Spring start for cannabis farm

Under construction: Cannatrek CEO Tommy Huppert explains how the cannabis will be grown to Victorian Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas at the Lemnos site.

The first plants in Shepparton’s multi-million-dollar medicinal cannabis growing farm are expected to go into the ground in spring.

The Lemnos facility is expected to produce tonnes of the medicinal product annually for domestic consumption and, eventually, for export.

The property could eventually become Victoria’s largest grower and processor of the plant.

Under way: Construction work on the cannabis growing site at Lemnos.

Cannatrek aims to be a source of import replacement, as about 90 per cent of Australia’s demand for medicinal cannabis is met from overseas.

Although the long-term plan is to build a massive, seven-metre-high, 16-hectare green house to grow all year round, the company is initially planting outside using a seasonal harvesting period from November to March to see what plants grow best in the Shepparton climate.

Shepparton was chosen, in part, because the climate’s hours of sunshine were considered ideal to grow the plant.

Lead grower Dean Thompson said there would be about 96 plants in each of the initial 15 Spanish tunnels built to provide some protection from the elements.

Asked if there was a threat from overseas competition, Cannatrek chief executive officer Tommy Huppert said they were confident in their unique Australian operation.

“We have relationships with pharmacies and doctors and we are confident we can fulfil the local supply and fend off any overseas disruption,” Mr Huppert said.

Phase one for the project is expected to cost about $30 million and, if there is sufficient demand domestically and internationally, they will move to build a further hot house.

“Once we get the right cultivar to suit the climate then we can scale it up and go further,” Mr Huppert said.

The Australian-owned company is searching for the right “mother” plant, which can spawn the new generation of plants.

Mr Thompson said they were searching for exactly the right phenotype to find the plant that would provide the right yield and good structure to fine tune the genetics to get the best production traits.

“We are trying to find that particular ‘diamond’. All these plants will be cloned from the selected plant,” he said.

Ready and waiting: Lead grower Dean Thompson in the seedling nursery room.

Victorian Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said she was pleased to see the project would ultimately created 76 jobs.

“This means more opportunities for young people in our community; being able to grow careers in the towns they know and love and creating research and development,” Ms Thomas said.

The harvested plants will be transported to a Shepparton facility where it will be packed and distributed.

The Lemnos site is powered by a solar energy array and Mr Huppert said the goal was to have the expanded operation largely powered by renewable energy.

The site is surrounded by a barbed wire-topped cyclone fence and monitored by closed circuit television cameras.