[UPDATED: Feb. 22, 2021] The town of Bruderheim will soon be home to North America’s largest hemp-processing facility.
Canadian Rockies Hemp Corporation says its under-construction plant in the community northeast of Edmonton is on track to be finished this summer.
“Construction started last fall (in 2019), but it was put on hold for the last nine months,” said Aaron Barr, CEO and chief horticulturalist of the privately owned company.
The project was delayed when the company’s original financing plan fell through because of the pandemic, but earlier this month it announced it had obtained an $18-million injection of equity and debt financing from Merida Capital Holdings, a private equity firm.
“We met banking conditions before Christmas, and got condition release, and now the construction crews are back at it,” said Barr. “The facility is over 50 per cent complete now. It will take us about three months to finish the one processing building, which is the main building on site. We’ll finish the other two buildings over the summer.”
A 60,000-square-foot facility will process hemp for fibre, hurd, and dust products.
Alberta has advantages for both hemp growing and manufacturing, said Barr.
“We have a unique opportunity here in Alberta, due to our really dry climate,” he said. “Most hemp fibre processors have to store all of their materials indoors to prevent their bales from rotting. We don’t have to do that. We can do all outdoor storage of our bales.
“As a result, we’re contracting a large amount of acres because we can store all that raw material outdoors for two to four years without decaying.”
Canadian Rockies Hemp contracts local producers to grow the hemp under one of two contracts: One for fibre only and another for hemp straw.
“The primary production we grow is just single-purpose hemp fibre, which is like a single-purpose hay crop,” said Barr. “So it’s generally your last seeded crop and the first one you cut. We start our harvesting process at the end of July and wrap up cutting by mid-August. Then we do all the raking and baling.”
Last year, the company had contracts with about 50 growers, but this year will have fewer growers with more acres. The growers are mostly around the Bruderheim area.
Farmers can do their own harvesting or have Canadian Rockies Hemp do it.
“We do all the harvesting — cutting, raking, baling, and then hauling. It’s an attractive package for farmers, because they can just seed and walk away,” he said.
Once the bales are brought to the facility, the fibre is separated from the woody core, also known as the hurd. Barr said there is a global market for fibre for products such as textiles, building materials, composites and bioplastics. The biggest market for hurd is animal bedding.
“We have some contracts to supply some high-end racehorse facilities in the U.S., and quite a few arenas here, recently,” he said.
Hurd can also be used in green building materials, such as a building block called hempcrete.
When operating at capacity, the facility can process 50,000 acres of hemp annually and produce up to 50,000 tonnes of fibre and 110,000 tonnes of hurd each year, the company said. It plans to hire between 20 to 30 people for full-time work this year, and anticipates hiring another 25 to 35 by next winter, Barr said.
The company has been working with Alberta Innovates and Innotech in Vegreville since 2012. It has also hosted community workshops, farm seminars, and has hired agronomists and summer students to liaise with farmers.
“We’ve been active with companies around the world, and looking for different opportunities to get biomaterials into manufacturing,” said Barr. “Our background comes from medical cannabis. We were trying to find a way to use that waste stream after medical cannabis.”
Barr compared the company’s facility to a pulp mill or an oil and gas plant.
“We just use hemp as our raw material to make it into another material,” he said. “It needs to be that large-scale 24-7, 365-day plant to really make economic sense.
“We didn’t want to make a small facility and just grow. We needed a starting point that was going to be substantial to feed a lot of these major manufacturers.”
The company, founded in 2016, has 13 owners, and 50 shareholders.
*Update: A line mentioning that the new hemp-processing facility will process CBD products was removed. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.