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Saturday, July 13, 2024
Tweed doubles-up cannabis production

The brand new greenhouse at Tweed Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake is filled with thousands of thriving new cannabis plants, and upgrades to the other two greenhouses have dramatically increased their production capacity.

The $70 million expansion and infrastructure upgrade project has ushered in several types of growth in the operation.

According to regional general manager Alan Cooke, Tweed has almost tripled in size from 350,000 square feet to one million square feet in eight months, while staff number rose from 35 employees in August of 2017 to 200 staff members today, with 40 more to come.

Crops have also doubled from two per year four harvests annually due to supplemental lighting. Final renovations to one of the three greenhouses is still underway, and expected to be complete with in a couple of months. Cooke added that all the cannabis produced here in NOTL is licensed by Health Canada for medicinal use, and they follow strict regulations to guarantee top quality. The increase in production is in response to increase in demand. Tweed provided medicinal marijuana to 25,000 Canadian patients in 2017, and now that number is 84,000 and still growing. Cooke said legalization of recreational marijuana is reducing the stigma and fueling the growing appetite for medical uses.

The rapid expansion injected money into the local economy. “Of the $70 million spent, 30 to 40 per cent went directly to local construction companies, and the larger companies we used also sub-contracted some work to local operations” according to Cooke. He pointed out that 85 per cent of the new hires were local, and the rest were from nearby communities such as Grimsby. Tweed’s ongoing operational spending contributes to the local economy as well, whether through jobs, spending at local restaurants and wineries, and operating expenses. As an example, Cooke cited the cost of electricity, noting Tweed is NOTL Hydro’s biggest customer. The company also contributes to the community through charity work, whether collecting 2,000 pounds of food at Thanksgiving for a food bank, a toy drive at Christmas, or helping paint a house for Community Care in St. Catharines. Cooke added he would welcome requests from NOTL groups who would like to partner with Tweed for a good cause, and suggested they contact him directly.

The pot producer has drawn complaints from nearby residents about foul smells in the past. The company has invested $1 million in 14 odour cannons, which emit a mist to counter the smells that occur when the cannabis plants are in the flowering stage. More recently, Tweed installed carbon cannons at vents, to scrub the air before it leaves the greenhouses. Cooke said those are very new, and it’s too soon to assess how effective they will be. He added Tweed also has an engineering team actively pursuing additional solutions.

“When we do get a complaint, we investigate immediately, and adjust the cannons to the wind direction. Complaints come from a one-kilometre radius of the greenhouses, and most neighbours are great.”

Cooke says the biggest challenge with all this rapid expansion, both in NOTL and at Tweed’s other operations across the country, is people.

“We don’t always get it right” when hiring, but “we do our best, and we treat our employees well”. According to Cooke, employees are paid more than minimum wage, all are given shares in the company, and Tweed favours internal promotion.

Cooke said the partnership between Tweed and Niagara College is very helpful on the people front. Twenty co-op students worked at Tweed over the summer, and some have remained in part time jobs while they finish their studies. Vivian Kinnaird, Dean of Business, Tourism and Environment at Niagara College said “we have a good, positive working relationship” with Tweed, and many NC students welcome the potential opportunity to work in an emerging industry right here at home. Kinnaird said “having good employment opportunities here is good for students.”

The first 24 students in the new Commercial Cannabis Production program at NC are set to graduate in April 2019, with 24 more expected to finish the program in August.

As for the future, Cooke said he’d love to see a visitor centre and tours at the greenhouse, and if council decides to allow marijuana storefronts in NOTL, Tweed would be happy to have a shop in town. The company has already opened several storefronts in provinces where that’s permitted, including Newfoundland and Manitoba. As for further expansion, Cooke said Tweed already has approval for plans that would allow them to expand a little, but nowhere near the scale of their recent project.

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