Suntech Greenhouses says no to turning over greenhouse to cannabis growers

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa

Cannabis producers in Ontario are looking to gobble up greenhouse space including one here in Ottawa. But the owner of Suntech Greenhouses has so far said no thanks. Suntech Greenhouses has a massive operation growing tomatoes and other vegetables in Manotick on Doyle Road. 

There's a sweet smell in the air in the greenhouse in Manotick, but it isn't the smell of cannabis. Thousands of plump, juicy tomatoes sit on vines ready for picking.   For 20 years, the greenhouse has been Bob Mitchell's life but there's interest in growing more than veggies there.

“We've had Canopy in here,” says Mitchell, as he walks through the row upon row of tomato plants. (A spokesperson with Canopy Growth said they couldn't confirm that.)

Mitchell says he's been approached by a few cannabis producers anxious to scoop up his 170-thousand square foot operation.  So far, he's resisted.

“This is getting to be more of a struggle,” Mitchell says, “So don't give me an easy out.”

It's more expensive to grow cannabis in a greenhouse like his than it is to grow tomatoes for instance.  The issue comes at the other end, though, when you take it to market. Mitchell sells his tomatoes for about $1.50 a pound.  Cannabis on average sells for about $10 a gram.  With 454 grams in a pound, that means a pound of cannabis would sell for about $4500. 

“We'd like to continue it if the numbers would work,” he says, “but on any business, maybe we're horse and buggy-thinking on 4 acre operation.”

The Leamington area in Essex County is home to half of Canada's greenhouses and ripe for the plucking for cannabis producers, as we heard at a recent cannabis conference there in November.

“I’m hoping Leamington will be called the tomato-cannabis capital of Canada,” Vic Neufeld, CEO of Aphria, told the conference.

Ottawa restaurants like Chances R on Woodroffe rely on locally-grown produce and hope they can continue to offer it.

“From a selfish standpoint,” says Chances R owner Mike Bouris, “I don't want them to sell either. We've been buying for them for at least 5 years now and it's more fun to buy local and most times it tastes better.”

Mitchell jokes about the direction the greenhouse business is taking,

“If you’ve got the munchies, you want a grape tomato,” he laughs.

He just isn't sure whether that direction is for him.

“Are we going to see cannabis here?” he is asked.

“Not with me owning it,” he answers, then pauses, “We don't know what the future holds.”