Seed companies interviewed on European Seed about breeding priorities
To kick off the year 2021 we start with this cases page on which we would like to share interesting stories including background information about Dutch Passion’s international operations with our Licensed Partners.
A sneak peak at the way their company is organized, specific regulations they follow and – last but not least – a few ins and outs about their production process… For the first interview we introduce Nir Sosinsky (43) and Nir Amikam (31) of the medical cannabis company Together Pharma in Israel, who provide interesting tips and finally some valuable advice to all (future) Licensed Partners!
Could you tell us a bit more about your background?
“I have 8 years of experience in the cannabis industry. Together Pharma is the third company that I am working for in this industry. Before, I worked at a different company in Israel and I also worked on a project in north Macedonia, which was a joint venture between a Macedonian company and an Israeli company. I started working as an Agronomist for Together Pharma in May last year, so it has been a year and a half”, says Nir Amikam.
“I started working with Together Pharma as a Managing Director and main shareholder since the medical cannabis company was founded 2,5 years ago”, says Nir Sosinsky. “We established this business for two reasons. First of all, we saw an interesting opportunity for a high potential business. When the regulation in Israel changed at the end of 2017, we applied for a license and we were lucky that the government provided it to us. And secondly, we are driven to better understand and facilitate the medical benefits of cannabis. Therefore, this is more than just a business opportunity: we feel committed to providing medical cannabis to patients that are suffering from chronic pains or other conditions. Through our business, we make sure that they have ongoing access to high quality cannabis. We are happy we can provide them a way to control the pain, instead of the pain controlling them”.
Amikam adds: “I have been working in agriculture all my life. I have a passion for working with soil and plants. I have always had a special interest in cannabis plants and liked exploring their growing properties. It is a privilege to work with this versatile plant on a daily basis”.
Can you tell us how your company is organized?
“We are a medical cannabis company. Together Pharma has one growing facility in Israel; here we have 20.000 square meters of greenhouses where we grow medicinal cannabis in different varieties. We just finished building our GMP facility, for extraction and packing. It is supposed to get GMP (good manufacturing practice) approved in the next two weeks. We have another facility in Africa, in Uganda. We are the first cultivators in Uganda and have one of the biggest farms in Africa with around 32.000 square meters of greenhouses. Included are 2000 square meters of post harvest facilities.
All together we employ approximately 200 people. We also have a couple of joint ventures. For example, one is with a company named Premier Cosmetics. Together with this cosmetics company we combine Dead Sea minerals with the benefits of CBD. We just finished producing 3000 samples in the Netherlands and we will shortly start distribution. We have many activities in the medical cannabis market, and we are the biggest company in Israel”.
What kind of cannabis regulations apply in Israel?
“Regulations in Israel are as follows: to produce medical cannabis products, you must be a Licensed Producer. This became possible late 2017, early 2018, when the government started giving out licenses for companies.
Together Pharma has 4 licenses:
- First one is for the breeding
- The second one is for growing (having a growing facility)
- The third one is the GMP Facility (for extractions and producing the final products for the patients)
- The last one is the GDP license (good distribution practice)
We are one of the first companies in Israel that obtained these licenses. We have never experienced any problems with importing seeds or exporting our products”.
What is the purpose of your cannabis production?
“Inflorescence and also the production of oils. We bought a company named Cannabliss, which was operating for ten years in Israel in one of the biggest hospitals. They had experience in treating patients with their oils. We are now producing our oils under this name”.
Which and how many cannabis varieties are you cultivating?
“We brought around 26 to 30 varieties to Israel. We tested everything. First of all to see which varieties work best for us as a company. But also to see and decide which varieties to grow, when looking at the market. Obviously we grow varieties that best meet the market demand.
We see that the market has changed a bit; everyone wants products with the highest THC levels from 20% and above. That is why at the moment we are focussing on the high THC strains. For example:
- Blueberry from Dutch Passion
- Meringue from Dutch Passion
- We also grow Dutch Passions Charlotte’s Angel as a high CBD strain
- And Mokum’s Tulip from Dutch Passion
These are the frequent medical cannabis strains that we are growing. But we are growing many more strains; such as Frisian Dew. In Uganda we are also growing Power Plant, Blueberry and Mazar. We are growing almost all the strains but our main focus is on the high THC strains”.
Do you use auto flower or feminized seeds? Or do you use clones? Which cannabinoids do you grow?
“We are doing clones and we focus on strains with high THC and CBD levels. We are now also trying to stabilize the THCV strain. We believe that this one will mainly be used for the extraction of oil”.
Do you use organic growing methods? What type of nutrients and pesticides do you use?
“For substrates we use coco, this is 100% organic. We bring the coco from Sri Lanka and South of India. So all of our parts of growing are all done in coco, the clones, the mothers and the growing. Everything is in the same material.
About the nutrients: we are not using organic nutrients. But we do use nutrients. In Israel there is a big company called ICL, and together with them we have developed a fertilizer that we think is best for our plants. And they produce it especially for us.
About pesticides: because of the way we need to work in Israel (we work according to GAP regulations; good agricultural practice, and GACP regulations; good agricultural and collection practice) we have to follow the list of pesticides that we are allowed to use. Of these pesticides, 99% are organic.
We mostly use beneficial insects; Phytoseiulus Persimilis – a predatory mite, and Aphidius Coleman – a parasitic wasp. This is our main IPM (integrated pest management) both in Israel and Uganda. We are almost not spraying at all. Only when the pests are starting to grow more than the beneficial insects can take, then we will use a spray. If the greenhouse is clean, we will not use a spray. If we do spray, we mainly use pesticides like neem oil and potassium salt. Overall, we cannot say that we grow organically because the nutrients that we use are not listed as organic”.
How do you dry and cure your harvest on such a big scale?
“We have over 30 employees only for the post harvest procedures: for trimming, drying and curing. We harvest the whole plant, we take it to a room and in this room we do a visual inspection before we take it into the drying room. We don’t want to get any mold or insects into our drying room. We want the drying room to be als clean and sanitized as we can. After 7 days of drying, we start to trim the plants. We have an automatic trim machine (Batch 1 of Twister trimmer) that is used for dry trimming of the flowers. It keeps the trichomes intact, it is not touching the trichomes at all actually. It is very good for the product. After the trimming, we start curing for around 3 weeks”.
Have you ever dealt with a failed harvest? How do you prevent this?
“Sometimes it can be less good than expected, but we are always doing everything we can to prevent it. Therefore we haven’t had a failed harvest. If we do have mold or unperforming plants, we immediately remove it”.
How do you make sure the quality of your end product is high enough? How do you test this?
“As a Licensed Producer we have to do a lot of lab tests according to the GAP and GMP procedures. Since we are working under medical regulations in Israel, everything is checked a couple of times. Therefore, this question might be irrelevant because we are not in a recreational market. Even in the farm stage everything is checked a few times: in the middle of the growing and in the end of the growing. We are doing CoA’s (certificate of analysis) on the farm and when we are sending it to the GMP facility. We do a CoA in the beginning of the product and in the end of the product. For our products, we do at least 4 checkings in the whole process. Moreover, we work closely with the patients that use our final products; they share their thoughts about our products and their experiences”.
Do you export your end products, or do you only sell it locally?
“Up until now we are selling it locally through the pharmacists in Israel. But Israel has recently allowed us to export to other countries, so now we are looking to export our products abroad. We recently signed an agreement with a German company. We are going to export our products from Uganda to the German market under GACP, and they produce the GMP products. We also start distributing our own products in Germany. And we are looking at opportunities in the Australian, Brazilian and the African market”.
Which innovation in the cannabis industry do you admire most?
Amikam: “The growing technique is the innovation that I admire most. Because the industry in Israel is growing in an amazing way, we have a lot of new innovations like new irrigation, high tech machines, shades into the greenhouses. All the technology that we can use in our growing, is something that I admire a lot”.
How do you expect the cannabis market will change in the future?
Sosinky: “We expect it to expand. We believe more countries in Europe will open to the medical cannabis market. We believe the market in Israel will expand and grow. That is what we are looking for”.
Which advice would you give to entrepreneurs/investors looking to get into cannabis cultivation?
Sosinsky: “Do everything by the book. Don’t look for shortcuts!”
For more information: together-pharma.com