Published in Health Europa link to article, March 14th 2019
Canada’s RavenQuest BioMed prioritises innovation and scientific efficacy above sheer scale, could their research answer the questions the cannabis industry is missing?
While it’s true that Canada’s cannabis industry has been leading the way on legislation and acceptance of cannabis as both a medicine and a recreational product, what’s also true is that the industry still has a long way to go to reach the standards necessary for medical acceptance worldwide. This means consistent, repeatable cannabis that physicians can depend upon to deliver the same desired efficacy time and time again for patients or even recreational consumers.
Believe it or not, even in Canada where cannabis production and cleanliness standards are the highest in the world, finding a cannabis product that can be counted on to deliver repeatable levels of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids or terpene profiles is still an elusive goal that is difficult to achieve.
The pathway toward repeatable, consistent and yield-maximised cannabis leads directly through science. One company that is clearly leading the charge on the science of repeatability and product consistency is Canada’s RavenQuest BioMed.
Understanding plant-microbe interactions
RavenQuest and Montreal’s McGill University have developed a collaboration to answer some pressing scientific questions about the cannabis plant. The questions are based on cutting-edge knowledge in the field of plant-microbe interactions and genomics.
Plants, like humans, are associated with vast communities of microbes that play an integral role in maintaining health. These microbes help plants by:
- Promoting growth using strategies such as improving access to nutrients and/or using plant hormones to stimulate growth
- Helping plants fight off pathogens by making the plants more resistant to infection or by directly killing the pathogen.
The research from Dr Don Smith’s laboratory at McGill University1 has contributed greatly towards advancing the understanding of the complex interactions between plants and microbes and has resulted in technologies that harness the benefits of beneficial microbes to improve crop yields. They can be thought of as probiotics for plants.
Current research projects
One aspect of the current research project is aimed at developing microbial-based technologies for cannabis production. Together with McGill, RavenQuest is currently testing the potential benefits of three strains of bacteria on growth of hops. Why hops? It’s a close botanical relative to cannabis that can be studied and, unlike cannabis, does not require a licence to cultivate. So far, results show promise for improved establishment and early growth of hops roots when they’re grown from cuttings.
The short-term research goal is to determine if the effects on early root growth translate to increased biomass production at later growth stages and higher cone yield (for hops) or bud yield (for cannabis). Not only do these bacteria have the potential to increase yield, they may also alter cannabinoid profiles. Cannabinoids are synthesised by the plant as a way to moderate stress, and the bacteria are able to induce stress responses in plants, without the actual stress being present.
RavenQuest and McGill believe the application of these bacteria will provide a tool for altering the expression of cannabinoids and ultimately maximising plant yield.
At the same time, we are investigating whether the same beneficial bacteria can protect plants against infection by powdery mildew, a common plant pathogen. Powdery mildew can devastate cannabis crops and is a problem across the industry, because control strategies are not readily available. Beneficial bacteria could contribute to lower crop losses due to powdery mildew in two ways:
- The bacteria can activate the plant immune system and render the plants more resistant to infection in the first place – like a vaccine for the plants
- By inhibiting the growth of the pathogen or killing it outright.
Through its research partnership with McGill, RavenQuest expects to garner detailed knowledge of the genomes of the strains they have under production. There are a number of reasons for undertaking this work. First of all, by generating these data, a picture of the genetic diversity present in their cultivated strains becomes evident.
Science now has a good sense of which genes encode the different parts of the biochemical pathways that produce the active compounds (cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, and other molecules involved in the entourage effect) responsible for therapeutic effects.
Adding knowledge about genome sequences for varieties will allow us to anticipate the pharmaceutical potential of the different strains. This approach will also enable RavenQuest to generate a set of diagnostic markers for each variety cultivated at RavenQuest, which will provide high-resolution quality control of their biological materials.
It is this last point that will contribute to plant consistency and repeatability for RavenQuest – the ultimate goal for any brand that can be carried worldwide in the cannabis industry.
But this cutting-edge academic approach to the science of cannabis is just the beginning of the story of the Canadian licensed producer.
RavenQuest puts the planet first
A closer look inside the inner workings of RavenQuest’s cannabis facilities reveals a true dedication to social responsibility and sustainability in an industry that, as it matures, will consume ever greater quantities of water, electricity and nutrients.
Canada’s cannabis industry forecasts to produce well over a billion grams of cannabis annually. It takes a lot of the Earth’s precious resources to produce that much cannabis in Canada alone, making no mention of the toll a worldwide cannabis industry could take on the Earth’s resources.
As the world begins to accept cannabis as both a medicine and recreational product, there will naturally evolve the demand for solutions and production methods which can address the environmental concerns around production, while simultaneously producing a premium quality product.
On this front, RavenQuest CEO George Robinson has planned several steps in advance on this issue, making sure RavenQuest’s cannabis production facilities drip zero water to waste.
“With the coming explosive worldwide growth of the industry, we knew we had to make sustainability a foundation of our business model, so we designed ultra-modern grow facilities which don’t waste a drop of water. Contrast that with the behemoth greenhouses which can waste thousands of litres of water per day,” he says.
RavenQuest has proprietary grow technology which consumes 90% less nutrients and 65% less electricity than a typical cannabis operation. RavenQuest’s sustainable approach also allows the company to fight potential margin pressure by taking its place as one of the lowest cost cannabis producers in the entire industry.
Working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples
Further adding to the company’s socially responsible approach is its commitment to working in partnership with Canada’s Indigenous communities.
RavenQuest has announced agreements with Alberta’s Fort McMurray First Nation #468 as well as Alexander First nation, located just outside of Edmonton.
“RavenQuest supports UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” states Robinson. “Part of that document speaks directly to the need for developed countries to include Indigenous communities as a significant participant in any major new economy. Cannabis promises to be a major economic driver for years to come, and RavenQuest is committed to building partnerships with these communities for mutual benefit.”
RavenQuest structures its First Nations agreements to ensure employment and economic opportunities come into the Indigenous communities who elect to work with RavenQuest.
Many such communities suffer through economic despair, addiction and high unemployment. Robinson sees the cannabis industry as an opportunity for these communities to begin on the ground floor of an emerging industry, with the benefit of significant tax savings for RavenQuest and its shareholders (sovereign Indigenous lands are exempt from many taxes in Canada).
“The key word is partnership,” says Robinson. “We structure our deals for mutual benefit, in contrast to how business has been done historically with Indigenous Peoples. This is a chance for reconciliation and upward mobility, for Indigenous Peoples to take control of their own economic destinies.”
A revolutionary approach to cannabis production
First Nations or companies who choose to work with RavenQuest’s services division will have access to ultra-modern proprietary grow technologies and facility designs that are quickly becoming the envy of the entire industry, including some of the industry’s largest players.
Many larger companies use greenhouses to produce cannabis. Inside these mass-market greenhouses, a plant can see broad changes in temperature or humidity throughout the room and across the entirety of the grow cycle. The result can be wide variations in end products, even from the same strain (properly called a ‘cultivar’).
By contrast, RavenQuest’s ‘Orbital Garden 2.0’ is a revolutionary approach to cannabis production whose entire function is based around precision control over every aspect of the plant’s environment throughout its life cycle.
It’s this kind of technological advance that, combined with the McGill research cited above, will bring the cannabis industry ever closer to a repeatable, consistent cannabis product so much desired and demanded by many in the medical community.
The Orbital Gardens bring the added benefit of producing cannabis in a socially responsible manner, having a positive impact upon the cannabis industry and the world.
Capacity, efficiency, profitability
As the dominoes fall and ever more countries adopt legal cannabis, medically or recreationally, many countries are keeping a close eye on Canada.
It’s clear that Canadian cannabis companies will be worldwide leaders for the foreseeable future. And RavenQuest is staking its claim as the leader in Canada as it pertains to profitability through innovation.
Given the likelihood of many more growers entering the space, companies will need to pay close attention to more than just added capacity. Efficiency is likely to reign supreme over sheer volume (although the two are far from mutually exclusive). Astute observers see the need to scrutinise the importance of profitable square footage above absolute square footage. In other words, how much actual cannabis can be produced on each square foot of grow space?
As the industry attracts new entrants, the key metrics will evolve from ‘how big?’ and ‘how much?’ to ‘how efficient?’ and ‘how profitable?’
RavenQuest’s CEO has a lengthy history of helping several applicants become licensed producers in Canada. Through his work, Robinson is in a unique position to see the myriad approaches to cannabis cultivation currently being used across the country.
“As industry experts, we have developed reliable measures for the economic viability of growing facilities and can confidently state that flat table growing environments, prevalent throughout the industry, will face increased challenges in terms of economic viability as the industry matures,” states Robinson.
“This means producers had better sharpen their pencil when it comes to grow techniques and costs. We highly advise any new entrants to begin using ‘grams per square foot density’ as a primary measurement of profitability for licensed producers.”
To Robinson, profitability metrics aren’t just a talking point on a PowerPoint slide. He and his team have invested thousands of man hours of research and hands-on innovation to develop what they see as a game-changing grow technology, engineered to produce cannabis in a near-perfect growing environment with ultra-low costs.
“Our Orbital Gardens allow us to produce large quantities of cannabis in smaller areas by maximising the productivity of grow space,” states Robinson.
“Our proprietary enterprise overlay may be stacked three-high, allowing us to think in terms of the ‘cubic foot’ of valuable grow space, rather than the less productive ‘square foot’ currently afforded by today’s flat table growing methods commonly found across the industry today. Everybody’s thinking length and width, completely ignoring height.”
RavenQuest’s automated garden controls 100% of the nutrient levels, acidity, CO2, water levels, water temperature, lighting, rotational speed and dozens of other growing variables for optimised conditions, all controlled by one operator using a human-machine interface remotely.
Robinson’s internal testing shows that the Orbital Garden system, which is scalable for commercial production, will result in production beginning at 300-500 grams per square foot (of live growing space), double or even triple the industry averages.
Everything described above brings the added benefit of a dramatic reduction of human traffic into the grow-room, a known vector for plant infection.
Inside RavenQuest’s development facility, chatter among employees has given birth to a new terminology in an attempt to articulate the benefit of their many hours of development.
“The energy sector commonly uses a term known as ‘BOE’ or ‘barrels of oil equivalent’ to paint a picture of how much energy reserves a particular company owns, regardless of whether that energy is stored in oil or natural gas,” says Robinson.
“It’s cumbersome to parse a company’s energy reserves into various different measurements, so BOE provides a singular measure which tells the world how much energy is owned by a company,” he continues.
“Our gardens are round, not flat, unleashing the power of Pi. Each six-stack of our gardens only occupies 70 square feet but contains 500 square feet of grow space. We think it makes sense to articulate our ultra-efficient use of grow space so that when you compare our systems to a flat table, we’re comparing apples to apples, similar to what is done with BOE in the energy space, so we coined the term ‘flat table equivalent’,” explains Robinson.
Robinson’s argument is convincing, at least to RavenQuest’s clients, who will use the Orbital Garden systems by the thousands in their licensed facilities.
As the cannabis industry unfolds before our eyes in Canada, the US and worldwide, not much is crystal clear. What becomes clearer is that as margins ultimately narrow, efficiency will reign supreme over sheer volume, and change will be constant.
It appears technology innovators such as RavenQuest have positioned to be on the leading edge of that change.
A closer look at RavenQuest BioMed
Any story on RavenQuest wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the company’s own grow facilities. A visit inside RavenQuest’s Edmonton, Alberta, or Markham, Ontario, facilities reveals a pristine cleanliness that is laboratory grade. Gleaming white walls and next-level grow technology have been known to see many jaws drop to the floor.
The facilities’ combined capacity will reach 11,000kg annually in 2019, taking the company from a small start-up with a handful of employees to a large operating company with millions in revenue in a matter of months as the harvests begin to roll in.
Zooming out at this company’s unique approach, it’s clear RavenQuest has left ‘black market cannabis’, with its dirty barns and lack of science, in the rear-view mirror. Cannabis has clearly entered the 21st Century thanks to companies like RavenQuest, who have harnessed innovation, science and social responsibility to create a truly remarkable opportunity in cannabis.
RavenQuest BioMed Inc
+1 877 282 1586
Please note, this article will appear in issue 9 of Health Europa Quarterly, which will be available to read in April 2019.