Hemp’s pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less

Hemp’s pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less, says pro­ducer

Regina Leader-Post - - Canada's Farm Progress Show - JOANNE PAUL­SON

“Hemp is a rugged plant. It doesn’t need much: liv­ing soil, clean wa­ter and some sun. It’s not flashy. It has no showy flow­ers, but the slen­der stalks and bristling leaves pro­tect a whole­some trea­sure: hemp seeds.” YouTube video: The Story of Hemp.

That has in­deed been the ex­pe­ri­ence of Larry Mar­shall, an or­ganic farmer near Shell­brook, Saskatchewan, who has been grow­ing hemp for 15 years. He has seen de­mand for the crop grow sig­nif­i­cantly over that time.

“The mar­ket is re­ally strong for it as a health food,” said Mar­shall, who was fea­tured in the video, from his farm. “There are hemp hearts, which are de­hulled seed; the pro­tein pow­der and the oil. You press the oil out of the seed and the re­main­ing fi­bre is left for pow­der.”

Hemp con­tains Omega 3, 6 and 9 oils, and “it’s bet­ter than flax in terms of the bal­ance of omega oils,” he added. Most com­monly, peo­ple will put the seed on their ce­real or yo­gurt, and the pro­tein pow­der is pop­u­lar with veg­e­tar­i­ans and body builders, he said.

Be­cause of the health ben­e­fits, de­mand for hemp is in­creas­ing by 30 per cent per year, which is quite phe­nom­e­nal growth, said Mar­shall.

“Farm­ers have learned how to grow big­ger crops than they have in the past, so yield has been higher, es­pe­cially on the con­ven­tional side: you put more fer­til­izer to hemp and you get more seed. It’s quite an amaz­ing crop in that way,” said Mar­shall.

Most hemp is con­tracted by pro­ces­sors on an acreage ba­sis, but they have pulled back on con­tracts this year due to the re­cent over­pro­duc­tion. There­fore, acres will be down from last year, when 100,000 were sown in Canada — 40,000 of those in Saskatchewan.

“Not very much is con­tracted (this year) on the con­ven­tional side,” said Mar­shall. “Now, the or­ganic side, there’s all kinds of de­mand for that, so there is an in­crease in or­ganic acres, but there still won’t be enough to fill de­mand.

“We def­i­nitely can use more pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties. It seems like the de­mand is there, but there’s only so much that can be pro­cessed. They’re go­ing pretty much full swing, the pro­ces­sors.”

At present, there are three ma­jor pro­ces­sors in Man­i­toba, one in Que­bec and two in Bri­tish Columbia. There are a few smaller ones as well, in­clud­ing Bio­rig­i­nal Food and Sci­ence in Saska­toon, while Farmer Di­rect in Regina con­tracts acres and sells to pro­ces­sors.

By far the largest amount of Canada’s hemp goes to the United States, where a co­nun­drum ex­ists: farm­ers can­not grow it, but pro­ces­sors can process it. One of the U.S. hemp prod­ucts is a pill con­tain­ing the cannabi­noid in the hemp leaf, said to help with seizures; that prod­uct is sourced from Europe and Aus­tralia.

“The Amer­i­cans are very close to grow­ing it; they’re do­ing the re­search, and they re­ally want to grow it. How it will af­fect us, I don’t re­ally know,” said Mar­shall. “The U.S. is our big­gest mar­ket by far. Prob­a­bly 80 per cent of the hemp gets ex­ported to the States.”

Grow­ing hemp in Canada does come with some re­stric­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Hemp Trade Al­liance, hemp is reg­u­lated by Health Canada, be­cause of its clas­si­fi­ca­tion as a cannabis plant. Grow­ers must be li­censed and are al­lowed to plant cer­ti­fied seed only.

But there is cer­tainly a mar­ket: retail sales of Cana­dian-de­rived hemp prod­ucts are es­ti­mated at be­tween $20 and $40 mil­lion USD an­nu­ally, says the Al­liance.

“It has amaz­ing value-added po­ten­tial,” said Mar­shall. “There’s all kinds of pro­cess­ing that can be done from the seed… and from the leaf. We have an amaz­ing crop here; not only is it su­per-healthy, but for or­gan­ics, it’s one of the best crops there is. It’s the fastest­grow­ing. I can ac­tu­ally seed it as late as July 1 and still get a crop.”

In­deed, it grows “like a weed” — bounc­ing back from hail and cold weather.

“The va­ri­ety we grow was de­vel­oped in Fin­land, which is north of the 60th par­al­lel,” said Mar­shall. “You could grow it in the Yukon, no prob­lem. It’s light sen­si­tive, so the farther north you are, the faster it grows; and it’s amaz­ing how much faster it does grow.”

And Mar­shall sees far wider op­por­tu­nity. Hemp fi­bre is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated as a ma­te­rial for build­ing blocks for homes, as just one ex­am­ple.

“I see po­ten­tial — we call it the next Cin­derella crop. If we can use the whole plant, that will be amaz­ing.”

GETTY IM­AGES

Be­cause of its health ben­e­fits, de­mand for hemp prod­ucts con­tin­ues to in­crease by 30 per cent an­nu­ally.

SUP­PLIED PHOTO

Larry Marshall farms hemp near Shell­brook with his son Josh.

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