Back in 2018 hemp conference speakers were conveying the message that the future looked bright. An age of development and expansion was at hand for the crop.
Hemp acres since, however, have not matched the surge in excitement.
Grain hemp acres have yet to recover to their pre-2018 levels, according to seeding data from the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC). Between 2014 and 2017, the Crown corporation insured between 14,491 to 27,296 acres of hemp, reaching a maximum in 2017.
The years before, in 2015-16, the market had seen a dramatic upturn, after consumers in South Korea suddenly discovered Canadian hemp, and could not get enough. Demand surged. The meteoric rise, however, did not last. In 2017, just as acres in Manitoba reached their peak, cheaper hemp out of places like China was suddenly displacing Canadian hemp in those key Asian markets and the bubble burst.
In Canada, the hemp sector suddenly faced a serious issue of oversupply. Across the board, companies struggled to move inventory, while prices dropped.
In late 2017, farmers contracted through Fresh Hemp Foods (the parent company of Manitoba Harvest) said they had received letters asking them to accept a lower contract price in exchange for a priority slot on grain movement and the following round of contracts.
At the time, the company argued that the move would help speed sales and course correct the market, although farmers expressed frustration, arguing that they felt strong-armed into taking the deal.
By 2018, hemp acres in Manitoba had plummeted, with only 10,120 insured grain acres grown, according to MASC. Since then, levels have only moderately increased, despite hopes stemming from cannabis legalization. Last year, 11,309 acres of grain hemp and 1,082 acres of organic hemp were insured in Manitoba.