A rapidly growing market and attractive payoffs have some producers considering diversifying into industrial hemp production.
“Right now hemp is trading at about 85 to 95 cents per pound. Last year, I think the provincial average on yield was around 1,100 to 1,200 pounds. It makes it to be a fairly attractive crop to grow and thus we do have more acres this year,” said Jeffery Kostuik, diversification specialist with Parkland Crop Diversification Foundation (PCDF), which has been working on hemp agronomy since its legalization in 1998.
Canada exports $40 million in hemp products annually. They include the grain, exterior fibre and the interior byproduct, most commonly used for animal bedding.
“Currently there is no real fibre processing in Canada, so most of the focus on hemp has been for grain and grain has carried the industry to what it is today. Crop insurance has about 84 per cent insured acres keyed in and we are at about 20,000 acres in Manitoba right now,” Kostuik said.
A licence from Health Canada is required to grow industrial hemp and testing for the narcotic compound THC may be required on some varieties.
In 2014, there were 292 industrial hemp commercial licences issued in Manitoba and 1,135 across Canada. Just over 27,000 acres were cultivated in Manitoba in 2014, with the CRS-1 variety the most commonly grown.
PCDF grew hemp variety trials at four locations in Manitoba in 2014, including Arborg, Carberry, Melita and Roblin as well as two locations in Saskatchewan.
Ten varieties were grown at each test site, including Canda, CFX-1, CFX-2, CRS-1, Debbie, Delores, Finola, Joey, Silesia and X59.
“CRS is a Genetics International variety. It probably has the most acres in Manitoba right now,” said Kostuik. “Canda is a variety out of Ontario and probably a little bit more suited for Ontario conditions. We have had it in plots a few years back and we just got it back in this year as they have shown some interest in us growing it.”
Kostuik says while there is no official data on the X59 variety, it has a really tight head and the bract hangs on to the seed well, which is good in windy regions but is more difficult to harvest than comparable varieties.
The Joey variety has been noted as the highest-yielding variety in all locations and Finola was consistently the lowest yielding.
Seeding and harvest
“Hemp would rather be seeded late into warm soils, around 10 C. The end of May is when we are recommending seeding,” Kostuik said. “Hemp doesn’t like its feet wet when it is young but once it gets established, it is a beast and will take a lot of moisture.”
Seeding is recommended at half an inch and 25 pounds per acre. Hemp is nutrient hungry and flourishes in well-manured fields.
There are currently no pesticides registered for hemp and in recent years PCDF noted susceptibility to sclerotinia.
“In Roblin we are doing a seeding date trial and we found that the later we went into the year in seeding we were actually able to have less incidence of sclerotinia and they still matured at approximately the same time,” Kostuik said.
Producers should aim to harvest hemp while the plant contains a bit of moisture, as it will move through the combine easier.
“We are recommending starting harvesting around 17 to 18 per cent. Nine to 10 per cent moisture is considered dry.
Fire during harvest is a concern due to the dust off the combine.
Remaining stubble can be taken care of with the use of a land roller, and heavy harrowing into windrows. The remainder will need to be burned off.
“Heavy harrowing does take care of it, but I would suggest waiting into mid- to late October, as the stalk really dries down and comes out of the ground quite easily or breaks.”
Currently there are two marketers in Manitoba, which have both undergone extensive expansion in the past two years — Hemp Genetics in Ste. Agathe and Manitoba Harvest out of Winnipeg.
“Growth on the marketing side is anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent, mostly into the American market,” Kostuik said.