult consumer market, as well, which is set to be rolled out in July 2018.
“We are going to bring the same care and quality to the consumer market that we’ve been using for the production of medical cannabis,” he said.
Although they have not appointed a director of cultivation or quality assurance yet, Battley said they will do so soon, and will be more than ready to begin production by later this year at both the Aurora Sky and Pointe-Claire, Quebec, facilities.
“It’s remarkably busy, but it’s also incredibly gratifying because we are literally inventing a new industry in real-time, and there’s no precedent and there’s no blueprint, and the creative nature of this is extremely exciting,” Battley said. “There’s an element of practical idealism to this in that everybody here at Aurora feels really good about what we’re doing, on two levels. On the medical side, we know that we’re meeting a vast, unmet medical need with respect to symptom management, and we know that we’re providing our patients with extremely high-quality products that are meeting their needs. … On the consumer side, we also feel like we’re doing a good thing because we’re part of what we strongly believe is good public policy.”
According to Battley, the federal government has made policy objectives to legalize the consumer market very clear. They want to keep cannabis away from minors, keep profits away from criminal organizations while ensuring that legitimate organizations get the revenues and they want to legitimize the vast illegal market.
Top image courtesy of Aurora Cannabis’ Twitter account