Canada: Hemp Firm Hopes to Build Prairie Processing Plant

By Ed White, Winnipeg bureau

Canada:Hemp Firm Hopes to Build Prairie Processing Plant The hemp industry is trying to convince producers to give the business a chance.

Industry players told farmers attending the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance convention in Winnipeg Nov. 17 that the industry is truly growing.

They said demand for fibre soon won’t be just a promise but something for which farmers will be able to sign contracts.

“During the next two to three growing seasons we plan upon supplementing our imports with Canadian fibre,” said Jason Finness of Naturally Advanced Technologies (NAT).

He said once NAT builds a decortication plant, it will likely pay $90 to $130 per tonne for baled hemp straw picked up at the farmgate.

Finness’ company is well-known to central Saskatchewan farmers who had hoped to supply a plant NAT said it planned to build in Craik, Sask. It would separate fibre from the hemp plant’s stalks to make fabric.

Those plans fell through, with NAT saying it had two-thirds of the money it needed to build the plant but was unable to convince the Saskatchewan government to supply the rest.

Now NAT is importing hemp fibre from Europe, processing it in the United States and selling it to major manufacturers.

Once these manufacturers begin full commercial runs of hemp fibre, NAT wants to obtain hemp fibre from Canada.

NAT hopes to build a decortication plant on the Prairies in 2010 to meet product launch hopes for 2011.

“We will be pushing hard to get our Crailar organic fibre serious volume going by early next year,” Finnis said.

Farmers at the conference asked whether the plant would want square or round bales. Finnis said his company is working with European fibre extractors to see which makes most sense.

Farmers who want to supply hemp fibre will also need to ensure that they grow fibre varieties rather than the seed varieties that now comprise almost the entire acreage in Canada.

Hemp production has had a rocky history in Western Canada since being legalized in March 1998. Farmers have occasionally been left without buyers and acreage has surged and slumped.

However, small companies have developed markets, and Sean Crew of Hemp Oil Canada said his company’s move into profitability five years ago demonstrates that hemp products can form a real industry.

It’s made him optimistic that today’s food and fibre uses are only scratching the surface.

“Where can’t we go?” he asked. “The opportunities, I think, with the hemp industry are just about endless right now.”

For more on the Winnipeg meetings see Ed White's additional story from this same event.

For more info: