I’d like to start today with a quote from one of my favourite humans, Carl Sagan. It saddens me that I never got to meet him personally but his body of work and his strength of character is a legacy that few will surpass. I tend to quote Carl a lot.
One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as new ones arise.
So I can safely say that it is never surprising that when I speak to Nova Scotia MLAs about creating a hemp processing industry here, the first thing out of their mouths is a pot joke. None of them were even aware that it has been legal to grow in Canada for 14 years. Oh Please. Can we move into the 21st century now?
As the world’s premier renewable resource, hemp has been the source of food and fibre for the past 10,000 years. Hemp fibre has been used to make clothing, ropes, and paper; the grain has been stewed, roasted, and milled for food; and the oil derived from the grain has been used for cosmetics, lighting, paints, varnishes, and medicinal preparations. The reason for this is that Hemp is a rapidly renewable resource that can be grown in different climates and soils. Hemp does not require pesticides or fertilizers to grow. It is one of the strongest natural fibers, naturally resistant to mold, mildew, salt water and UV light.
Like the marijuana plant, industrial hemp belongs to the species Cannabis sativa L. However, unlike marijuana, it only contains small quantities of the psychoactive drug delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Nevertheless, the cultivation of both marijuana and industrial hemp were banned in Canada in 1938, largely because the US did it.
Hemp fibre contains no measurable amounts of THC, and is renowned for its resistance to rotting and wear and tear, as well as for its high tensile properties that make it durable and strong. These qualities have been recognized through real life applications over thousands of years.
Since 1994, a small number of Canadian companies, as well as Canadian universities and provincial governments have researched industrial hemp production and processing. Due largely to their initiative, the 60-year ban was lifted and the commercial cultivation of hemp was authorized in Canada in 1998. The Industrial Hemp Regulations came into effect on March 12, 1998, and cover the cultivation, processing, transportation, sale, provision, import, and export of industrial hemp.
Since its legalization, hemp has sparked much interest among Canadian farmers. The Government of Canada recognized Canada’s re-emerging hemp industry with changes in legislation and regulations, and through market development funding. Today, hemp is enjoying a renaissance, with the global hemp market becoming a thriving, commercial success. More than 100 Canadian farmers are currently taking advantage of the vast market potential for hemp and are growing this crop in most provinces, primarily in central and western Canada.
The U.S.A. used Hemp fiber until 1937 when it became illegal to grow. Then during WW II farmers in Kentucky and other Mid-Western states were allowed to grow Hemp to help the war efforts. During the war Hemp was grown for clothing, rope, plane parts, and other textiles. Farmers were allowed to grow Hemp until the war ended.
Today manufacturers and retailers are bringing Hemp back to the market places because Hemp is such a versatile plant. With products from footwear, clothing, food, fuel, to building supplies.
Like flax, wheat, corn, canola, and other major cultivated species, hemp is a crop that can be grown for food and non-food purposes. Whole hemp seed is composed of approximately 45 percent oil, 35 percent protein and 10 percent carbohydrates and fibre. As a result of the numerous nutritional benefits, many new food products containing hemp seed and its oil are finding their way onto the Canadian market, including pasta, tortilla chips, salad dressings, snack products, and frozen desserts.
Recent scientific research indicates that essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be manufactured by the human body and deficiencies can cause undesirable chronic conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and eczema. Therefore, hemp seed and its by-products can be used to supplement diets poor in EFAs in order to maintain health. One by-product, hemp seed oil, contains 30% of its weight in EFA-rich oil, delivering an ideal combination of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids for long term use. Hemp seed oil may have potential health benefits for diabetes, cancer, lupus, asthma rheumatoid arthritis, depression and hypertension. Hemp is one of only two plants that contain both EFAs as well as gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA has been found to have many properties ranging from anti-inflammatory to anti-depression. It can lower cholesterol and help to correct dyslexia, dyspraxia, and hyperactivity (ADHD).
Approximately one-third of the population lacks the enzyme to metabolize GLA from omega 6 and must take GLA from an outside source to maintain good health, and hemp is an excellent way for them to do so.
Hemp oil has traditionally been used for industrial functions such as lamp oil, paint, and varnish, but today is finding major new markets in the cosmetic and functional food industries. One of the fastest growing sectors for hemp seed oil is the body care products market. The EFA content of hemp oil makes it an ideal topical ingredient in both leave-on and rinse-off body care products. The EFAs in lotions and creams help to soothe and restore skin, while their content in lip balms, conditioners, shampoos, soaps, and shaving products are emollient and provide a smooth after-feel. With cosmetics companies taking advantage of the moisture-retention qualities of hemp oils, the functionality and marketability of industrial hemp oil is expected to continue to increase steadily. Increased consumer awareness and product availability are also expected to help expand the markets.
Examples of hemp uses
Hemp Seed Product Uses
- Did I mention Beer?
- Dietary Fibre
- Non-dairy Milk and Cheese
- Oh, and Beer.
Hemp Oil Product Uses
- Cooking Oil
- Salad Dressing
- Dietary Supplements
- Body Care Products
- Did I mention Fuel?
Hemp Fibre Product Uses
- Pulp and Paper
- Recycling Additive
- Automobile Parts
- Animal Bedding and Mulch
- Stronger & more flexible bio-degradable plastic
One hectare of hemp can yield an average of 800 kg of grain which in turn can be pressed into 200 litres of oil and 600 kg of meal. The same hectare will also produce an average of 6 tonnes of straw which can be transformed into approximately 1.5 tonnes of fibre.
Economics: (The Boring Stuff)
Experts indicate that production costs can be lowered by exploiting hemp as a dual-purpose crop, using both the grain and fibre from the same plant. Of the 27 varieties legally authorized for cultivation in Canada, some are best-suited for the production of fibre; others are outstanding in the production of grain, while certain varieties are ideal for a dual harvest of grain and fibre. Moreover, there is great interest in developing varieties with the lowest THC content possible.
Growers tend to be clustered in loose alliances and co-operatives, or are geographically close to processing facilities in order to keep transportation costs low. The first challenge for hemp growers is to find a buyer who can guarantee, through contract, the purchasing of their harvest.
Hemp processors investigate and promote viable applications of hemp products in order to create new markets domestically and abroad. The re-introduction of hemp as a legal crop and the development of markets is a slow process and the hemp sector will need to expand carefully to ensure that supply and demand are harmonized. As the hemp sector continues to grow and as new technologies are applied to production and processing, more commercial possibilities will become feasible.
Hemp’s agronomic and environment attributes are remarkable: it can be grown without fungicides, herbicides and pesticides, it absorbs carbon dioxide five times more efficiently than the same acreage of forest and it matures in three to four months, thus making it one of the most efficient carbon sequestration methods on the planet. We should be paying attention to that fact.
Hemp can be used to create building materials, textiles, clothing, inks, and paints and has potential use in other non-food products. These advantages are in tune with the environmental and health preferences of today’s North American public. The growing curiosity of consumers, the interest shown by farmers and processors, and Canada’s excellent growing conditions for industrial hemp allow optimistic views for its future.
Hand-cutting is a traditional method in low-wage countries but considered impractical for large-scale production. Mechanized harvesting can be done but it is very rough on machinery because hemp easily wraps itself around revolving parts. Development and testing of harvesting technology to Canadian conditions is still on-going with some prototypes only becoming recently available.
Processing technologies are generally regarded as antiquated and there is a need to adapt current technology from other fibre crops (such as flax) to commercial field production of hemp. Some industry experts opine economical processing infrastructure will be several years in the making. This is the greatest challenge we face as hemp activists in getting governments and industry onside. No processing facilities are available in the Maritimes.
There is limited certifiable, low-THC seed and fewer seed-bred cultivars are climatized for Canada. Seed multiplication may help curb this demand but varieties need to be developed for Canadian conditions. Many of the European cultivars are bred for fibre and not oilseed production. Environmental conditions necessary for seed production are said to be more favourable in areas outside of the Maritimes.
Present members of the Canadian Seed Growers Association are expected to pursue this market. They have the experience, know the regulations and procedures and have the cleaning equipment required. While several hemp growers and processors are positioning themselves for the pedigreed seed market, it can take decades to develop new varieties.
While a number of well attended Canadian hemp symposiums and published government research have broadened the information base for this new crop, much proprietary management and technological expertise is being developed. Indeed, a number of projects are cloaked under non-disclosure agreements between government and private industry. This will impede growth of the Maritime industry to some degree.
While partnering arrangements with other key Canadian players can assist in information transfer, the Maritimes needs to be at the forefront of research, development and testing if we are to successfully and economically penetrate the hemp market.
Maritime producers would be entering a market in which several major players have some lead. Whereas some of the key players have focused on particular markets that do not overlap, Maritime growers would be to some degree chasing the same markets in the region and will compete with larger players at the national level. Economics and market positioning will be vital to success.
Markets and Marketing
Many independent growers are still in the process of developing markets. This suggests primary processors will likely play a key role in developing markets and, at present, the market is not structured for large scale and long-term growth.
Contrary to many reports, hemp is currently a niche market. Increasing demand for hemp products over the last decade has not yet fueled an increase in world production of fibre and grain. Furthermore, there are limited markets for this year’s production, although some key players are said to have markets secured. Expanding the range of value-added industrial products available and fostering the necessary consumer demand will take time.
Careful product positioning and advertising for consumer awareness will be important to success in the higher-value oil and food markets. Growers must understand that while infrastructure investment tends to be less than that required for fibre markets, considerable working capital is needed to launch a new product into the health market.
There is much price uncertainty in thin markets where the volume of trading is low. The degree to which production can increase without affecting prices is not known. Growers and processors need to do their homework on the economics and market potential of hemp. As production comes on line, prices will fall unless growing demand for hemp products outstrips supply.
It is important to keep in mind that as subsidies in Europe are further reduced and phased out, the true economics of hemp will appear. If they are poor, world production may decline and this could act as a boon for Canadian producers.
The Good Stuff:
Well–made hemp garments are known to last for years. Hemp fabric is naturally resistant to UV light, mold and mildew, and if treated, to salt water (for centuries hemp was used for the sails and rigging on ocean–going ships). It also is a very breathable fabric and naturally comfortable.
Compared to cotton, which cannot be grown in Canada, hemp is stronger and requires less toxic chemicals and fresh water to grow and manufacture. In recent years, it has become a popular practice to blend hemp with other fabrics, notably with organic cotton, which adds a stretch to the strength of hemp as well a pleasant softness. Hemp has also been blended with linen with comfortable results.
As hemp seed oil is one of the world’s richest sources of polyunsaturated fats, including both of the essential fatty acids (Omega–3 and Omega–6) and GLA (gamma linolenic acid), it is an excellent natural emollient and moisturizer. Body care products containing hemp seed oil can reduce skin discomfort by soothing and restoring dry or damaged skin. They also increase the skin’s natural ability to retain moisture.
Advantages of using hemp for fibre in industry include: excellent physical properties in strength and modulus, cost effectiveness in composite and paper applications and increasing availability. A wide range of fibre formats and qualities are now possible. Hemp fibres can be fabricated to be lighter, stronger and cheaper than fibreglass.
The wood–like inner core fibre of the hemp plant can be used for animal bedding (animals don’t eat it and it is highly absorbent), garden mulch, and an assortment of building materials such as hempcrete.
Hemp’s use in industry is also attractive because it can be grown and manufactured in accordance with sustainable and ecological principles.
Since 2008 hemp cultivation in Canada has been increasing, except in Atlantic Canada. This is buoyed by a steady increase in the processing of hemp, and the development of many small businesses engaged in developing new products and marketing these products. In Alberta, work is well underway at Alberta Research Council (ARC) and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development to evaluate hemp as a potential source of pulp and fiber. For example, a pilot decortication plant has been established through the Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre (ABDC) BioIndustrial Initiative. The pilot plant uses European equipment. It has the largest biomass processing pilot plant fractionalization capacity in North America.
Currently, there are many Canadian companies – including Hemp Oil Canada Inc., Hempola Valley Farms, Fresh Hemp Foods Ltd., Ruths Hemp Foods, Cool Hemp, and Natures Path, etc. working to develop and market hemp seed products. These companies are all involved in the hemp seed market and are producing a wide range of products. These products are snack foods, hemp meal and flour, edible oil, shampoo and conditioners, moisturizers, commercial oil paints, beer and aromatherapy and cosmetic products. Most of the companies are reporting good growth.
Another trend worth noting is that the hemp food industry has switched to certified organic production because of strong demand. A few industry experts estimate that approximately one-third of Canadian hemp seed production is certified organic.
On April 1, 2012 Hemp Oil Canada Inc. based in Manitoba announced that it is first in the world to gain international food safety accreditation for hemp food. This is good news for Hemp Oil Canada and the Canadian hemp industry as a whole because this may create more opportunities for food developers to market their hemp food products to international markets.
The increased attention industrial hemp receives from the environmental sector can be attributed to several factors, among which are environmental quality concerns within the forestry and agricultural sectors. The forestry issue centers on an enhanced awareness of the environmental impacts associated with the cultivation and harvesting of trees for pulp production.
These impacts can be attributed to the use of chemical herbicides and insecticides, the loss of wildlife habitat, and the potential for erosion on clear-cut sites. The use of herbicides in Nova Scotia is more intense than in any other region of Canada, and the increased rate of herbicide usage in the Atlantic region is believed to be a direct result of tree plantations.
In the agricultural sector, the development of intensive commercial practices has also had an effect on the environment. This form of agriculture has a great dependence on the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in order to obtain high yields. The use of improper agricultural practices can also lead to increased soil erosion and the subsequent sedimentation of lakes and rivers.
The use of non-wood materials as a source of fibre is receiving increased attention, mainly in order to alleviate some of the pressures associated with forestry, and to make agriculture more sustainable.
Though hemp will not likely replace all the tree based pulp produced in the province, there is sufficient land in Nova Scotia for some degree of hemp production as a fibre source. It is believed that one of the most beneficial sectors for industrial hemp in this province would be within the recycled paper industry, where hemp could add strength to recycled paper pulp.
Hemp can make most building materials, including caulking, cement, fiberboard, flooring, insulation, paneling, particleboard, plaster, plywood, stucco, mortar, and biodegradable plastic.
Hemp can also be formed into cement-/concrete-like walls. This material is called hempcrete. Hempcrete is a building material that is formed by combining air-lime based binders with the chopped core of the hemp plant stem. It can be poured into a form almost identical to pouring concrete, or spray applied. Hempcrete homes are lightweight, fire-, water-, earthquake-, and rodent-resistant, have excellent thermal mass and insulation characteristics that allows the homes to breath, which saves money on heating and cooling costs, has high sound insulation, and good flexibility.
This building technique also sequesters a lot of carbon, reversing the damaging effects of greenhouse gases, providing one the best value materials for low impact, sustainable and commercially viable construction.
European plants are making auto panels from hemp based composites that are biodegradable, half the weight of, more durable, and safer than fibreglass counterparts. Most car companies are using 100% hemp car interior panels in all new models. Henry Ford made a hemp based car in the 1940’s that was more dent-resistant than steel. A sledgehammer blow could not even break the windows of these cars, which were made from hemp.
Hempseed oil can be made into non-toxic paints, varnishes, lubricants, and sealants. The paints last longer than other counterparts, and the sealants are better absorbed by wood than other toxic counterparts.
Hemp farming requires no toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and little to no fertilizer if grown in a proper crop rotation. Hemp roots anchor and aerate soil, reduce erosion, soil loss, and runoff, and also pull metals, toxins, and radioactive material from the soil turning it into organic material. Hemp is the ultimate green crop. It produces food, fiber, pulp, and cellulose for thousands of industries without any toxic chemicals needed in any of the processing.
Hemp can be used to make paper more durable and more environmentally-friendly than paper made from wood. The switch to hemp-based paper could reduce deforestation considerably. Hemp paper doesn’t require toxic bleaching chemicals and lasts hundreds of years longer than paper made from trees. An acre of hemp will produce at least as much paper as an acre of trees, with far less adverse effects to the environment.
Hemp has a $500 billion estimated worldwide market, which, when tapped into by farmers would help reduce the corporate takeover of family farms. Hemp farming could create thousands of new jobs in the transportation, processing, and manufacturing facilities, and would generate millions of dollars for farmers and plant workers.
No plant on earth seems as anxious to please man as does hemp. No plant which even approaches it in versatility of usefulness can grow in as many latitudes and altitudes as hemp. Food, fuel, clothing, shelter, and jobs for as many people as want to specialize in any facet of production; there must be some reason hemp has been placed on Earth. We doubt that it was to provide cops, lawyers, judges, prison guards, and urine testing companies a reason for their existence.
I’d rather believe–and I think there is strong justification to believe–that it was placed on Earth to be the perfect food, soothing and versatile dietetic and industrial oil, strong fiber and cloth, and durable building product it is, all while being the most efficient farm crop at exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen in the atmosphere. The latter quality may become more important as the last of the rain forests are logged out and burnt off to provide a couple of years cropping before the already-poor soil is depleted entirely and left to erode into the Amazon River.
So right now we are caught in a Catch 22 situation. We used to have a few hemp farmers in Nova Scotia but they stopped because there were no processing facilities for their crop. Processing facilities will not be set up in Nova Scotia because there is no locally available source of raw product. Markets will not increase because there are not sufficient inventories of finished goods to sell and export. And China continues to rule the hemp world with a 73% market share, making it ever more difficult to penetrate.
I firmly believe that a thriving, vertically integrated hemp industry in Nova Scotia could have a profound effect on our economy, and move us away from the 19th and 20th century industrial dinosaurs that our successive governments continue to prop up because lost jobs equals lost votes. There are good industrial models out there that we can draw from. All it would take is a little political will coupled with a private sector industrial partner.
With all the hip talk of sustainable practices in all facets of society, why not choose an industry that has been sustaining human life on this planet for 10,000 years?