Hemp could become the next big crop in Alberta now that big processing plants have arrived, say advocates at an upcoming conference.
About 200 people will gather at the Edmonton International Airport’s Renaissance Hotel April 21 for the Exploring the World of Hemp Opportunities conference.
Hemp is an emerging industry which could create jobs and diversify Alberta’s economy, said St. Albert resident Perry Kinkaide, who organized this conference on behalf of the Alberta Hemp Alliance.
“Everyone is ‘high’ on the value of hemp seed and hemp oils as a nutritional food source,” he noted, and researchers are finding new uses for hemp fibres in fabrics, plastics, and airplane components.
Kinkaide said this year’s hemp conference, the third he has organized since 2018, will focus on financial and marketing barriers for hemp in Alberta. Guests will hear from panellists from major investment banks and hemp producers about the challenges and opportunities of hemp, and also listen in on keynote addresses from Alberta Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson.
Kinkaide said he sees hemp as a rapidly developing technology with a huge number of industrial applications.
“An entire supply chain can be built right here in Alberta.”
Not just rope
Hemp is cannabis that contains no more than 0.3 per cent THC (the main psychoactive substance found in cannabis), said Jesse Hahn of Natural Fibre Technologies, a panellist at the conference. Legal to grow in Canada since 1998, hemp has typically been raised for its seeds, which are rich in omega fatty acids, and its fibrous stalks, which his company uses in hempcrete cinder blocks. Since recreational cannabis was legalized in 2018, farmers have also been able to sell hemp flowers and leaves, the substances in which have many medical applications.
Hemp is still a rare crop in Alberta, said Manny Deol of the Alberta Hemp Alliance — he estimated that there are maybe 40,000 acres of it under cultivation here, compared to some 6.7 million acres of canola, as of 2021.
Kinkaide said hemp faces a processing bottleneck in Alberta, particularly in terms of decortication facilities to separate hemp stalks into their component fibres. These processing plants typically cost tens of millions of dollars, which is a steep price for investors to overcome.
Deol said Canadian Rockies Hemp Corp., Inca Renewtech, and Blue Sky Hemp Ventures are developing large hemp processing plants in Alberta, and they will want hemp from local farmers. He predicted Alberta would have more than a million acres of hemp planted within five years as a result.
Kinkaide said new, truck-sized decortication machines which cost about $300,000 have recently emerged on the market. Such devices could be more affordable to farming communities and could help them start up a hemp industry.
Hahn said governments can help hemp flourish by allowing farmers to plant more varieties of it and sell hemp seed as animal feed.
Hahn pitched hemp as a high-value crop which farmers can add to their crop rotations to reduce the risk of soil-borne diseases such as clubroot (which can devastate canola). It is also a rapidly renewable resource which people can use in place of many wood and petrochemical products, reducing our reliance on forestry and fossil fuels.
“It has enormous potential,” he said.
The conference runs from April 21 to 22. Tickets start at $167. Visit www.keinetwork.net for details.