North 40 Cannabis has received an outpouring of support and praise from industry peers for being transparent about a painful outbreak of powdery mildew.
Based in the town of Nipawin, Saskatchewan, the micro-producer had to temporarily shut down its seven-room facility to eliminate the pesky fungus. That meant removing all equipment and destroying most plants to conduct an intensive week-long deep clean. While the operator expects to begin re-planting Friday, it will take up to four months to scale production back to full capacity.
The industry has stepped up to mitigate the financial blow caused by the disruption, says founder and master grower Gord Nichol. Some companies have supplied equipment like air purifiers, while others have provided contracts to manufacture pre-rolls and live rosin products, which will help keep 16 staff employed through the difficult period.
“The support that we’ve received has been incredible. I’m floored,” Nichol said in a phone interview. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like this before. My gratitude is through the roof right now.”
Since North 40 became the first Canadian micro to launch product in March, it’s built a reputation for producing some of the best bud in the legal space.
Nichol plans to use the experience as a lesson and come back stronger. And a loyal customer base tell him they aren’t going anywhere.
Read more: Canada’s first micro weed ready for retail
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— Ryan (Cannabis Freddie Mercury) Roch (@LakeCityCanna) November 14, 2020
‘Almost everybody is spraying now’: Nichol
But the veteran grower isn’t happy with all of the feedback.
He was disheartened to see his inbox also flooded with ideas from producers on how to get rid of the powdery mildew and make the weed saleable. Powdery mildew is a parasitic fungus that shows up as white spots on leaves and kills plants like cannabis without proper treatment. Unlike mould, it remains a debate whether the substance puts humans at risk, according to a Medicinal Genomics report.
Even though Health Canada doesn’t allow producers to spray their products with fungicides, Nichol says many growers have figured out how to do it anyway.
When the federal agency recently updated regulations it allowed foliar feeding, a technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer.
The move has opened up Pandora’s box, because some growers are now adding fungicides to their fertilizer solutions.
“It’s a loophole and it’s being exploited the shit out of right now,” Nichol says. “I thought it was only a grey market thing, but honestly almost everybody is spraying now.”
Other producers told him he could irradiate the plants that were ready to flower. But for Nichol, there’s no way he would put out compromised product into the market that could ruin his hard-earned, quality-first reputation.
And as a patient himself, his love for the medical cannabis community means no tainted supply will be released — knowing the potential negative impacts on health.
Instead, he made the tough decision to reset his entire operation after the white-splattered leaves appeared in a third room.
“It’s like ripping the band aid off fast, instead of dying a slow death,” Nichol says.
Last weekend, the North 40 team tore down everything in their facility from lighting fixtures to refrigeration units and began spraying every surface with chlorine dioxide, an oxidizer that kills every type of pathogen. Then they heated all seven grow rooms to 140 degrees followed by a second gas bombing of chlorine dioxide.
Because his company harvests each of the seven rooms every two weeks, Nichol says he might be able to salvage product from one of the rooms that was closest to harvest. But he’s waiting on lab test results to see if the weed was infected.
The whole ordeal will cost him tens of thousands of dollars.
“This is a financially painful experience, but there’s one thing that money can never buy — and that’s integrity,” Nichol says.
The fungus likely entered the facility on some incoming clones. But he doesn’t want to throw the supplier under the bus and won’t even reveal the cultivar.
“We’ve gone back to a straight tissue culture cloning method now. So that will greatly reduce our exposure to any issues.”
North 40 gives legal weed a good name, retailers say
The legal space needs more people like Nichol because his dedication to quality and the consumer is setting a higher bar for everyone else, says Ryan Roch, owner of Lake City Cannabis in Chestermere, Alberta.
“What’s really striking about this issue is his openness, which is unbelievably refreshing,” the store owner tells Mugglehead. “Gord is more than just a grower or a businessman — he’s a leader.”
Back when North 40 was first applying for a production licence in 2018, Nichol presented to Health Canada the many challenges faced by craft growers. That experience helped make it easier for everyone coming behind him.
And with many of the country’s major producers now transitioned to focus on value brands for flower products, Roch says it leaves a massive space open for quality craft cultivators like North 40.
“Gord is doing phenomenal work,” Roch says. “So, seeing the shit luck that he’s had on this is — it’s tough. And personally, whatever I can do, I’ll stand behind him.”
Through its Shelter Craft Collective partnership, North 40 recently shipped out product to Alberta and British Columbia. And because of the company’s transparency and zeal for quality, Roch says he’ll make sure to order their products when available.
Read more: How craft can save legal cannabis
But for producers that grow mediocre product or try to cover up mould and fungus issues, Roch warns that the retail community is constantly running quality checks.
“I have my pick of the litter,” he says. “I can buy whoever I want off our ordering sheet and I can bring in amazing quality, and I can push out who’s not doing great work.”
For Nichol, it’s going to be a tough few months ahead but says the agony at least proves his commitment.
“It’s not always fun being Mr. Open but I guess it’s one of those things where you play the long game,” he explains.
“I don’t just walk the walk. I’m taking the beating, too.”
Top image of powdery mildew on cannabis via Medicinal Genomics