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Industrial hemp growers launch national plan

Market research and development, quality control and processing capacity are among the goals of a new national strategy mapped out by Canada’s industrial hemp growers.

The strategy was rolled out Wednesday at the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance’s meeting in Winnipeg, mapping out the market potential and obstacles in the food, fibre and oil markets, as well as in hemp production and plant breeding.

Manitoba was among the “earliest adopters” of industrial hemp as a crop, as well as the necessary processing technologies, provincial Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk said in a release. The provincial and federal governments funded the strategy’s development through their joint Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (ARDI).

“This new strategy shows how far we’ve come while also identifying the opportunities and challenges that we must tackle for sustainable growth,” she said.

Among the supports needed from private and public business and research partners for a hemp industry, as per the new strategy, are:

  • development of commercial-scale hemp fibre processing and cost-effective hemp oil processing, plus access to risk capital for processing and manufacturing projects in those markets;
  • domestic and international market research, as well as work to maintain existing market access;
  • gauging the environmental and economic advantages of using hemp-based products compared to petroleum-based products;
  • crop variety research to meet the Canadian industry’s needs and to better suit on-farm best management practices and processing technologies;
  • seeking regulatory approvals to allow hemp-based ingredients in animal feed and pet treats;
  • creating fibre grading standards to provide consistent quality; and
  • a national industry voice to promote the interests of hemp stakeholders on these issues.

The strategy’s recommendations were drafted in consultations with stakeholders including farmers, processors, marketers and researchers across Canada, the province said. The initiative was backed by joint support from the federal and provincial governments, the CHTA and the Composites Innovation Centre.

This strategy will be shared between provincial governments, hemp industry groups and other stakeholders across Canada to help guide future initiatives and investments, Wowchuk said in the province’s release.

Canadian hemp seed exports increased 300 per cent from 2006 to 2007, the CHTA said. Hemp oil exports increased 85 per cent and fibre exports increased 65 per cent over that time.

The industrial hemp grown in Canada comes from strains of Cannabis sativa bred for the lowest level of THC, the compound found in higher levels in strains of cannabis used for medical and illegal recreational purposes. Hemp fibre is used for rope, fabric, paper, canvas and industrial insulation, while hempseed oil is used in specialty foods.

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