Just three years ago, the idea for a cannabis innovation centre was presented to Comox council, set to fill an empty lot near the Comox Valley Airport at the corner of Knight Road and Military Row.
Now, Aurora Coast is a 32,200 sq ft breeding and genetics centre with more than 10,000 sq ft dedicated to research and 21,700 sq ft of greenhouse space and has one of the largest genetic libraries for cannabis globally.
“There is a lot of diversity out there and we know that people always want to try something new,” explained Andrew Hand, the director of cultivar development at Aurora. “That’s why the craft beer market has exploded … we know the market is challenging and the demand is high for a quality product.”
Through cannabis breeding, the facility can develop ways to improve the aroma, shape, colour, flavour, smell of the plant as well as reduce the use of pesticides and improve its resistance to diseases. Their goal, said Greg Baute, senior director of breeding and genetics, is to breed the best cannabis genetics in the world by understanding the genes through numerous experiments. Their research directly links to Aurora’s facilities across Canada and internationally. They have more than 4,500 genotypes in their cannabis genetics library.
Aurora will germinate 10,000 seeds which will flower multiple times and will widdle them down to dozens which will actually make it to market.
Hunt said they can develop a variety of product “other than your average skunky cannabis.” The facility does not work on genetically modified (GM) cannabis, nor do they have the intention of introducing GM cannabis into the future of their products.
“It is a super good research tool and a key way to validate genetic research, but the reality is that cannabis is so new in breeding history that there’s a ton of research to make before we reach out to those tools.”
The greenhouse uses both natural light and water-cooled LED lighting, which provides a high-quality environment for cannabis growing, and has an infiltration gallery and pond to capture and store all run-off from the site.
They supply both medical and consumer brands of cannabis and have licenced facilities across Canada and the world (products are primarily cultivated in Edmonton, Alta., Bradford, Ont., Pemberton and Odense, Denmark). Their estimated annual production is around 150,000 kilograms of cannabis annually.