Hemp is flexible and has a number of boosters, however it’s by no means been greater than a distinct segment crop on the Prairies
The hemp business on the Prairies is slowly making strides and plenty of consider — as soon as once more — that the sector is poised to increase.
“We consider there’s a robust case for hemp on this planet,” mentioned Andrew Potter, CEO of Blue Sky Hemp Ventures, an organization integrated in Calgary however primarily based in Saskatoon.
Potter, whose background is within the vitality sector, is an enthusiastic supporter of hemp.
“Hemp is likely one of the most nutritious protein sources available on the market,” he mentioned. “It’s very enticing when it comes to meals choices, and matches in with rising consciousness about environmental sustainability. What’s so distinctive about hemp (is) whereas it may produce this nice crop and cannabidiol (CBD), it additionally sequesters nice quantities of carbon dioxide. Should you additionally have a look at shopper preferences in direction of sustainable industrial merchandise, that has elevated in a giant manner.”
Along with seed and CBD (which is utilized in a wide range of merchandise and is marketed as having well being advantages, resembling offering reduction for nervousness or melancholy), the fibre can be utilized in industrial merchandise.
“Once you mix these three principal themes, there’s an enormous position for hemp sooner or later,” mentioned Potter.
However it’s a future that’s been gradual in coming.
Again in 2014, the Canadian Hemp Commerce Alliance predicted 250,000 acres of hemp can be grown on the Prairies by 2018.
It by no means got here shut.
Acreage has bounced round wildly — 41,000 acres in 2018, greater than doubling to 91,000 in 2019, plunging to 53,000 final 12 months and estimated at 66,000 this 12 months. And the numbers are much more erratic in Alberta: 6,100 acres in 2018, hovering to 34,600 in 2019, declining sharply to 22,700 final 12 months, after which bouncing again to 36,200 acres this 12 months, in accordance with Agriculture and Agri-Meals Canada’s estimates.
“There are tons of potential for hemp, however it’s not with out its problems,” mentioned Potter. “That’s the problem we’ve got down to clear up.”
There are challenges on the agronomic facet, too.
When Prairie producers first began rising hemp 1 / 4 of a century in the past, they needed to take care of varieties that grew as much as 4 metres excessive and produced a combine-choking quantity of biomass.
Even at present, there isn’t loads of details about rising hemp, which results in many making an attempt it and quitting after a season or two.
“It’s a matter of figuring issues out,” mentioned Martin Ekstrand, a farmer from Bow Island who has had hemp in his rotation for the final 10 years. “Nobody on the market is aware of methods to do it fully.
“It’s important to work out methods to do it your self, however it’s not as horrible as it’s made out to be loads of the time.”
Ekstrand grows 1,500 acres of hemp on irrigated land, and does dryland cropping as properly. (His rotation additionally consists of potatoes, important oils like dill and mint, and cereals.)
“Hemp is an effective rotational crop,” he mentioned. “It’s excellent in your floor. It has a pleasant, deep taproot. It shades the bottom so that you don’t have many weed issues. It’s a really aggressive plant — it chokes out weeds.”
Ekstrand mentioned he’s found out a system for rising, harvesting (he mentioned he solely has a little bit of wrapping when combining) and storage (hemp seed can simply spoil if the moisture content material is just too excessive).
“It’s a very simple plant to develop, you place it within the floor, you give it the groceries and there’s not a lot you are able to do,” he mentioned.
And one of many largest issues — leaping via loads of hoops to get a grower’s licence from Well being Canada — has just about gone away since hashish was legalized and the federal government not has to fret about producers making an attempt to sneak a number of acres of marijuana into their fields.
Probably the most possible option to develop hemp is on contract, mentioned Ekstrand, who is targeted on promoting hemp seed.
“The odd individual rising and not using a contract may have a tough time eliminating their product,” he mentioned.
And whereas the potential is big, there’s nonetheless loads of uncertainty.
“There’s been loads of corporations coming and going right here,” he mentioned. “They haven’t finished their homework, so they arrive in sizzling and heavy after which fall off.
“I used to be just a little nervous stepping into hemp, however it seems like there are processors coming this fashion which might be able to course of hemp fibre which might be already up and operating in numerous elements of the world.”
That’s a key growth, he mentioned.
“If we are able to get somebody that can tackle the fibre, it is going to be much more enticing plant to develop.”
Manny Deol, govt director of the Alberta Hemp Alliance, additionally sees nice potential for the crop, saying, “hemp could make 50,000 merchandise.”
“Hemp is probably the most versatile crop,” he mentioned. “You may make the whole lot from meals to gasoline.”
However the business remains to be in its infancy as the provision chain is just not but developed, and there’s a scarcity of processing capability for hurd and fibre, he added.
His two-year-old group is making an attempt to hurry that growth by connecting growers and consumers for the product, encouraging extra processing; and offering grower training.
“We’re going to get the phrase round,” mentioned Deol.
Whereas the provision chain for hemp seed is sweet, the one for fibre merchandise nonetheless has points, he mentioned.
Blue Sky Hemp Ventures goals to be “a world chief in entire plant utilization for hemp superfoods, CBD and sustainable industrial merchandise” by promoting seed, CBD, and fibre.
“Our enterprise mannequin has been constructed alongside the mannequin of entire plant utilization,” mentioned Potter. “We take all of the grain, we take the flower, which has CBD, we take all of the stalk. If we do our jobs proper, we are able to flip that into value-added merchandise.”
Creating wealth off the whole plant is the important thing to taking the sector to the subsequent stage, he mentioned.
“This mannequin is what it takes to convey hemp right into a mainstream crop,” mentioned Potter. “From our standpoint, we’re nearly to enter into a really massive progress section, which we predict will drive the business,” he mentioned.