Saturday , 31 July 2021

Processing plant seeks northern Alberta farmers interested in growing hemp

Eco-Terre is aiming to create a hemp processing plant for textiles in north-eastern Alberta.

In order to verify the facility’s location in western Canada, they are wanting to secure producers or potential producers within 100 kilometres of the facility.

Originally from Quebec, Eco-Terre believes northern Alberta is the ideal place for growing hemp fibre, and they will be supplying customers such as the Canadian Armed Forces and Canada Post.

Last week representatives met via Zoom with potential producers and market specialists to discuss benefits and concerns.

Eco-terre is looking for farmers to sign on for approximately 10,000 – 12,000 acres of dual purpose hemp in the 2021 growing season which would supply them with winter retted hemp straw next spring.

“The price we would pay for straw would range from $80 – $100 per tonne. In addition we would be hiring five technical people, and 17 normal workers without overhead. The city [Lloydminster] would also be a source for secretaries, accountants, and a director for the processing plant,” said Eco-terre chief operating officer Carlos Agudelo.

“We are looking forward to joining you and the schedule is very tight, but we hope to find some participants.”

He said they may look toward other places depending on weather and they get any contracts in by March 15.

They are currently negotiating with a farmer in Glaslyn, Saskatchewan, but with funding from the Alberta government, they are wanting to find a location west of the border.

Even 1,000 – 3,000 additional acres would ease their risk.

“To get even well-retted stocks is really important for us. The consistency of the level of retting will affect the quality of the product,” said Oliver Lalonde, agronomist and supply chain manager.

He said the retting process is inexpensive, using the microbial activity of the soil. Stalks are left standing over the winter and after being cut, sun and soil moisture will create enzymes. They are raked and left flat (not put in a swath) to achieve consistency.

As a result, stocks will pass from green to yellow, and even to grey and black.

With hemp seed going for approximately $0.63 per pound, on 100 acres a farmer could potentially make $63,000 for the seed and $30,000 for the straw – but Lalonde said the outcome is always a matter of experience and how you manage your field.

“There is a lot of opportunity for the region with this,” said Katlin Ducherer, economic development officer for the City of Lloydminster.

Participants were concerned about the timeline and other crops being at an all time high, they may not want to gamble on a new crop. Lalonde said the price for the straw will remain, and the price for the seed could fluctuate over time.

“What we promote is sustainability. the textile industry in Canada is basically dead – there are only two spinners in Canada and we work with both to build a Canadian industry,” said Lalonde.

Local Vermilion farmer, Greg Lumley, said he’s all for trying something new if it can be economically sound for the company at the same time as making himself a profit.

“Last summer I went and looked at a field of hemp but now there’s a bit of a commodity boom, and why would I test something brand new when canola, wheat and barley are selling at an all time high? In two years, that might be over so we may all be looking at hemp.” said Lumley.

“It looks like we can seed it a little later and harvest it a little earlier. It would fit in a rotation and I think it’s a probably a fit for 10 -15 per cent of your acres.”

Simon Noster, from Derwent is in his fifth season of growing hemp.

“Some varieties are meant just for fibre, some for grain and some are dual purpose. Currently we use Sinaloa which is one of the shortest varieties just for grain. It grows between 3’ – 6’ tall whereas the varieties they want are 7’ – 8’ tall. Varieties exclusively for fibre can be 16’ tall but wouldn’t get any grain,” said Noster.

Another facility is almost ready to open in Bruderheim, but he said it does not focus on textiles, but other niche markets with the ability to accept other qualities of fibres. Eco-Terre is looking for farmers to use dual purpose varieties.

“It would be awesome if there were two companies locally willing to buy fibre, because then it would make sense to go back into dual purpose varieties,” said Noster.

With production facilities coming in after they started, he said they haven’t been able to sell a single bale of fibre yet. After their first year, they moved away from growing a dual purpose variety.

As an organic farmer, Noster said he uses hemp in his rotation every year to improve soil and said it is good at stopping disease cycles.

“Hemp has a really good tap root, so it reaches nutrients and if you have an established crop, it will create nice channels that allow for better moisture penetration and retention,” said Noster.

Lalonde said loam is the best type of soil for growing hemp and field selection is an important, but if well done it can be really competitive.

Once conventional farmers find out hemp is a stable crop, Noster thinks more of them will consider growing it. He recommends growing hemp for the seed and looking at the fibre as a value added agriculture option.

He did say that it is his most difficult and demanding crop.

“It’s a lot like bailing up twine sometimes, but I’m glad we grow hemp. It can be nice to have another crop in the rotation that makes good money,” said Noster.

For more information you can contact Oliver Lalonde at 450-502-5851.

About Angela Mouly

Angela comes to Lakeland Connect after leaving traditional newspaper where she spent the past four years reporting on community events. Her repertoire includes writing about history, politics, agriculture, sports, entertainment and art. She was the third place recipient of an AWNA General Excellence Award for “Best Front Page” during their 2016 Better Newspaper Competition. Angela has lived in rural Alberta all her life and in Vermilion for the past 15 years. She looks forward to continuing to serve and inform the Lakeland community by joining in people's many adventures and sharing their stories.