When Shaun Crew stepped up to the podium to accept a sizable loan from the federal government for Hemp Oil Canada’s new processing facility, it was fitting the president and CEO wore hemp pants. And hemp shoes. And even hemp socks, he confessed later.
Ted Falk, MP for Provencher, announced the $4.6 million of repayable funding on behalf of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Sept. 26. The investment is through the government’s Growing Forward 2 program.
“This is a dream I’ve had for 16 years,” said Crew about the new processing facility set to open along Highway 75 near Ste. Agathe.
Not long ago, hemp could be found on the “controlled substances” list. Production was illegal and many people thought the crop was synonymous with marijuana.
Crew started the company, which produces hemp food products, near the beginning of 1998 — one month before Canada re-legalized cultivating hemp following 60 years of prohibition.
“I’ll never forget the look on both my late mother or my wife’s face,” he laughed. “‘Hemp what? You’re going to do what!?’”
Crew jumped at the opportunity to be involved when a colleague told him hemp was going to be reintroduced and re-legalized. The risk paid off. His company has doubled in size every two years. Today, it makes a variety of products, including hemp seed oil, protein powder, flour and coffee. It transports hemp across Canada and internationally.
About 90,000 acres of hemp were grown across Canada in 2014, up from last year’s 66,671. According to crop insurance data, an estimated 17,300 acres were to be grown in Manitoba — up from last year’s 14,732.
Hemp production has proved to be a lucrative business. Contracts on the crop range from 65 cents to 90 cents a pound for conventional and $1.20 for organic production. In 2012, Canada exported over $21 million worth of hemp products to international markets.
Canada is currently the largest producer of hemp seeds and edible hemp byproducts in the world.
“This indeed has turned into a trail-blazing experience,” said Crew. “We were challenged to make new products using new processes and then selling those into new markets worldwide.”
The new facility will integrate new technology for enhanced food safety and quality standards. Crew was sure to stress the importance of the government loan in securing the balance for the expansion — which will cost $13.6 million.
“To be quite honest with you, if we hadn’t obtained it, it would have been much more difficult for us to raise the rest of the capital.”
Hemp Oil Canada’s new processing facility is set to open in March.