(Photo courtesy Village Farms)

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A whole new realm of opportunity opened up for Canadian greenhouse growers in October when a Parliament-approved bill that legalizes the recreational use of cannabis took effect.

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Growers say greenhouses offer an ideal growing environment for cannabis, and some already are infiltrating the trade, often through joint ventures.

The Canadian Greenhouse Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in October attracted standing-room-only crowds for four sessions on growing cannabis, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. article.

Greenhouse vegetable production is expected to grow only 2% this year, well below an initial projection of 9%, and some attribute at least part of that deficit to increased cannabis production.

Joe Sbrocchi, general manager of Leamington-based Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, said it is difficult to know for sure how much, if any, of that shortfall will be due to increased cannabis volume.

“There are a lot of other things in play besides cannabis,” Sbrocchi said.

And many growers are tight-lipped about their plans for the crop.

“They don’t tell you what they’re doing because it’s such a new business frontier for them,” Sbrocchi said.

He projected that greenhouse vegetable acreage in Ontario will remain “solid” and likely continue to grow, if not at the same rate as in the past.

While some producers are mute when it comes to discussing any plans to grow cannabis, others are very forthcoming.

Delta, British Columbia-based Village Farms said in December that Pure Sunfarms, its joint venture with Emerald Health Therapeutics, received authorization from Health Canada to expand its cannabis production area by approximately 137,000 square feet to a total of about 687,000 square feet.

Although Village Farms has converted some of its Delta vegetable greenhouses to cannabis, the company says it remains committed to its vegetable operations.

Village Farms also announced it will “aggressively pursue opportunities to become a vertically integrated leader in the legal hemp industry, including significant opportunities in the cannabiodal market,” following passage of the U.S. farm bill.

Toronto-based Cronos Group Inc. has entered into a 50/50 partnership with Greenhouse Partners, a group of investors that will develop, construct and operate a state-of-the-art greenhouse for cannabis production in Kingsville, according to a news release. Greenhouse Partners is led by Bert Mucci, CEO of Kingsville, Ontario-based Mucci Farms

The new company, Cronos Growing Co. — or Cronos GrowCo — plans to develop an approximately 850,000 square foot greenhouse on about 100 acres.

The facility is expected to produce more than 15,000 pounds of cannabis annually.

Despite greenhouse growers’ ventures into the cannabis industry, street merchants and gray markets likely will stick around for the time being, Sbrocchi says, adding that it probably will take about five years for the industry to shake out.

Whatever happens, he said, “I don’t think the world is going to be turned upside down for cannabis.”

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