Jessica McKeil   |   February 04, 2020

State of the Art: Cannabis Cultivation Automation

Natura Life + Sciences and Agra Tech partner together to bring high-tech automation to new cultivation facility in California.
Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She personally found relief through cannabis for the treatment of her panic and anxiety disorder. She is lucky…

Many companies claim a "seed to sale" authority, but Natura Life + Sciences is one of the few that can truly back up the statement. In May 2019, Natura secured $91 million in private funding to build the largest vertically-integrated cannabis campus in California. Set to finish construction in the second quarter of 2020, Natura's facility will roll all aspects of the industry under one roof—into a one-of-a-kind and full-service contract manufacturing facility.

In a conversation with Craig Powell, Chief Operating Officer, Cannabistech learned about what led to the development of this substantial contract manufacturing campus in Sacramento. Powell confirmed that Natura expects manufacturing to come online mid-2020 and cultivation soon after. With the large-scale greenhouse, built in partnership with Agra Tech, plus the vertically integrated campus Natura plans to develop many unique opportunities in cannabis in the Golden State.

A Sustainable Cultivation Facility with Only 10 Employees

Natura's new 265,000-square-foot facility sprawls across an 11-acre lot, and it's encompassed as much space as physically possible on the property. With cultivation, manufacturing, extraction, packaging, distribution, and more all under the same roof, Powell explained that the company sought to use every inch of usable space.

The cultivation area within the facility is pushing 200,000 square feet, with a remarkable 80 percent floor-to-canopy utilization. Yet, despite its size, it is both high-tech and sustainable. The grow space, using Agra Tech's revolutionary technologies, has been built to combine the benefits of automated indoor cultivation with the efficiency of a greenhouse operation. With solid walls and a clear roof, the grow rooms will rely on the sun's rays for radiation and heat for roughly 80 percent of the year, leading to substantial energy savings.

Powell confirmed Natura is a LEED- and GMP-certified facility designed with sustainability in mind, from its water management practices to greenhouse gas emissions—all this with only ten employees operating the cultivation space. Although such savings on labor may sound impossible in today's cannabis sector, Natura has partnered with Agra Tech for a reason.

As Powell detailed in the interview, "It's automation, which is relatively straightforward to operate." It's so simple to operate and maintain, and it doesn't require an investment in highly-trained people. It's a simplicity that allows for efficiency without extraordinary investment. Powell further explained in a press release, "Our labor benefits are extraordinary—it's so good it's almost ridiculous! We are going to be able to cut back on labor by orders of magnitude. Unemployment is way down, so finding good people can be problematic."

Natura is expecting to grow 80,000 pounds of premium fried flower annually, combined with the additional processing capacity for 750,000 pounds of dry material.

One-Stop-Shop for Contract Manufacturing

Before Natura, CEO Ori Bytton worked extensively within the California real estate market, an experience that gave him insights into the cannabis sector. Over the years, he became acutely aware of the compelling need for a one-stop-shop in white-label manufacturing.

As an end-to-end solution for the cannabis industry, Bytton stated, "Natura's innovative new platform is centered around the needs of growing cannabis brands and entrepreneurs. Our goals are to manufacture products that are high-quality, clean, and safe, to help businesses scale, not fail, and help companies build trust in their brands."

Bytton's experience working with cannabis companies in real estate transactions was what initially inspired the vision for single-campus encompassing the full spectrum of production. It led to the purchase of land in Sacramento, partnership with Agra Tech, and the creation of a carefully crafted team of cannabis experts.

The Natura campus will allow brands to expand their production, manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of their products all under the same roof. Natura is also planning on licensing a delivery-only dispensary from the same facility. It is a one-of-a-kind seed to sale approach to contract manufacturing, which Powell believes "goes the final mile for the customer."

The vision is to help new and growing brands, execute their products, and also to develop new ones. Cannabis brands can work with Natura to create unique formulations for new topicals, extracts, and edibles without the need for excessive amounts of capital to build the facilities themselves.

Cannibble, an Israeli firm, is one of the first brands to launch an exclusive partnership with Natura, to manufacture and distribute their entire line of products from edibles to infusions, including some crowd-pleasers like popcorn shakes, falafel, and more. More brands are in the works to begin production after launch.

Going Beyond a Manufacturing Center

More than a massive production facility, Natura has also recently announced the intention to create an on-campus incubator program to launch and expand new brands. Newells Botanicals, a four-time winner of the 2019 Emerald Cup, is one of the first brands to earn a spot within the program. The incubator program will foster innovation and experimentation and support a vibrant cannabis community.

As the largest cannabis contract manufacturing facility in California, Natura is using this new campus as a trial run for future expansion. With cannabis booming domestically and globally, the company has specifically designed the one-stop-shop approach for scalability. By bringing together all steps of production and distribution under one roof, Natura is set to dramatically alter the landscape in California to favor small, creative cannabis brands.

 

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