CNS Canada — Hemp continues to draw interest as an alternative cropping option in Western Canada, but its slow pace in moving toward deregulation may be limiting the upside acreage potential.
Early expectations are for planted area of about 100,000 acres this year, which would be slightly above what was seeded in 2014 and a new record, according to Kim Shukla of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.
The area could be even larger, she said, but governmental delays in dealing with the regulatory issues surrounding the crop were hindering growth to some extent.
Due to industrial hemp’s association with its cousin marijuana, farmers need to be licensed through Health Canada and pass a criminal record check in order to grow the crop. Testing is also required to confirm levels of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — are below the allowable 0.3 per cent.
Canadian farmers have now been growing hemp for nearly 20 years, and with “hundreds of thousands of samples” taken over that time, none of the original concerns over THC levels or other linkages with marijuana have ever been borne out, said Shukla.
As a result, the industry has requested that the crop be deregulated, but that process has been very slow.
After a number of delays over the past few years, Shukla had been expecting to hear something from the regulatory review process by this September, but with a looming federal election this fall, “we very much doubt that that will happen.”
On a provincial level, both the Alberta and Manitoba governments have shown support to the hemp sector, which Shukla said was somewhat supportive as efforts are made to move forward on the federal level.
The Saskatchewan government was relatively quiet, she added, but noted the province still accounted for the most of the hemp grown in Western Canada.
“New people on board”
On top of desire for deregulation, the hemp sector is also in need of more processing capacity. “This is the one crop where we can say it is completely processed in Canada,” said Shukla, adding there is a large untapped demand, especially from the U.S., for hempseed and related products.
Current laws restrict cross-border movement of unprocessed hemp seed, she said.
The CHTA is also in the process of applying to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to get hemp approved as a poultry feed ingredient, which would open up new markets for any lower-quality production.
“People who grow it continue to grow it, and every year there are new people on board,” said Shukla, noting contracted prices over the past few years remain favourable for producers.
Demonstration plots were being set up across Western Canada this year to introduce hemp to new growers, she said. From a rotation standpoint, hemp does well following a legume, as it is a heavy nitrogen feeder.
— Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity reporting.