Hemp could be next breakthrough crop – Canada

By Simmons, Garrett on July 30, 2014.

Garrett Simmons

lethbridge herald

gsimmons@lethbridgeherald.com

Hemp could be positioned as a breakthrough crop for southern Alberta.

That’s the hope of a Manitoba company looking for more of the plant’s seed to aid in the production of a line of health-food products.

Last week, Manitoba Harvest officials visited southern Alberta to meet with growers and researchers, and encourage locals to jump on board.

According to Clarence Shwaluk, director of farm operations for Manitoba Harvest, the company is contracting about 6,000-9,000 acres of hemp in southern Alberta, and that’s poised to take off.

“We see southern Alberta as a growing market for us,” said Shwaluk. “Alberta gives us more diversification across the Prairies.”

That diversification will decrease the weather risks for hemp, said Shwaluk, as having hemp crops spread out in a number of areas will mitigate the impact regional storms have on hemp supply.

Manitoba Harvest expects to introduce a number of new products in the fall to build on its line of food products, which also includes hemp oils and hemp protein powder.

“We buy it on pounds,” said Shwaluk, who added enough hemp has been seeded this growing season to produce 25 million pounds. “It’s a significant increase.”

Southern Alberta could be part of an even bigger increase in 2015, considering the climate producers typically enjoy here.

“The real advantage is the irrigation,” said Shwaluk. “They can provide as much moisture as the crop needs and the good thing about southern Alberta is you don’t get excessive rainfall.”

He added hemp can be grown on dryland, but yields are typically better on irrigated fields. Farmers in this area, accustomed to growing a wide range of crops on that irrigated land, shouldn’t have difficultly adjusting to growing hemp, according to Shwaluk.

“It’s close to planting canola,” he said of a comparable crop, though he added hemp requires growers to be diligent when it comes to storage issues.

In terms of prices for hemp, Shwaluk added the crop has yielded solid results recently.

“Compared to other crops that are grown out there, for the growers that have hemp in their rotation, they will find it’s one of their most-profitable crops.”

He mentioned hemp is not victim to up-and-down market conditions like other crops, as there is a fairly small market for hemp, and mostly all of the acres grown are on contract for the processing industry. That price certainty is another positive for potential hemp growers to consider, as Shwaluk added the possibility of a hemp-fibre processing plant setting up shop in southern Alberta could provide another boost.

“We’re very optimistic about the future of industrial hemp.”