Leo Benne, chief growing officer of Zenabis, with the converted shipping container that will become a testbed for a vertical cannabis farm. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Vertical farming for cannabis gets trial run in Langley

Grower Zenabis will start with industrial hemp and may move to commercial marijuana

A Langley-based cannabis firm is looking to build the community’s first vertical farm for growing industrial hemp.

Zenabis, which merged with longtime Langley greenhouse firm Bevo last year, has received a hemp cultivation license from Health Canada, with growing to take place in Langley, Pitt Meadows, and Aldergrove facilities.

“We expect the seed to come in this week,” said Leo Benne, chief growing officer for Zenabis.

A small portion of that seed will be planted not in one of the greenhouses facilities, but in a converted shipping container, as a test on whether cannabis can be vertically farmed.

Bevo has already helped develop a vertical farming system through CubicFarms, a Pitt Meadows-based spin off.

Vertical farming involves growing large amounts of crops on small amounts of space, indoors, and usually without any soil.

Plants are reared in racks, stacked as high as the building or container can accommodate, and grown either hydroponically or aeroponically.

Energy efficient LED lights allow the plants to grow 24 hours, seven days a week, in any weather.

In theory, the cost of the equipment and intensive rearing is offset by the ability to grow non-stop and to place the growing site much closer to the end-consumer. Rather than trucking lettuce from California or Mexico, it could be grown just a few miles outside of Canadian cities and shipped just a few kilometres.

The hemp vertical farm is just a test at this point, said Benne. A single converted shipping crate has been hauled into one of the Zenabis greenhouses in Langley and will be ready for its test run at about the same time as 20 acres of industrial hemp is planted in the three facilities, from Langley to Pitt Meadows.

While most crops planted in vertical farms are extremely low-growing, allowing for many racks close together, cannabis is usually a tall-growing crop.

Benne said that a combination of the plants chosen and growing practices is expected to keep the plants shorter for the vertical farm project.

If the project goes well, vertical farming facilities could be used for growing commercial marijuana, said Zenabis CEO Andrew Grieve.

The industrial hemp isn’t being grown for commercial marijuana sales. Instead, the hemp will be processed into CBD oil, fibre, or other derivatives. The project is separate from Zenabis’s plans for growing commercial cannabis in Langley.

While Langley’s other large cannabis cultivator has caused controversy in Aldergrove over smell issues, Benne doesn’t believe that will be an issue for Zenabis.

“We’re doing things a lot differently,” he said. “First of all, we’re constructing a closed greenhouse facility. We’re able to keep most of the air inside the greenhouse.”

There are to be no roof vents, which should not only control odour, it helps the growers control humidity and other issues.

“Because we don’t have that exchange of air with the outside, we don’t have a lot of pest issues,” he said.

Air exhaust is to be controlled through carbon filters, and if those aren’t sufficient, biofiltration. That means basically pumping all the air exhaust through a big box full of bark and cedar chips to absorb the smell.

READ MORE: Ben & Jerry’s CBD-infused ice cream could be in a freezer near you soon

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