The Marlborough region of New Zealand’s South Island is home to a world-famous Sauvignon Blanc industry. The unique topography creates richly fertile lands, complemented by a cool sea breeze from the rolling tides of the South Pacific. Growing among the vineyards, a new industry is emerging—medical cannabis.
Founded in 2018, Puro is the country’s largest licensed medical cannabis cultivator. Within the first two years of commercial operation, Puro established two cultivation sites in Marlborough and is growing medical cannabis at both locations — even when faced with delays and difficulties caused by the pandemic.
What really sets Puro apart from other commercial growers, both domestically and internationally, is the fact they are growing medical cannabis with organic protocols and working towards being certified organic.
“Once we achieve organic accreditation, we anticipate Puro will be the largest organic grower in Australasia and one of a very small number of organic medical cannabis cultivators worldwide,” said Managing Director Tim Aldridge. “This is going to provide Puro with a highly marketable point of difference.”
Puro’s indoor research facility grows high THC genetics, and the outdoor coastal farm in Kēkerengū grows low THC, high CBD, and CBG cultivars. The farm sees an average of 2,457 hours of sunshine per year, with a high UV rating — optimal conditions for cultivating exceptional outdoor cannabis.
“Kēkerengū provides perfect growing conditions, with a coastal microclimate that is ideal for medical cannabis production,” Aldridge said.
In December 2020, the first ten hectares of plants went into the ground at Kēkerengū. Aldridge and his cultivation team are eagerly awaiting the imminent first harvest, believing the farm’s unique terroir could produce some novel terpene and cannabinoid profiles.
Additionally, Puro’s drying facility is the largest of its kind in New Zealand. It houses the company’s drying and trimming machinery, which is being put to work during the first commercial harvest, which officially started on March 24th and is expected to last through April.
Working Towards Organic Certification
Puro is working hard to set new global standards in organic cannabis cultivation as they move closer towards obtaining organic certification with BioGro.
Growing cannabis under strict organic protocols requires the skill and determination of an internationally experienced agronomy team.
Cultivation Director and Churchill Fellow, Tom Forrest, is Puro’s cannabis cultivation specialist. His intimate knowledge and understanding of controlled pharmaceutical growing operations has been instrumental in developing Puro’s sustainable, organic and regenerative approach to growing.
“Sustainability is essential for the future of agronomy, but [it] also works to produce healthier, happier and more lucrative crops,” Forrest said.
Forrest and his cultivation team are committed to creating a healthy rhizosphere to encourage stronger, more vigorous crops.
“Although the evidence is still anecdotal, we are confident that biological, natural, organic cultivation methods will encourage healthier growth that will result in higher concentrations of terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids,” Forrest said.
Having a diverse soil environment is especially ideal for Puro’s six different cultivars: two auto-flowering CBD dominant varietals, two CBG dominant varietals, and two CBD dominant varietals – all sourced from leading global breeders.
“The genetics were selected in response to the evolving worldwide cannabis market and the unpredictable nature of broad-acre cultivation,” Forrest explained.
Protecting local biodiversity is a big part of Puro’s sustainability mandate, and according to Forrest, the company is “firmly focused on improving and refining our sustainability performance from season to season to be a true leader in this space.”
In its first round of investment in 2019, Puro raised $4 million on PledgeMe — the highest amount raised on the crowdfunding platform. Puro is now working to finance further developments, including the completion of its indoor breeding facility and the development of its first glasshouse in Waihopai.
These facilities will sit beside Puro’s existing research center and play an important role in continuously improving its crop genetics. At the time of writing, Puro had reached half of the $2 million investment goal.
The company is also working with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) to facilitate the country’s first-ever export of bulk medical cannabis. One contract is already in in place with a local buyer, and Puro is in further negotiations with other potential buyers.
As more countries around the world continue to work towards legalization, sustainability is a big part of the conversation.
Aldridge says operating with sustainable business practices is the right thing to do for the environment, the community and their collective future.
“Sustainability is a core aspect of Puro’s ethos,” Aldridge reiterated. “Our sustainable focus will also ensure Puro is here for the long-term, as we are taking responsibility to enhance and regenerate the land that nurtures our plants now and into the future.”