Warren Bravo is CEO of Green Relief in Ontario Canada. Warren and his partners embarked on a 2.5-year journey to master growing cannabis in an aquaponics system.
Most remarkable is Warren’s ability to leverage his aquaponics system to produce cannabis for under one dollar per gram. Growers of tomorrow or going to be competing with people like Warren and will most likely will go out of business unless they are planning now to produce quality cannabis at massive scale.
[1:25]: Warren Bravo’s background and operation
[5:30]: What is aquaponics?
[11:59]: The business side of aquaponics
[19:13]: Other sustainability measures
[27:00]: Nanobubbling and other aquaponics grow details
[33:00]: University Light Study [36:19]: Extraction technology
[40:30]: Advice for innovators and entrepreneurs
[43:10]: Warren’s recommendations and words of wisdom
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Matthew: The late Steve Jobs challenged all of us to think differently. One cannabis entrepreneur in Canada is doing just that. Warren Bravo is here to tell us how he is using aquaponics in his cannabis grow to be more sustainable and resourceful. Warren, welcome to CannaInsider.
Warren: Thank you very much, Matt. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography; where are you in the world today?
Warren: We’re in beautiful Hamilton, or just outside beautiful Hamilton, in Southern Ontario. We are in kind of the hub, the Golden Horseshoe, the major population of Canada. We’re about 40-45 minutes west of Toronto.
Matthew: And I am in Central Mexico right now and it’s been invaded by Canucks who are seeking sun and shelter from the snow down here. It’s interesting to see.
Warren: I wish I was there, and I don’t blame then a bit. It’s still bloody cold up here. We’re waiting, with today being the first day of spring, looking forward to that spring weather up here.
Matthew: So what is Green Relief? Can you introduce what you do?
Warren: Yeah. So Green Relief is the only scaled North American producer of medical cannabis using aquaponics as their growing medium. We are an environmentally and socially responsible company. We are here to help people with the medicinal value of the cannabis plant, and also trying to be a model of environmental stewardship. We want to help people, and we want to help the environment.
Matthew: And what’s your background? What brought you to start Green Relief?
Warren: I’m a third generation concrete contractor, so I grew up in the construction world. Right out of my post-secondary education, right into the family business. Commercial industrial institutional concrete floors, so that’s what I’ve done. I’ve poured concrete all of my life. Cannabis is something new for me, especially the aquaponics portion of it. I’ve been around cannabis all my life, but certainly as a business this is something new and exciting. Certainly different than the construction world that I grew up in.
Matthew: I see these little video clips on like Business Insider and Tech Insider, of these robots that are laying bricks and doing interesting things with concrete. Making houses in like twelve hours, or at least the shell of the house. What do you think about all that? Is that upon us?
Warren: Well it’s the evolution. In the construction game, 80% of your cost is labor in most cases, whether you’re a subcontractor like I was. I wasn’t the big general contractor putting up the buildings, I was just a small cog in a big wheel on most projects. But I poured all the floors of all these arena complexes and shopping malls and auto-making plants and other institutional-type jobs. I think it’s the evolution, as all industries, and science, at the end of the day, rules the day, so I think it’s a step in the right direction. Quality and consistency, that’s got to be everyone’s motto, no matter what business you’re in. I think it’s certainly bringing some value into the construction world.
Matthew: Yeah. So how big is your grow up there in Ontario?
Warren: Currently, we’re in a 32,000 square foot building and only have about 4,500 plants inside that 32,000 square feet. Building One is a part of the bigger-picture model for the property that I’m on. I’m on a 50 acre property here outside of Hamilton, Ontario, where we planned three buildings for this site. So Building One was designed as part of three buildings, a larger project. So currently 4,500 plants. It was actually 6,000 plants, but I’ve had to abandon one of my grow rooms to set up a temporary laboratory and extraction area for cannabis oil. We’re in the process of just finalizing our cannabis oil sales license. We should have that any day, so we are very excited about that. We’re going to be expanding. We just started construction on our Phase Two second building, which is 210,000 square feet, giving me 100,000 square feet of canopy, which equates to 100,000 plants. So that’s the next part of the equation of the growth of this specific site, but I also have many satellite models being built in different provinces here in Canada currently as well.
Matthew: Okay. You’re doing some really interesting stuff with aquaponics and I want to dive into that, but before I do, can you remind listeners what that term aquaponics means, and specifically, just an overview of how that’s integrated into your grow?
Warren: Sure. Aquaponics is the symbiotic relationship between fish, water, and plants. It’s a natural ecosystem. We’ve all heard and know about hydroponics, using flood and drain, or deep water culture grow using commercial fertilizers. Well, I don’t use commercial fertilizers in my grow. We use fish and fish waste, fish manure, broken down naturally, as I said, in an ecosystem, where the nitrification process is allowed to happen with the fish manure, converting a nitrite to a nitrate. Nitrates being a useable plant food, in a closed loop, recirculating system, using 90% less water than any other conventional type of growing or any other type of agriculture used in the world today. We’re sustainable; it is the most sustainable form of agriculture in the world today.
Matthew: What was the impetus to integrate aquaponic technology into your grow?
Warren: Well, it all started with an idea from my wife, actually. On this 50 acre property, we built a house. Our home consisted of a walkout basement, and on the back of that walkout basement was going to be a small attached greenhouse with a small aquaponics system, a home use aquaponics system, in the greenhouse portion, just to grow vegetables for our family and extended family year-round. I didn’t think that I’d be… I thought, well that’s a great idea, would love to try it, love to do it. My wife is a landscape architect and she is the tree-hugger of the family. So we investigated the process a little bit, started working with Nelson and Paid Aquaponics from Wisconsin, and the idea just morphed into what we’re doing now, into North America’s largest aquaponics grow facility. So it was just an evolution of an idea.
Matthew: And the fish you grow are mako sharks, correct? I’m just kidding. What kind of fish are they?
Warren: Yeah, mako sharks and piranha. No, they’re actually a tilapia. The aquaculture in an aquaponics system has to match the root temperature of the plant that you’re growing. Although tilapia, people have very strong opinions about the fish that they consume or they eat, tilapia is a good solid source of protein, kind of a medium grade fish, as opposed to say, a higher end fish like a trout or a bass or perch, other things that are more sale-able. But aquaponics, with the cannabis plant and the root temperature of cannabis, lends itself very well to a tilapia water temperature. So tilapia like a 68 to 82 degree water temperature, and cannabis plant roots hover around 70-71 degrees Fahrenheit. So the tilapia are a natural fit for that production. But also, tilapia, we’ll say, has been tried and true and proven, in a farmed environment. They’re a very hardy fish. They’re very disease-resistant fish and worked out really well from an aquaponics standpoint. Currently, it’s tilapia. Building Two, the next building, will have a 10,000 square foot aquaculture experimentation area where we are going to be trying freshwater prawn or shrimp, barramundi out of Australia, koi is a possibility, there are other more sale-able fish that we could be using in the aquaponics system, but right now, what do they say? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So right now, tilapia is where we’re at.
Matthew: Now you gave a nice overview of what aquaponics are, but could you just go into a little more detail for an entry-level novice in terms of how the water gets cleaned and how that feeds the plant, exactly. What’s happening there, that interchange?
Warren: Absolutely. The fish waste is produced because we feed our fish, currently, in our 800 gallon tanks, three times a day. The fish create waste, solid waste or fish manure. Through a series of clarifying tanks, mineralizing tanks, bioreactor, off-gas tanks, basically water flowing from the fish tanks to another tank, to another tank, and all the way around through the tanks that I just mentioned. That solid waste is mineralized, converts to a nitrite. That nitrite in my bioreactor converts to a nitrate. That nitrate is a useable plant food. After the nitrate is created, it’s to the off-gas tank, where any of the remaining CO2 or ammonia that’s in the water is bubbled off, off-gassed into the air and out my HVAC system. Then basically the water flows from my off-gas tank through my growing rafts, where the plants are suspended on Styrofoam and about 20 inches of water height. So these plants that are suspended in pots on Styrofoam, the roots are allowed to just kind of dangle in the water, absorb whatever nutrient they want for whatever phase of growth they’re in. The water circulates through the plant roots, so the plant roots now are taking the nitrates out of the water, cleaning the water, returning the water directly back from the grow beds right to the fish tanks. So closed loop, recirculating system, and I’m only topping up water through evaporation and transpiration, very small volumes, at a monthly basis. So as I said, 90% less water resource than any other type of agriculture used in the world today. It’s that symbiotic relationship with fish and plants. It’s just an ecosystem. So like any freshwater lake you’ve ever taken a canoe through, and you see a lily pad growing or a bulrush or milfoil or anything that grows in water, it’s fertilized by the aquaculture, by the fish that live in that body of water. So like any freshwater lake, it’s the same ecosystem as a freshwater lake that we would be using, except our system is scale-able. It’s all about science-based systems, it’s about stocking densities, flow rates, water temperature, bacteria, parts per mil of fertilizer in the water at any given time. It’s that symbiotic relationship.
Matthew: Putting on your business owner hat, what kind of impact does aquaponics have on your bottom line, both in terms of up-front cost and then return on investment?
Warren: Well, going into this that was a big variable for us. We had an idea on how much it’s going to cost us to run the system, but now that we’ve been running for three years growing cannabis, we have the lowest cost of goods sold in the industry in Canada currently. So we are producing a gram of cannabis for $1.43 today in our small 4,500 plant grow. Once Building Two is up and we’re at our next 100,000 plants, we are well below $1.20 a gram, and when Building Three is up, we’ll be at $0.85 cents a gram cost of sales. And I don’t care how you grow cannabis, nobody in North America is producing real, organic or naturally grown product for under a dollar a gram. And keep in mind, that’s Canadian dollars, so take 30% for the American dollar.
Matthew: Wow, that’s crazy. So when you started on this journey about aquaponics, you really have to be…
Warren: Take one step back and just a quick explanation because people are going to say, well, how do you get to those numbers? Just keep in mind that 20-30 percent of the cost of goods for a cannabis plant is fertilizer. Well I have tilapia, I have fish in my system, that I sell. So it offsets all of my fertilizer costs. So I net-revenue zero from fertilizer cost standpoint, so I don’t have any fertilizer costs, so there’s 20% ahead. My grow is all LED lighting and I think we’ll talk about that a little bit later, so I’m saving a lot of hydro as well, 35% hydro cost right off the top, compared to the 1,000 watt high pressure metal highlight lights that are predominant in the industry. So from a cost to sales standpoint, we didn’t realize the impact and the cost, we actually donate all of our fish from our facility to homeless shelters in the greater Toronto area. We get a tax receipt for that, so that tax receipt does offset all of our costs for fertilizer.
Matthew: So aquaponics, you introduced it at a high level that makes sense, but there’s a lot of nitty gritty details, and you’ve got to get everything right or your fish can die or your plants don’t get the right nutrients. What did you learn about creating a successful harmony and synergy between the plants and the fish when setting this system up out of the gate?
Warren: What I learned is patience. That’s the main thing that I learned, is be patient. You can’t rush Mother Nature, nor could I rush my ecosystem or the balance of my ecosystem. It’s as I said, that symbiotic relationship with the water, plants and fish. It takes time to develop natural bacteria. Here I am, a concrete contract, third generation of pouring concrete floors. So I go in and pour a Walmart floor, we’ll say, and I’m on the end of a chute of a concrete truck, pouring a slab of concrete. Here I’ve got this concrete like pea soup, like water in the morning, and you can have a dance on it that night because it hardens that quickly. My life has been instant gratification, instant results from my construction business. Here, I really had to learn how to be patient. Took a long time for me to wrap my head around using aquaponics. But patience, once you get to that eco-balance, and once you have that fulsome system of bacteria and microbes that are generating and growing your plants, it’s such a satisfying, gratifying system, and that benefit is that I get 20-30% more product than any other grower growing this plant in the same space and in the same time frame. So there have been a few exciting developments just through osmosis and using the system that have developed out of our use of aquaponics.
Matthew: Okay. And you mentioned who you purchased it from, some company in Wisconsin. Can you say that name again?
Warren: That’s correct. It’s Nelson and Paid Aquaponics. And Rebecca Nelson and John Paid have been a huge resource for me. They spent 20 years of their life developing these aquaponics systems, turn-key aquaponics systems for vegetable production. So Green Relief was their first cannabis client. They were very reluctant dealing with me on using their aquaponics systems for cannabis, they did realize that it’s something that’s not going to go away, and it’s only going to become a larger industry, so they took a gamble on me and my word that I’m going to be doing something that’s going to be noteworthy in the industry, and something new and exciting, so Rebecca and John and I developed a very tight, very close relationship, and they have been a huge resource for me in getting to know how to grow cannabis in an aquaponics system. I gotta tell you, at the beginning of charging the system and trying to get cannabis to grow, when we told people we were growing aquaponically, we were laughed at. When I was doing my tours down in Colorado and California and Oregon. Everywhere I went, when I told people I was growing aquaponically, they said it can’t be done. They said it’s impossible, you can’t get enough parts per million of nutrient in the water, cannabis is too fast a growing plant with very specific nutrient demands at very specific phases of growth, and how do you do that aquaponically? How do you get enough nutrients in the water, and how do you adjust for those changes and grow patterns? Well, nobody wanted to take the time to figure it out. It took us two and a half years to learn how to grow cannabis successfully in aquaponics. It’s not for the squeamish. That time we spent and millions of dollars in R&D trying to figure that out. Now we have figured out, we’re the veterans in the industry, and nobody grows cannabis as naturally and prolifically as we do, all with the help of Rebecca Nelson, John Paid, many of the people who developed the aquaponics world and vegetable productions. Dr. Nick Savidov at Left Bridge University in Canada here, Dr. Racosi in the British Virgin Islands, Charlie Shultz down in Texas, all these, we’ll say, the grandfathers of the aquaponics industry. They’ve all been to our facility, they absolutely love our program and have helped us exponentially to get to where we are now. So it’s not me. I’m no academic. I’m a concrete contractor and a ham-and-egger. I’m one of those guys who has been able to take the bull by the horns and get things done, but I’m not a scientist, I don’t have a scientific bone in my body. Fortunately, I know all the people in the industry that do, and the people that work for us, the PhDs and the chemists and all the other people, a very smart, academic, dynamic young people that work here, have all helped and made us the success we are today.
Matthew: You’ve really minimized the expense of your inputs and so your cost of goods sold is really coming down, and that’s impressive. You still have some inputs left though, like electricity, and that powers the LED lights and maintaining the temperature in your grow room at different seasons. Have you thought about geothermal at all, and putting coils into the ground to use the earth’s natural temperature?
Warren: Absolutely, we looked at all of the great natural sources of energy that we can to be able to take advantage of a reduced cost of electricity. Electricity in Ontario is very expensive. Currently, we are on the grid. Our second building, we are going to be totally off the grid. We are going to be doing a microgenerating station with the use of natural gas and green environmental sustainable methods of creating electricity, all off the grid. So all of our satellite facilities, we’re building two. Anywhere else we build into the world globally will be all off the grid and not dependent on hydro usage in traditional means. So it is important for us. Geothermal, even though it is something to take advantage of from a cooling standpoint, we didn’t incorporate that into our buildings because of the green technology that we’re going to be using for generating our own power as we advance our platform here.
Matthew: Okay. You talked about your background in concrete. Have you used the knowledge of that material to do anything different in your grow, or interesting?
Warren: I can’t say that I have, because were we have fish, water, and plants, and here I pour concrete, so there’s not a lot of relativity in those two businesses. But again, trying to, being a contractor, you have to think outside the box, you have to do things differently, you have to think of ways to be efficient, and this business is about efficiencies. The cannabis business is going to be like every other business that’s out there. It’s producing the highest quality products you can and get them out the door for the least amount of cost possible. I think my construction background is going to help me with those efficiencies. That’s a huge focus for Green Relief, as we want to be one of the five or six major producers left when the dust settles in this Canadian legalization that’s going to take place. There’s going to be a culling, there’s going to be survival of the fittest, and if your cost of goods sold are not the lowest in the marketplace, then you’re going to have to say buy me out, or put me out of business, because I can’t keep up with you. So that’s what’s going to happen. This is going to be like every other business in the next five years. Right now there is a huge overdemand and undersupply. There is going to be a reconciliation in the marketplace, and I think if you don’t have the best cost to goods sold, which is what we’re shooting for, I’m just not going to be in business in five to seven years. Construction has taught me that, that’s for sure.
Matthew: I definitely agree with you there, cannabis is not a magic business. It succumbs to supply and demand dynamics like any other business, so it’s good that you’re skating to where the puck is going instead of where it is now, so kudos for that. Now, you’re very sensitive to sustainability, so I’m curious as to what kind of LED lights you use.
Warren: Well, we’ve investigated that industry to no end. We have gotten the moniker here in Canada as the LED light research guys. So we have currently four to five light manufacturers that are available on the market, and lights that are not available on the market yet, at our facility. Currently, we use and purchase Lumigrow lights from California for all of our LED lighting requirements, both their 325 watt and their 650 watt, all with three-channel adjustability with the red white and blue spectrum. We currently have five light recipes that we use, from the time that our cloning procedures take place to the time our flowering is done, and we change those light spectrums and basically give the plants a full year sun spectrum in eight weeks. Our timing from cutting to harvest is eight weeks, so we’re doing 6.7 harvests per year annually, and a lot of that simulation is done with our LED lighting. I’ve got lights from the world’s largest LED manufacturer, Ozram Lighting, has sent us lights to test for them, for the horticulture market, lights that aren’t on the market yet, lights that I can’t talk about because I’m under NDA but I can certainly tell you who I’m dealing with. There’s some major players in the lighting industry that are throwing their hat into the ring and think they can provide a light that’s going to produce superior quality plants, so we are happy to be a testing ground, because over the next three years, I need close to 50,000 LED lights with my expansions. We want to make sure we’re getting the right light at the right spectrum, and we’re excited to be developing that space.
Matthew: Circling back to how you said tilapia was a fit for the root temperature of cannabis plants, is there an opportunity to try out different fish besides the one in Australia, if you introduce like a media layer that would allow for an adjustment of temperature for the roots. Let’s say you had a much colder water fish?
Warren: So I think you’re probably talking about more of a decoupled aquaponics system, and we are testing that technology now. Right now we are trying to use as few pumps and be as sustainable as possible, because the more pumps you install, the more hydro you use, the more you play with the water, the more you try to change the natural eco balance of your bacteria, etc., then you’re putting inputs in most cases into your system. Right now we pride ourselves in the fact that we don’t use fertilizer, I don’t use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides. I have no inputs, I don’t use anything on my plants, nor do I want to play with Mother Nature and that eco balance. We are trying to do things naturally. There are advantages to lowering pH with a decoupled system, or like you said, being able to balance nutrients or play with the water or cool it down for the plant, the root temperatures. There’s lots of things we can do, but we are walking before we run. We want to make sure that we’re doing all of our changes, all of our R&D, because we’re getting better results, more effective cannabis plants, better yields, more efficacy, more terpenes, more tricombs, we’re trying to effect by that research. So we don’t just jump into things, we make sure we are making very science-based decisions on how we advance and manipulate our program. But as I said, it’s a very important focus for us not to steer too far off Mother Nature’s path in the aquaponics system because that’s the way it was intended to be used. You can grow successful plants and high-yielding, awesome quality plants, just in the way it is right now. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so they say.
Matthew: Okay, so it sounds like the more variables and temperature deltas that you introduce, the more opportunities there are for failure, and you just try to keep those to a minimum, at least right now, when everything is going well.
Warren: Well, if I’m going to make a pharmaceutical grade product, the big buzzword in the pharmaceutical world is replicate-able processes, so that’s got to start with your genetics. That’s got to start with your plants, your clones. So every day, things have to be exactly the same. If there’s human input, there is margin for error, and therefore margin for a non-replicate-able process. So I want my plants, my fish, to be the same every day, my water temperature, my humidity, my ambient temperature, all of those things, I want the same consistency every day, lights on, lights off, that way I get a consistent grow. I can time my plants and I can tell you four years from now the data I’m going to be harvesting my plants in Grow Room 4 at this time of year, so that’s how consistent we have our grow right now. Like I said, from the time I take a cutting to the time I harvest my plant is eight weeks exactly to the day. It’s very easy to figure out, it’s because I don’t screw with anything. Everything is consistent and everything is the same.
Matthew: That’s a great point, yeah. Is there any other kind of automation that you have built into your grow, because it really sounds like you have it down to a science here. Anything else you can share in that way?
Warren: There’s a ton. And not just the automation side of it, but the R&D we put in, as I said, it’s taken us a long time to grow cannabis effectively using aquaponics, because there are some manipulations in the systems that we’ve had to learn, how to naturally manipulate the system to get more phosphorus during the flowering phase, and get more potassium out of that veg into the early flowering stage, and try to manipulate some of these spikes that we need for the cannabis plant naturally. So there’s been a lot of technology, a lot of R&D. I would say the biggest thing that’s given us our biggest bump in yield would be our nanobubbling technology for our water. We have, you know, traditional deep water culture system, hydroponics, or traditional aquaponics system, you get six to eight parts per million of O2 in your water, of oxygen in your water. We have twenty parts per million of oxygen in our water, because we use nanobubbles, bubbles that are very hard to even break the surface of the water, they stay in the water 200 times longer than traditional compressed bubbling systems. We like to stay on top of the science of deep water culture, aquaculture, and aquaponics. We’ve adopted and changed some of the systems that even the manufacturer, Rebecca Nelson and John Paid, are using now, some of the technology that we developed here in their systems for the vegetable production world down south of the border. And just so I add another quick thing on the Nelson and Paid aquaponics system, Rebecca Nelson and John Paid have just been a huge asset for us in that communication and the science. Rebecca is such a science-based person and really helped us establish all the science behind the aquaponics to grow cannabis. The system is so prolific, and we’ve got this thing nailed down so well, is that I have purchased the rights for North America, for their Nelson and Paid aquaponics system, for cannabis production. So if anybody in your listening audience does want to grow cannabis aquaponically, we’ll design the system, we’ll train you how to do it, we’ll give you all of our IP, we’ll let you hit the ground running and grow aquaponically just like we do here in Canada, as well as buying the Canadian vegetable rights as well, for the Nelson and Paid system. The system is amazing and grows plants like you’ve never seen.
Matthew: Now circling back to the bubbles, the nanobubbles. The benefit there, is that it keeps the water cleaner and prevents less bacteria because of oxygen? How does that work?
Warren: So what you’re doing by oxygenating the roots of the plants, is you’re allowing more nutrient uptake. You’ve got much better plant transpiration, because you’re allowing all those… You have to think differently when you’re using aquaponics. I’m not relying on metered doses of fertilizer and these big doses of fertilizer to allow my plants to grow, or kind of messing up and putting too much phosphorus in when they needed more potassium, and vice versa. Because it’s an ecosystem, the plants are allowed to uptake what they want, when they want it, and whenever they want it. So I can have two different strains, different heights of growth, different stages of growth in the same ecosystem, and because it is a balanced ecosystem, and the bacterias and the heterotrophic and the aerobic bacterias in the water, all the conversions that are happening, the ecosystem allows the plant to take up what it wants, when it wants it, no matter what phase of growth it’s in. So it’s a very cool phenomenon. You really have to think differently aquaponics or traditional hydroponics or soil grows. We’re not doing any of the plants. Once I put them in the flowering rooms in the big aquaponics systems, my 800 gallon systems, I just leave them alone for six and a half weeks, and it doesn’t matter what phase of growth they’re in, they just grow. They grow like weeds because they’re allowed to take up what they want. For us it’s environmental. We create an environment for them to thrive with the proper ambient temperature, the proper humidity, the proper recirculating time, the proper water temperature for the roots, all consistency in the lighting, so we simulate that one year of sun wavelength, spectrum wavelength and year of growth, and environmental stressors that we induce over an eight week time frame. So it’s a ton of science and a lot to wrap our heads around, even trying to figure it out in the first place. So it’s, there’s no books, there’s no videos, there’s nothing I can watch and see how to be a successful aquaponics grower. We had to figure it out from square one. And we have. We’re the veterans of the industry now, and we’ve taken the time to do it and spent the money on the R&D to make it happen.
Matthew: Wow. That was definitely worth doing, looking at the cost of your cost per gram, for sure. And also the sustainability factor is great, and you can donate food, so there’s a lot of cascading benefits there. Now, last time I spoke with you, you mentioned a light study with a local university. Is that still going on? Is that something you can talk about?
Warren: They’ve actually just wrapped up and they’re just going to publish, going to paper shortly. They’re just compiling data, actually. So we’ve completed a light study with Gwelth University, Yoban Xiang, he’s the head of agriculture for our local agriculture university. Definitely a North American renowned ecology school, ecology and bio and eco science. They’ve been here for over six months with tests. Testing some of my plants, giving them different light frequencies, different wavelengths and intensities to find out what wavelengths and frequencies of light we can give the plants for optimum growth at whatever phase of growth the plant is in. So basically, we have a light curve for the LED light for optimum spectrum of light for whatever phase of growth the plant is in. It’s really important. Nobody has established a light curve for the cannabis plant yet, we believe we’re the first ones in the world to do so. So whatever phase of growth, if it’s a flowering plant we can crank that red up and make sure it’s getting the right intensity. All of our light racks, they’re not only just adjustable for the frequency of light, but also they’re adjustable from thirteen feet in the air to two feet off the ground, so I can also give the plants whatever intensity and micromole of light they want as well. Gwelth University was really happy about the variables. To add, a lot of growers will fix lights to the ceiling and you can’t really use the adjustability. Let’s say for instance, I want to give my plants a blue light bath for three days at the end, which is something that I actually do to my plants. So 100% blue light, but if I want to get 500 micromoles of light from my plant, I can’t keep it up six feet of the ground, because only 20% of the array of my lights are blue. So if I want to get those micromoles, I want to be able to drop those lights right on top of the plants and give them that 500 micromoles, so they’re getting all the light intensity they need to grow, to get that really nice terpene profile, and solidify those tricombs. It's been very cool working with light. Lights and HVAC, the two most important parts of your indoor growing environment.
Matthew: Yeah, you really, it sounds like, have to do develop somewhat of an obsessive nature and a deep dive into the plants. Not something you can really do lightly when looking at the aquaponics, the pH, the bacteria, the nanoparticulates, the fish, the temperature, all these things, it’s really, you’ve got a PhD in aquaponics and cannabis here, going into your learning process.
Warren: And all of that from a concrete guy who’s not an academic, this is just school of hard knocks for me, and just talking to people who are way smarter than I am. And that’s a lot of people, that’s most people, but at the end of the day, fortunately, I’ve been able to absorb it, understand it, work with people who, as I say, know the science and we’ve come a long way. Just through osmosis I’ve been able to absorb a lot of information and probably sound a lot smarter than I actually am but it’s worked really well.
Matthew: Now, you’re doing extraction. Can you tell us about what you’re doing there? Anything interesting?
Warren: I don’t know about interesting, but we do have the largest extractor we believe in Canada that’s operating. I know that one company has a larger extractor but they’re having some issues with TSSA, one of our governing bodies for pressure vessels, and the certification of, but we bought European technology. We bought an extractor that’s GMP, good manufacturing practices, being able to reach those standards for pharmaceutical GMP, because at the end of the day, we are a medical company. We want to promote and advance the science of this plant for medicinal use. So to be GMP compliant or pharmaceutical GMP compliant, we want to be able to sell our products to Pfizer, Merck, Apatex, Glaxo Smith Kline, Lilly, any of the big pharmaceutical companies, because we have that replicate-able process and consistency throughout our whole program. So we are doing CO2 supercritical extraction. European technology, as I said. All manu-computer driven. So we are doing a dual 20 liter extractor, meant for 24 hour, 7 days a week continual operation. My extractor flips from one extraction vessel to another one, keeps going back and forth, allowing us to unpack and pack the vessels and keep the machine running all the time. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough biomass to be able to keep the machine running 24/7, and we’re just days away from getting our oil licensed to be able to sell the product. We’ve had our inspection, and we’re very excited to get oils out the the marketplace, and the highly tuned refining process that we’ve been able to establish with our partners in Switzerland. So I have a Swiss partner, a company called Ifame, and they have been extracting and doing CBD extractions for well over a decade. They’ve got the science down, they have the medical devices, the applications, the different types of delivery systems, and the recipes for all those. I built my laboratory with Bookey equipment, just like they have their laboratory equipment in Switzerland, so we are exchanging information. Actually, next week I have one of my PhDs and chemists going over to be trained on some chromatography and some other advancements in the separation world of the cannabis wax and the oil. So very exciting stuff. Cannabis oil is going to be 90% of our business moving forward.
Matthew: Wow. Okay, and what about the cost per gram of oil? Is that coming down as well, just like your cost of production for cannabis flower?
Warren: We will be working diligently to get the cost per gram of production down. Now, we haven’t been on a regular production path because, as I said, we’ve been gearing up and just had our oil sales license inspection by Health Canada about three weeks ago. We believe the inspectors have passed our file on to Ottawa, to Health Canada, for the application and the amendment to our license to allow sales of our cannabis oil. We’re waiting patiently. We can’t get into a regular rhythm until we have our sales production, our sales license. So I can’t really talk too much about costs right now. I know just because of the equipment, the technology that we’ve latched onto in the supercritical world, we are getting 25% finished product from our biomass. So we’re well above industry standards. This machine was manufactured and designed specifically for cannabis in Northern Italy, and nobody else has any technology that’s even close to it in North America. That’s including the Apex and Watters machines that are predominantly used out there. We’re ahead of the curve in the cannabis oil production world.
Matthew: What advice would you give to growers around the world who would like to try something new and different in growing like you did? You endured some people laughing at you, thinking you’re a little bit crazy, maybe like the scientist from the Back to the Future, you know that guy, 1.21 gigawatts, Marty! And the flux capacitor. They’re looking at you like that, so how do you endure that and sustain your vision, because probably a couple times you were like, wait a minute, these guys might be right. Am I going down a weird place here and I have a lot of money at risk?
Warren: The blood, sweat, and tears we’ve poured into this place, and just in the R&D, nothing is instantaneous. Like I said, I’m a concrete contractor, used to instant results, and having to wait. The hurry up and wait game has been my life this last five years. My advice is that, just because you’ve been doing something for ten years and you’ve had success, it doesn’t mean it’s right. We can’t be afraid of latching onto new technology and using science as the base of what you’re doing, especially growing cannabis, because it is a truly science-based industry now. I call it the wizard unicorn factor, from the growers kind of latching on to their twenty year old methodology and not changing their program because they want to use this special bat guano or whatever else they want to put inside their soil because they think it’s going to grow and make them more THC-rich and faster-growing buds, and it really is bull. It’s crap. If it’s not science-based, you can’t measure it. If you can’t measure it, it’s not real. So you can’t be afraid to latch onto new technology. You have to embrace it, and you’re going to be just like I am. I can’t tell you how many failures I’ve had growing aquaponically and trying different things and doing root zone pots and hydroton and all these other things, increasing surface area for bacteria to grow on to increase my yields, and all kinds of things that I’ve been doing. Tried, failed, tried again, had medium results. You have to try it. You just have to take the bull by the horns and take a leap, an informed leap. If you’re basing your decision on science, and you’re basing it on what’s happening out there in the industry, you’re probably making a good choice, and I would jump into that wholeheartedly. Again, cost of production.
Matthew: Let’s pivot to some personal development questions, Warren. Is there a book that’s had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you’d like to share with listeners?
Warren: Well, not so much a book, although I do read a lot. I always have a reference book and a fiction going at the same time. Not so much a book, but in my early twenties, I went to the movie theatre and watched a movie called The Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams. You’ve probably seen it or heard about it. It wasn’t a particularly good movie, but there was one scene that had an impact, besides little pearls of wisdom my father gave me growing up in the construction world, old school Italian man, dominant family member, giving me his little pearls of wisdom as I’ve grown up. But Robin Williams, there was a scene in there when he made the kids in his classroom stand up on their desks just as a way to say, you’ve got to be able to look at things from a different angle. So that always stuck with me, the fact that you’ve got to be able to see all sides, you’ve got to be able to look at things from every angle, you’ve got to process all that information. You have to listen to everybody, you have to see all things, you have to be informed before you can make a good decision. And I think that scene in that movie has probably had the most impact, besides my father, my mentor, of anything else that I can say, that I’ve ever seen in my life. Like I said, not a great movie, but that scene was something that I’ve remembered always, and any time I’m in a mental conundrum, I think about that scene and I try to make sure I’ve looked at everything every way possible.
Matthew: I thought that movie was excellent. Peter Weir, the director, also did The Truman Show, which was another great movie. And that boarding school, St. Andrews in Wilmington, Delaware, is a real place. That wasn’t just a set. Very interesting perspective you have there. He makes them stand on the desk and see, well how does the world look different just from that? Yeah, a lot of people don’t do that. A lot of people are like, how can I compete and break my back competing instead of looking at it from a different way like you did with aquaponics, so, well-said.
Warren: Thank you. Think outside the box. It’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true.
Matthew: Is there a tool you consider vital to your productivity, either around the grow or with your team or anything like that?
Warren: So, there isn’t a specific tool that I use that makes me successful, and I’m not talking about electronics, I’m not talking about anything, but what has gotten me by through life and made me a success in the concrete construction world, made me a success in aquaponics, not just my intestinal fortitude, but my gut. I’ve used my gut to guide me through every life-altering decision I’ve ever made. I trust it, it’s usually right, and therefore I listen to it. So in most cases, if you think your gut is telling you it’s the right thing to do, even if it’s telling you it might be the right thing to do, you have to listen to it. Your instincts and trust, trust yourself, that you’ve got the information you need to move forward in any endeavor or whatever you’re doing in life. So I used my gut for everything that I’m doing in life, and so far, so good. Knock on wood.
Matthew: Well, the funny thing with that, Warren, is that more and more scientists are now saying that there is, that the gut might be a part of a larger thinking entity, in terms of 80 or 90% of our serotonin is manufactured in our gut. Bacteria might be somehow communicating with other processes. So when people say, go with your gut, that’s not just slang, like how your gut makes you feel good or bad or nervous, but there’s something larger possibly going on there, so I would agree with that.
Warren: There you go, it’s all about science. There you go, at the end of the day. Nice one.
Matthew: Warren, thanks so much for joining us on the show today and educating us about aquaponics and all the different ways you think about growing cannabis. This was really fascinating, and I’m sure the listeners will find it so. Good luck with everything you’re doing up there. Let us know when your lighting study comes out.
Warren: I absolutely appreciate the opportunity, we’re always looking to advance our aquaponics platform, and looking forward to anybody who is interested in the space. You can certainly look at my website at greenrelief.ca or greenrelief.com. Tells you all about us, there’s some videos on there. We like to talk to people, and we’re looking to advance the science of aquaponics, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Looking forward to anybody saying hello.
Matthew: Yeah, and for the people that are interested in building aquaponics into their grows, that’s the same contact information.
Warren: Absolutely. They can call our client care service, they can call Jim Reddon, my COO. I’m again, Warren Bravo, I’m the CEO and co-owner, co-founder. Reach out anytime. We’re here to help, and anybody who’s interested in sustainability and growing it with the most natural methods known to mankind. Please give us a call.
Matthew: Well thanks so much, Warren.
Warren: Thank you Matt, it was an absolute pleasure.