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Hearings planned for hemp agency

Farm Products Council is seeking feedback on a proposed hemp promotion and research group

The Farm Products Council of Canada (FPCC) is seeking input on a proposal for a hemp group.

The Canadian Industrial Hemp Promotion and Research Agency (PRA) would be funded by levies applied to domestically produced and imported hemp products.

The first step for FPCC is to collect views from interested persons or groups on the proposal, which have to be submitted by Nov. 24. Hearings by an FPCC panel will come later.

The Canadian Hemp Producers submitted the proposal to FPCC a year ago accompanied by a 57-page brief and a request for hearings last spring.

Don Dewar.
photo: File/Allan Dawson

Don Dewar of Dewar Seed Farm near Dauphin, said hemp growers have the support of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA) for the PRA as it would be “an important step forward in the development of the Canadian industrial hemp industry.”

Hemp growers spent 18 months working on the proposal before it was submitted, he said. Surveys show the proposal is supported by 80 per cent of current hemp growers. The PRA would be administered by the CHTA and would need to work out protocols with the nine provinces where the crop is grown.

During a recent appearance before the Senate agriculture committee, Ted Haney, CHTA executive director, said industrial hemp production in Canada resumed in 1998 after decades of being banned because of its association with marijuana. The government decision to legalize marijuana production simplifies life for hemp growers.

Hemp plants produce food, feed and a resin that can be used in making medical marijuana. Acreage has climbed from zero in 1998 to 55,854 acres (or 138,000 hectares) in 2017, he said. Newfoundland is the only province where it isn’t grown.

“Sales exceeded $60 million at the farm gate, with processed product sales of over $130 million generating exports of just over $90 million,” he said. Growth of hemp’s food uses will require the development of domestic and international standards, he said. Standards will enable products to be sold domestically and exported.

While hemp has long been a livestock feed in other jurisdictions, the practice has been illegal in Canada, which meant growers whose crop didn’t make food grade couldn’t sell it as feed.

Hemp seeds are a great animal feed and “we need to complete the registration of that product, as well, for animal feed in Canada. Opening the livestock feed sector to Canadian hemp seed and processed hemp seed derivatives will eliminate a great deal of the market risks, allowing for a confident and consistent expansion of production, irrelevant of how well the food market is operating in any one year.”

There’s no market yet for hemp fibre and producers often dispose of it by burning in the fields, he said.

“The primary constraint to profitable hemp utilization in Canada is the lack of decortication, or fibre separation capacity,” he said.

Rob Ziner, CEO of the Canadian Industrial Hemp Corp., told the committee that while more than US$1 billion worth of hemp products sold in North America in 2016, more than 99 per cent of the hemp in those goods was imported from overseas.

“Canada imported more than $25 million worth of the actual hemp fibre itself from Europe and China and also imported more than $20 million of finished hemp products,” he said.

“There was 200,000 tonnes of stalk created across Canada in 2017 from the seed crop and more than 90 per cent was either burned in the fields or disposed of at a cost equalling 10 per cent of the farmers’ entire seed crop revenue. It was all wasted.

“The potential value which can be added to 200,000 tonnes of stalk is over $200 million. Converting stalk into fibre is a huge profit opportunity, and fibre has been converted from stalk for literally thousands of years.”

To be internationally competitive, Canada will need to become a low-cost, high-quality producer of hemp fibres regardless of our labour costs, he said.

“More hemp will need to be grown, and the way to do this is to motivate the farmers to grow hemp only for fibre in some cases, which will end up delivering them the highest revenue of almost any crop grown in Canada for the fibre,” Ziner said.

To process the crop, Canada needs to pursue state-of-the-art hemp fibre-processing facilities using 21st-century advanced manufacturing and intelligent automation, he said.

“The industry needs to process hemp the same way cars are built and computers are assembled, using artificial intelligence-driven, integrated manufacturing systems.”

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