Original Published 21:39 May 03, 2022
By , Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
John Fayed and Matt Tkachyk are farmers at heart. They are small town boys with a passion for agriculture and cannabis.
The pair are co-founders of Rogue Botanical, a licensed producer of cannabis-based products based out of Niverville.
Fayed grew up near a tiny town in Manitoba and his family owned a seed plant.
“My dad grew a lot of specialty crops and he’d try out plants that you can’t spray [with pesticides] because you don’t know what would or wouldn’t harm the plants,” Fayed says. “If you can’t spray, you just have to let everything grow. And to get rid of what you didn’t want in the plot or fields, you would have to walk up and down the field and pull out the weeds. That’s called ‘roguing.’ So our name goes back to our farming roots.”
Cannabis production is very strictly monitored in Canada. Tkachyk says that Rogue had to build their entire production facility, then provide an evidence package to Health Canada proving that they had complied with each and every rule and regulation.
And there are a lot.
Then they had to wait until Health Canada got to their file. All this after having spent a great deal of money to create the local facility in the first place.
“The original application that we developed was 800 pages long,” Tkachyk says.
“And that was just the application,” Fayed adds. “Then you get to the evidence package. The evidence package is like objective proof to [Health Canada] that you are actually ready to go. They want to see all your rooms. They want to see videos of all your cameras that are on site.”
Health Canada requires that every inch of a cannabis operation be covered by high-quality surveillance cameras. The surveillance footage from Rogue’s cameras is crystal-clear, not the grainy, fuzzy picture one is used to seeing.
According to the pair, Rogue Botanical is also a business of passionate people. The team of around 15 staff believe in their product and have a strong desire to create the highest quality product they can.
Although Tkachyk and Fayed have agricultural experience, when they decided to form Rogue Botanical they knew they needed to find someone with a background in cannabis specifically. They managed to hire a grower who is a seasoned veteran at the art and science of growing cannabis.
“We take the art of our master grower and then we try and turn it into a repeatable, scientific, agricultural approach,” says Tkachyk.
“[Our grower] had acquired some unique genetics over the years,” Fayed says. “When any growers were able to get their hands on those genetics, that come from different parts of the world, there was incentive not to share. So they didn’t. It’s become a real advantage having those unique strains that you can’t get just anywhere.”
Fayed explains that there are two types of cannabis producers: corporate and craft. He says that Rogue prides itself on being craft cannabis producers.
“Everything we do is based around producing the nicest flowers that we can,” Fayed says. “We don’t take any shortcuts.”
Fayed and Tkachyk say that they talk to customers and retailers every day. They listen to what their customers want and focus on that. That may mean they don’t grow a wide variety of cannabis strains; instead they focus on producing the very best, most desirable strains at any time.
“Our ultimate goal is to produce cannabis that our customers like,” Fayed says.
Rogue Botanical’s products are now available in approximately 100 stores in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Although cannabis is federally regulated, each province requires different paperwork and licensing procedures. So far these are the two provinces Rogue has focused on, but they say that they will look to expand into other markets as the company grows.
Different products also require different licensing, so for now Rogue is sticking with cannabis flower instead of producing oils or edibles.
Rogue Botanical is also set apart from its competitors by the way they grow their plants. They depend on the sun to provide their plants with heat and light. In fact, they are the only cannabis growers in the province to use only the sun.
Their website puts it this way: “Equally important to the amount of sun received in Manitoba is the quality of it, specifically the ultraviolet (UV) rays”.
Tkachyk explains that plants react to the daily light integral (DLI). The DLI is based on the amount of light, intensity of the light, and duration of the light.
He describes the light in an average restaurant, for example, as having a DLI of about two. Standard grow lights would provide about a 43.
The sun itself provides a DLI of about 65 to 70.
“Each plant is looking to protect itself on a regular basis from the harmful UV rays,” says Tkachyk. “So it’s going to develop those terpenes and those oils to protect itself from that light—and that’s what you want in the product. You want the flavour of the terpenes… You can’t replicate the power of the sun.”
What are terpenes, you may ask? It’s a word you’ll hear a lot in the cannabis world.
Healthline describes them like this: “Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants and some animals. They’re responsible for the aromas, flavors, and even colors associated with various types of vegetation. In terms of cannabis, terpenes are what make certain strains smell or taste different from others.”
Not only does harnessing the power of the sun improve Rogue’s product, it’s also environmentally friendly, as they don’t need to draw as much electricity.
The sun isn’t the only hard worker at Rogue Botanical. The cofounders each put in long hours every day and surround themselves with the best of the best. Agronomists, biochemists, plant biologists entomologists… they use them all.
Their master grower, with his wealth of experience, understands that the plants are living organisms and require proper care to reach their potential. His process involves taking cues from the plants to guide the growing process, not unlike a farmer of any other commercial crop.
Tkachyk says that he has seen the grower get goosebumps from a perfect plant, a plant that’s growing just the way he wants it to after all his hard work.
Currently, Rogue has multiple products available in retail stores throughout Manitoba. These products include “Gold” (Sativa), “Runtz” (Hybrid), and “Hindu Kush” (Indica).
Packaging these products for the retail market will be the purview of Rogue Botanical’s sister company, Rogue Processing.
“Rogue Processing applied for a standard cannabis processing license with Health Canada on January 14, 2022, with the intent to become the first dedicated cannabis co-packing facility in Manitoba,” says Graham Taylor, the president of Rogue Processing. “The 2,000-square-foot facility is fully constructed in Niverville, across the road from our cultivation partners at Rogue Botanical.”
Rogue Processing’s license is expected to be approved later this spring.
Rogue Processing will use a nitrogen infusion packaging system. They will package dried cannabis flower in a peel-top can and replace the air in the can with nitrogen.
This process, Taylor says, “optimally preserves product integrity, is attractive to consumers, 100 percent recyclable, and complies with all Health Canada requirements.”
Taylor says that he has so much to be proud of in this young company. His business plan won the top award at the 2022 Stu Clark New Venture Championship: Graduate Edition.
“Rogue Processing has also been approved for the Manitoba Small Business Venture Capital Tax Credit,” Taylor says, “providing a non-refundable Manitoba tax credit of up to 45 percent to individuals and corporations who acquire equity capital in our eligible Manitoba enterprise.”
Taylor says that in 2017 the cannabis industry was non-existent, other than black market sales. By 2026, cannabis is expected to be an $8 billion industry in Canada.
“There’s a lot of opportunities and room for growth in this market,” he says.
When a country decriminalizes or legalizes cannabis, there is often an immediate shortfall in the amount of product available to the consumer.
Taylor is aware of this and says that they are prepared for that eventuality as other countries inevitably begin to legalize.
“Because of our licensing and abilities, we would be in a great position to serve other countries too,” says Taylor.
Rogue Processing will be the first Manitoba company specializing in packaging services for Rogue Botanical and other producers interested in their services.
“It’s been so great doing business in Niverville,” Taylor says. “The community has been so supportive and welcoming and we’re just so happy with where we’ve set up our operation. We just rave about how great Niverville has been.”
Fayed hopes that Niverville feels the same way about Rogue. “We’re a couple of small town farm kids. We grew up in small towns, we went to fall suppers, we’re community-minded guys. We want to do good things for the community.”
“Rogue is just a farm kid approach,” adds Tkachyk. “A small town, farm kid approach.”
This item reprinted with permission from The Niverville Citizen, Niverville, Manitoba