Exclusive Interview: Alex Keach from ECS Botanics

Alex Keach is leading the hemp movement from Australia through ECS Botanics (ECS.asx) and is about to dominate the medical cannabis space too.

With a degree in Rural Business Management and over 15 years of experience working in financial markets and agriculture, Alex Keach is no stranger to the Australian agricultural landscape. Moreover, Mr. Keach's experience in financial markets primed him to look for the next big opportunity within the space. That opportunity, says Alex Keach, was hemp.

"Having a history in financial markets, my role was to spot megatrends for investment opportunities. In this case, the megatrend in cannabis was being driven by the global regulatory environment being relaxed and cannabis slowly losing its stereotype as a dangerous drug. This tied in well with Australia and NZ legalizing hemp foods in November 2017."

Alex Keach's experience served as a perfect storm, fusing his knowledge in investment, agriculture, and his upbringing in Tasmania, to encourage him to launch ECS Botanics (ASX:ECS).

"The anecdotal and growing clinical evidence for medicinal cannabis, plus the magnitude of opportunities and benefits industrial hemp offered could not be ignored.  I had a very confident view of where the industry was headed and the opportunity was too exciting not to be apart of," said Keach.

"I also knew the products worked, hemp seed oil helped me with inflammation and gave me more brain energy.  Importantly I have a farming background, so I knew we could grow it and scale production from where I grew up in Tasmania. All-in-all, this business ticked all the boxes and it was an opportunity to combine all my skill sets and go all in."

And so, Alex Keach founded ECS Botanics (ASX:ECS) in 2018 from Tasmania with the goal of utilizing hemp's plentiful benefits.

ECS Botanics is Born

ECS Botanics is a Sydney-headquartered hemp food and medicinal cannabis business with its roots and production base in Tasmania.  Consisting of farmers, processors, sellers, and innovators of hemp food products, ECS is building a medicinal cannabis facility with plans to be the largest outdoor medicinal cannabis grower in Australia.

ECS has a suite of hemp food products, including hemp-seed oils, soups, and protein powders, with its soups and hemp seed oil available nationally in over 850 Woolworths stores following a deal with Just Foods. And, as we covered recently, hemp is increasingly becoming recognized as the crème de la crème of superfoods, which is a trait ECS seeks to capitalize on.

"Hemp is considered the most "complete food source on the planet," says Keach.

"It's also a complete protein containing all 9 amino acids the body requires from food and cannot manufacture itself. Hemp is highly nutrient-dense, easily digestible, and highly bioavailable."

Hemp really is the crème de la crème of superfoods. Alex Keach, Founder of ECS Botanics

Additionally, Keach continues, hemp is not only a superfood but also provides enormous environmental benefits that make it preferable to grow over many other crops.

"By consuming hemp you are also making a sustainable food choice. Hemp requires less water, fertilizer, and chemical than traditional food crops. Hemp also sequesters an enormous amount of carbon, so benefits go beyond the body."

Outdoor Tasmanian Medical Cannabis Operation

With an upbringing and an agricultural background in Tasmania, Alex Keach saw no better place to cultivate industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis, due to the idyllic conditions that Tassie can provide.

"The proof is in the pudding, Tasmania is the world's picture boy for deregulated, large scale intensive, high-value agricultural production. The climates, abundant water resources, diverse landscape, and smart farmers have enabled the state to produce a diverse range of market-leading products, from superfine wool to infant milk formula, narcotics raw material, essential oils, and cherries."

Thanks to the perfect conditions of Tasmania, Alex Keach decided to take a disruptive, but intuitive path within the cannabis space, and launch an outdoor medicinal cannabis operation.

While indoor growing is far more prevalent than outdoor, this is largely a result of the War on Drugs meant that cannabis cultivation operations largely had to exist indoors, out of sight, and out of mind.

"Initially, the regulator's view of cannabis resembled a highly dangerous narcotic so the guidelines were very onerous, leading cultivation facilities to resemble fort Knox," said Keach.  

"Cannabis was driven indoors due to prohibition, the majority of the first movers and contracted growers gained their experience in the illegal market and then applied these indoor techniques to the legal market, to cultivate cannabis products outside would have been way too foreign."

In places like Tasmania where you have the perfect climate for cultivating the highest quality products and ample land and water, outdoor cultivation will largely be the most sensible option. Alex Keach, Founder of ECS botanics

In the instance of Australia, however, Keach argues that outdoor cultivation will be the way of the future.

"Many Australian cannabis companies are well down the path of indoor cultivation and it's now too hard to pull back on those plans. Cannabis was always going to become an agricultural pursuit, just like other plant-based pharmaceuticals."

The Future of ECS Botanics (ASX: ECS)

On ECS's plans for the future, Mr. Keach says that the cannabis industry is going through an "adjustment phase" at the moment, following the initial boom of the industry over the past few years, which will change rapidly moving forward.

During this transitory period, ECS aims to position itself at the epicentre of what is becoming a growing and more cohesive regulatory model, rather than the "status quo."

"ECS plans to grow our hemp and medicinal cannabis business to be market-leading. Our aim is to transition up the value curve to higher value/higher margin manufacturing and products, whilst maintaining scale."

"The space is evolving and growing quickly, cannabis is becoming mainstream, and consumers are becoming educated and seeking out the immense benefits of consuming cannabis for food or as a medicine."

Following the recent down-scheduling of CBD products in Australia, Mr. Keach sees Australia slowly relaxing its regulatory framework over the next few years.

"In 5 years' time, we think Australia will have a much more diverse and integrated industry of food, fibre, medicine, and cannabinoids industry – predominately being driven by a more cohesive and simplified regulatory model. Australia and particularly the state of Tasmania can become a globally significant producer and exporter."

"Within that time, our aim is to be a mid-cap company that is paying a dividend to shareholders. We expect that ECS will have a dominant position in the hemp and cannabis industry, growing and extracting oil and cannabinoids all from its base in Tasmania.  ECS plans to supply the export market with value-added food and cannabinoid products."

We plan to leverage our Tasmanian selling proposition and we have our finger on the pulse when it comes to opportunities in the sector that will add value to shareholders.Alex Keach, Founder of ECS Botanics

"We entered the market a little later than most and positioned our business model with a view of how cannabis will look in the future rather than chasing the status quo, it reassuring to now see the market appreciating this strategy and this strategy puts us in good stead for the future."

To learn more about ECS Botanics (ASX:ECS), visit the company HQ here.   

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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