Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with Michael DeGiglio, the CEO of Village Farms International (VFFIF) , a company transitioning from produce to cannabis in Canada as well as possibly industrial hemp/CBD (cannabidiol) in the United States.
British Columbia-based Village Farms is a producer of hydroponically grown greenhouse tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. While a shift to cannabis may seem like a money grab to some, and honestly money grabs aren't always a negative, there's logic here. Agriculture is still agriculture. There's a similarity whether the product is tomatoes, cannabis, or even roses.
The company's first move into the cannabis space is in a joint venture with medical marijuana research company Emerald Farms. Pure Sunfarms, the joint venture, has already converted 1.1 million square feet of greenhouse grow-space in British Columbia. Recently, it was selected to supply Ontario Cannabis Store with products for the non-medical market in the Province of Ontario, offering validation to its 1.1 million square foot facility approaching full production.
Before the call, I reached out on Twitter to ask traders what questions they would like answered, so rather than follow the traditional script of me summarizing the company, let's jump to my Q&A with DeGiglio. These may not be your traditional questions or a traditional format, but this currently isn't a traditional sector.
How would you rate cannabis vs. tomatoes as a cash crop?
One word: margins. The same will be true with hemp. Margins for tomatoes are razor thin, in the low single digits as Mexico continues to dominate the market. Recreational marijuana and CBD (non-THC) offer margins potentially ten-times what tomatoes yield.
What is Village Farms' projected cost per gram for cannabis?
The company anticipates its cost per gram to quickly fall below $1.
Is outdoor growing a possibility?
Absolutely. If the financials support it, especially in a region like Texas, Village Farms should, and likely will, consider outdoor growing.
Does Village Farms plan on spinning off its joint venture Pure Sunfarms?
I don't see it happening.
Tim Collins' Takeaway: From my perspective, I believe we may see the opposite happen and the company will obtain 100% ownership buying out its partner Emerald Farms. While that joint venture may continue with the company's Delta properties, I don't believe we'll see another joint venture where Village Farms does not have control, but the company has a lot to offer, so I wouldn't rule out future partnerships altogether. Paired with the right partner, the two could quickly rise the ranks in the cannabis or CBD space to become a dominant player.
Advantage(s) Village Farms holds compared to other LPs?
The three E's - Experience, Expenses, & Existing infrastructure.
The company has three decades of experience dealing with regulatory bodies. Cannabis and CBD will fall under the guise of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. This will be a hurdle many new cannabis companies have never faced. Village Farms grew up in the regulatory system. This shouldn't be an issue for the company.
Village Farms intends to be vertically integrated. It will control the process from seed to soil to growth to harvest to extraction to products and packaging. It has a history of being a low-cost producer in any space it enters and will employ that model with cannabis. As we witnessed Tuesday with Aurora's [Aurora Cannabis (ACB) ] earnings, big expenses will pinch the bottom line. By controlling all facets of its model, Village Farms eliminates third-party risk and will be aware of costs through all facets of cultivation to sale.
The company holds over 4.5 million square feet of greenhouse grow-space in Canada along with a 5.7 million square foot facility in Texas.
Has Village Farms been approached by big pharma, tobacco, alcohol, etc.?
As with any public company, no comment can be made on conversations behind the scenes. It is a swiftly evolving industry, and we've seen many partnerships and mergers already. In my view, Village Farms would benefit most from a food distribution partner such as Sysco (SYY) or Hain Celestial (HAIN) . I believe either of those companies would also tremendously benefit from a tie-up. None of those companies need a partnership to survive, but both could benefit.
Are there plans to convert the Texas greenhouse to hemp production if Texas legalizes hemp? How long would that take?
The company issued a press release on December 13, 2018, stating it intended to aggressively pursue hemp and CBD opportunities in the United States, but until Texas legalizes hemp there can be no immediate plans in place to do so. I did get the impression any prep work that could be done prior to legalization has already been done and the conversion of the massive 5.7 million square foot facility could be complete within 6-8 months.
Village Farms intends to be vertically integrated, which means extraction for products would be in-house. Currently, they are allocated space in the greenhouse to do so.
Will Village Farms offer a CBD brand?
I got the impression it is a real possibility as is CBD strain creation. Village Farms could create a wish list for seed companies/other growers/consumers to request plant makeup higher in a specific cannabinoid.
I know I didn't hit all the questions I received about Village Farms, but I believe this covers the bulk of them. If there's enough from this to pique your curiosity, I suggest digging a little deeper into this name.