A farm family from southeast Saskatchewan has turned to a new plant, and is one of the first in the province to do so.
Trent Emmel, who farms lentils, canola, durum and more in the Bromhead area, is the president of T8 Cannabis, which is just the second micro cultivation cannabis project in Saskatchewan. He has been partnering with Charles Wentworth of Nibbler, a consulting firm that has helped T8 through the process of securing its licence.
The local company gets its name because Emmel has eight kids. Emmel said he wanted to get into the business to help his family, but also because he saw the medical benefits of cannabis.
“I saw a little girl that was suffering with … epilepsy, and she had all these fits, but I saw it and that really sparked my interest with how a guy could help people. I’ve had a family member who has had the shakes, and is using the cannabis oil, and it’s fixing him. No more shakes,” said Emmel.
He wanted to expand the family farm, but land is hard to acquire. If he could grow crop in the fields, why not inside a canopy, where it would be climate controlled.
“Then I kept researching more and more what cannabis is doing for people, and it just drove me harder and harder to make it succeed,” said Emmel.
T8 is fully licensed and has had some sales already, but the majority of the crop was sold for medical testing purposes. The company earned its licence on Dec. 6, 2019.
“We had a couple of options to either go straight to market where the real money would be made, or to do some medical research testing at the lab using the product,” said Wentworth. “The main reason we went down that avenue is because a small cannabis producer like T8, we need to show the market what the differences are between small-batch cannabis … and a company that has 25 acres.”
As a microcultivator, they are restricted by the amount of space they can use. The particular licence they procured is designed for small operators to become legal cannabis producers with a small amount of capital.
“We can grow as much as we want, but we’re restricted by the real world space in which we’re governed, which is roughly 2,150 square feet,” said Wentworth.
Every plant they grow is inspected and touched by their master grower Marty Ibot, who is originally from the Philippines and now residing in Estevan. He went from being a labourer to a master grower.
“We always hire local people. Always,” said Wentworth. “So when we were advertising for a new master grower, we could have chosen people with master’s degrees from universities in Ontario and out here in Vancouver, but Trent and the family were adamant that they wanted to train in-house and make sure it was a local person.”
Three full-time employees and nine part-time workers are currently with T8.
While there have been hiccups associated with being in a new industry, they have learned from those challenges.
As a rural-based company, T8 has additional hurdles to be cleared.
“A lot of the time, we need special equipment. Sometimes we need a special kind of labourers to come in. So again, we had a lot of issues there where we had to bring things in from outside of Canada even. Getting things to Estevan sometimes is a challenge,” said Wentworth.
It would have been cheaper and easier to do it in a bigger city, but Emmel wanted to do it locally for his kids and family.
“Cannabis is allowing some of these farms, which aren’t expanding, to be utilized for the next generation,” Wentworth.
T8 Cannabis is not a company that would set out to make millions of dollars, Wentworth said, but Emmel has entered into it to help his kids have a comfortable life, and once they’re older, to find the work-life balance.
Small-batch cannabis is a superior product to what is created in larger operations, said Wentworth, who compared it to the difference between craft beer and macro-breweries.
“There’s still a lot of confusion there in the marketplace, when people go into a retail outlet, cannabis retail outlet, because people go in, and the consumer is confused about what the difference is between what we call craft cannabis, which is what T8 cannabis grows, and mass-produced stuff. The consumer still needs education,” said Wentworth.
The business partners met through Wentworth’s love of hunting. He has spent time in Saskatchewan, and met Emmel through a couple of mutual friends.
“I got to know Trent … and then travelled to Estevan on more than one occasion, met his family, and that’s where our relationship really grew, because I saw the reason he was doing the business,” said Wentworth. “Everything else can be solved. Problems can be solved. The process of growing the cannabis can be solved. But the team is what’s more important than anything. The team that’s behind it.”
Emmel said he is pleased with how things have gone thus far, too. People in the area have been supportive of the venture.
“You would never know there was a cannabis cultivation facility there, because of the way the federal rules stand. We’re very restricted,” said Wentworth.
Wentworth sees the potential in the market for craft cannabis, and he and Emmel are pleased to be one of the first micro cultivators in the province.