CTech Meets: An Inside Look at Israel’s New Cannabis Farm
Following the news that CanBreed, a breeding company for cannabis, has opened its factory just outside of Ra’anana in Israel, CTech was eager to visit. The company recently launched what it claims to be the country’s largest plant gene editing lab and one of the largest in the world, designed to grow and test cannabis and other products for possible mass production.
The factory measures approximately 1,200 square meters and contains a molecular biology room, a tissue culture lab and a culture vault – three rooms that experiment with CRISPR – the Nobel Prize-winning technology that can help them produce seeds from stable cannabis for hemp growers. To say it’s impressive is an understatement.
There are thousands – almost millions – of seeds and plants that are being grown for testing. The company, which obtained a license agreement for the core CRISPR patents last year, can apply gene editing tools to provide better raw materials for medical products. That means her team of 24 people – 16 of whom are molecular biologists – work hard to create stabilized plant seeds that produce consistent and reliable results when grown.
Entering the factory we see a large open space with a volleyball court installed. This is to help the team relax after working on inserting CRISPR into the starting materials. “Never get high with your own supply,” said founder and CEO Ido Margalit when asked why they don’t relax by using more “conventional” items that are readily available.
The grow safe, which is locked and keyed to meet legal requirements, is where they test over 20 different varieties of cannabis. Here there are hundreds of plants growing under stable and constant conditions. As they are cultivated and monitored, the company will be able to better help its customers, the hemp growers, understand how their seeds will flourish.
“All over the world there are a lot of cannabis growers where all of their operational parameters are inside,” Margalit explained. “One of the biggest trading markets in the world is Canada, it’s the only G8 country where it’s fully legalized. Canada is not good at outdoor farming, so most of its growing activity is done indoors.
According to Margalit, most of the cannabis operations in Israel are done outside – and so that’s where we go next. CTech is guided to a greenhouse that sits in a closed security fence with a variety of measures including cameras, barbed wire, etc. We walk towards a security guard who looks like a prison guard, taking our ID card and making sure our faces are seen on camera. It’s not only CanBreed that takes its outdoor farming seriously, but it’s also the State of Israel: security is a government-mandated measure, paid for by CanBreed, to ensure its plants stay safe all year round.
Inside the greenhouse are around 24 varieties of cannabis, all of different lengths, colors, shapes and scents. Here we see the effect that outdoor farming can have on the plant. While the indoor safety lab can produce stable results, the quality of these varies and those who succeed in the environment become much larger and better than those indoors. By testing them for a year, Margalit and the team will soon find out which seed is best grown at what time of year.
CanBreed was founded in 2017 and has only recently moved from R&D to production. In 2020, he purchased a 3.5-acre farm in San Diego, California, where he plans to produce more than 12 million seeds each year. With tests currently underway in Israel, Margalit expects the California farm to be operational by the end of this year or early 2022.
In 2020, four US states legalized the use of hemp, meaning eight states have now legalized cannabis, expanding the market to 93 million Americans. While CanBreed can only sell cannabis seeds internally in California, hemp can be marketed nationally and internationally, meaning it can enter the market which currently produces 2 billion hemp plants in 500,000 acres.
CanBreed’s new farm signals a growing revolution. Once Israeli law is changed, the company will be able to export its edited seeds to Europe and the U.S. For now, the farm uses CRISPR technology to silence genes and produce seeds that have perfected stabilization. , uniformity and standardization of cannabis seeds for growers.
“(CRISPR) is the most revolutionary and important discovery of life sciences in the 21st century,” confirmed Margalit at the end of the visit. “We are among the pioneers of its application in plants and more particularly in cannabis.”