‘Every harvest will be different’: master grower

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Man with farm

This has been a summer to remember for the folks out at Arctic Pharm.

The cannabis facility is embarking on its first harvest, which is turning out remarkably well after a near-perfect growing season.

The farm is located near the Takhini Hot Springs and Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Formerly Rivendell Farm, which specialized in organic farming, the staff at ArcticPharm say they’re following a different path, but in the same footsteps.

ArcticPharm is in the early stages of discovering what cannabis strains thrive in these conditions and which can provide the products the public wants.

Some strains are being grown in greenhouses while others are hardy outdoors strains that have performed surprisingly well in the micro-climate that exists along the Takhini River and the clay bluffs where the farm is located.

With 18 hours of sunlight at peak, and a surprisingly clear, hot and dry summer, those plants have grown far beyond expectations, Michael Austin, the director of marketing, told the Star last Thursday.

The process of perfecting the strains will take years, he said. It’s not unlike farming grapes in vineyards or establishing an apple orchard, he said.

In a bit of a trial-and-error process, it requires many seasons to establish the strain best-suited to the individual conditions of a farm.

In those more established industries, you think in terms of approximately seven years before a full-scale crop can be expected, Austin said.

“We haven’t changed the status of the farm much,” he said. “It was an organic farm. That’s very important to us. It’s unique in the market.

“That there are not many really certified organic users. There are some who say they are, but....”

The company was formed in 2018, so it’s taken about three years to get to this point.

“The business has seen a lot of activity in terms of getting the facility finalized, the fields ready for planting, etc.,” Austin said.

“We’re still using some of the same fields. We sowed them with oats for two years before we planted cannabis in May. That’s to break the soil up and get it ready for seeding.”

Overall, the property is 116 acres. Most of that is not yet in use, but will be eventually.

Some of the original buildings are still in use, while others are new.

An impressive security security system blankets the property.

It’s mandated by Health Canada, which has a host of regulations for cannabis growers to follow, Austin said.

Nothing of any size can come within six feet of the fence without being detected. Austin said even squirrels can be caught coming too close.

As a result, no problems with wildlife have occurred. Nor has any curious human been able to penetrate the electronic scrutiny. Since the farm is right along the river, there is some potential for that.

Another field is currently planted with oats in preparation for expansion next spring. A third is being worked preliminarily.

Austin said this season is all about proving the concept is viable. He thinks it’s done more than that so far.

“The harvest has been absolutely fantastic,” he said.

“I think we’re seeing better-than-expected results off the field.

“We’re getting more than 20 per cent more sunlight that a southern crop would right now. We’re also getting 20 per cent more weight. We’ll have to do some testing on the potency and so forth.

“That’s what this year is all about. The idea is to see what grows best. This is a learning year, but we’re seeing great results so far. So far, we’re super-excited.”

There are about 17 strains in the fields, with more in the greenhouse operations.

The first commercial products from the farm are slated to hit the Yukon market around Christmas time, Austin said.

Last spring, when ArcticPharm announced its plans, it was the first cultivation and processing licence holder in any of Canada’s territories.

“After many years of efforts by our team, and with the support of our industry advisors and partners, the issuance of this licence allows us to move forward in our vision to create a world-class, premium, organically grown and processed cannabis brand,” the company stated in a media release at the time.

“The 18 hours of sunlight, low humidity and organically managed soils will produce a crop with characteristics of flavour, aroma and effects distinctive from southern growers,” said master grower John Lenart.

“We’ve been busy over the last couple months preparing for the season. We’re going for the full package of flavour, aroma and potency,” Lenart added.

“We’ve been experimenting for a while, and we will continue to experiment for years to come. Every harvest will be different.”

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