Looking at hemp

Art McElroy displays some of the industrial hemp being grown at the Harrington Research Farm. Researchers at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada facility are testing different organic varieties to determine will grow best in the Island climate

While it often suffers guilt by association because it is in the same family as marijuana, industrial hemp is a crop that is showing a great deal of potential on PEI.

The Certified Organic Producers Co-op, together with Photogene Resources, recently held an organic help field day that attracted over 35 producers. While a permit from Health Canada is needed to grow hemp. Art McElroy maintains it is "no more dangerous than a bag of carrots."

Hemp fibre can be used in making clothing, ropes, and paper; the grain can be stewed, roasted, and milled for food; and the oil derived from the grain has been used for cosmetics, lighting, paints, varnishes, and medicinal preparations. Nathalie Morin, who is in charge of procurement at Aliments Trigone Inc. in Quebec (the only plant in the country processing industrial hemp seed), noted the prototype for Henry Food's first car was made out of hemp fibreglass .

Saskatchewan grower Larry Marshall said he knows at least one producer in Manitoba who is growing hemp as part of his potato rotation.

The research coordinator with PhytoGene Resources explained industrial hemp contains only a trace amount of tetrahydrocannabinol THC, the compound in marijuana that produces a chemical reaction in users, and it must be tested to ensure it does not exceed the 0.3 per cent level.

McElroy said anybody thinking of growing industrial hemp simply has to be used to the fact they will be dealing with a regulatory agency. he said Health Canada will need to know the exact location of the field and the crop will have to be tested to ensure it falls within the guidelines, with all sampling and laboratory fees the responsibility of the grower.

His company is working with researchers at Harrington Farm to determine what varieties are best suited to the Island climate. McElroy said the results so far have been promising, adding shorter varieties appear to be best suited since they are easier to combine.

However, he cautioned "it is not the easiest crop in the world to grow." The stocks can become caught in the combine, making harvesting difficult, especially if the plant has been exposed to temperatures below -6 degrees. He noted the crop is not sensitive to Round-Up.

Morin told producers there has been a 24.6 per cent increase in consumption of hemp products within the past decade. Her company, located on the south shore of Quebec about two hours east of Quebec City, specializes in processing shelled hemp and buckwheat.

She noted the unshelled hemp product her company shells contains three omega fatty acids and 35 grams of shelled seeds contain 12 per cent of the recommended protein intake for adults. Company owner Jacques Cote said the firm has markets in the United States and Europe and contracts with growers from across the country. He added producers should realize a return in the range of $1,000 an acre.

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