Firm plans first area hemp crop in spring
The strictly commercial planting, near Tillsonburg, will be the first in 70 years in Canada.
By Eric Bender Free Press Business Reporter
Canada's first commercial hemp crop in 70 years will be planted next spring.;
The recent passage of legislation paving the way for commercial hemp is involving at least one area company. It will have up to 1,000 acres under cultivation.
Geof Kime of London, president of Hempline Inc., says he expects the firm to be in full commercial production by next year.
Hempline has been researching hemp growth using seed imported from Europe and under strict federal regulations in the Tillsonburg area for the last three years.
"We're still doing research finetuning crop production techniques," says Kime. "The main market is south of the border. Ninety per cent will go there."
NEW EQUIPMENT: Hempline officials are working with various machine designers and fabricators to develop basic harvesting equipment and are looking to build a plant site for drying and baling harvested hemp in the immediate area.
The company will employ a staff of 10 when in full production. Kime said the firm hopes to interest Tillsonburg and London area farmers in growing hemp for the first time. It's touted as an excellent crop to rotate with traditional crops of the region tobacco, corn and beans.
A number of American companies are interested in using hemp fibre to blend with cotton and wool, said Kime.
Joe Strobel of Tillsonburg, a founding member of the business, said much of the machinery needed to process the tough hemp fibres isn't available because hemp hasn't been grown in Canada since the early quarter of the century.
NOT STRONG ENOUGH: He said machinery for other plant fibres and in pulp mills isn't strong enough to handle hemp in the spinning, weaving, chipping and pulping processes.
Hemp production, once a thriving commodity, died out in the 1920s when the federal government banned it and its toxic cannabis cousin, marijuana. The plants are similar but hemp contains low levels of tetrahydrocannibinol, THC, its psychoactive element.
Hempline has been one of several experimental growers licensed by Ottawa in the last several years to explore a return to commercial production.
Kime said the bureaucrats at Health Canada have promised hemp regulations will be in place by January following the passage of Bill C8 in early May freeing hemp from the drug portion of federal legislation.
A key component of the law, fought for by Kime, means hemp stalks minus leaves and flower can be transported like any other product without fear of arrest.
But how onerous the grower regulations are remains to be seen.
Kime said Britain has regulations requiring licensing, while Germany doesn't.
The control of seeds may be enough to satisfy legislators, he said. Control of seeds means ensuring the cannabis seeds are of the low THC variety with less than 0.3 per cent.
Cannabis seeds are planted in early spring, as soon as planters can get on the land, and the tall plants are harvested at the end of summer.
A HEADSTART: Kime and Bill Baxter, rural business consultant with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, said Canada is getting a leg up on the Americans, who they feel are at least three to four years away from legalizing hemp cultivation.
Baxter said he has received hundreds of calls about growing hemp but doesn't know how many are serious about starting a business.
"The big question is markets. Is there a buyer, at what price and how much?"
He said hemp proponents in Ontario believe the profits will be in plant fibres for a wide range of products, including clothing, paper, building products and even fuel. It may turn out that hemp seed, used for oils, extracts, ink and medicinal purposes, is the profit centre, he added, with the fibre being sold as a byproduct.
Baxter said the area from Middlesex to Essex counties, plus south Huron and Perth, are prime hempgrowing areas, while hemp is being considered as a rotational or alternative crop on tobacco lands in the region.
"We're gungho, but with caution."