Farmers eye up alternative crop
By Bill Laye, Peace County Farmer
About 35 Peace-area farmers met in Grande Prairie recently to get the dope on growing hemp.
“All farmers are looking for any alternative that makes economic sense,” said Stan Blade, a plant breeder with Alberta Agriculture office in Edmonton, after the morning seminars at the Travelodge Trumpeter Motor Inn.
Hemp, a distant relative of marijuana, was legalized for licensed commercial production in Canada in 1998. But if you think it’s going to give you a buzz, forget it.
The 23 agricultural varieties of hemp contain a scant 0.3 per cent of the hallucinogenic substance THC found in pot, noted Blade.
The plant can be used for a variety of things, including clothing, plastics, lubricating oils, and food products.
Blade says it’s a little too early to tell if hemp will unseat some of the more traditional crops, but early trials are encouraging.
And Alberta’s climate is well suited for the crop.
“Some of the major hemp production areas in the world – northern China, eastern Europe – are very similar to Alberta conditions,” he said.
“It doesn’t like a huge amount of heat, just a nice, warm, reasonably-extended growing season and it will do quite well.”
There are presently about 45 hemp growers in Alberta and most planted their first crop last year, he said.
One of those growers is Kreg Alde, who farms in the Peace Country and made a presentation in the morning session.
“Over all, the crop did well in the adverse conditions,” he said later.
And though the family didn’t realize any profit from the 15 acres they planted – they didn’t produce any grain seed and are hanging on to the fibre produced this year – it was a good learning experience and the crop will eventually yield some good revenues, he predicted.
“It’s just like any other new crop, you’ve got to build the markets first,” he said.
“It will be like canola when it first came in.”
And, although cautious, area farmers are interested.
“If we’re going to stay in agriculture, we’re going to have to diversify into things that are just a little bit outside of the box,” said Grande Prairie-area farmer Everett McDonald.
But he said he’s only planning on planting a small trial crop this year.
“Until there’s a place where we can market it and make a dollar at it, there’s no use getting too far into it,” he said.
“But we need to invest in it and look at the possibilities.”
And the marketing possibilities are great, noted another farmer.
“It looks as though, from the table full of products here, that there’s lots of alternatives,” said Dalton Longson, who farms near Beaverlodge.
“This might be (a crop) we need to have a good second look at,” he mused.
But Marianne Kniel, who farms in the Hawk Hills area, about 60 kilometres north of Manning, says hemp isn’t a certain enough crop for her to grow on her family’s small, 1,700-acre farm yet.
“We’re not in a situation where we can afford to lose any year,” she said, adding it’s an option she’ll consider in a few more years.
“Right now, the oilseeds and grains just aren’t cutting it,” she shrugged.
In fact, one Valleyview-area farmer says he’s not going to bother planting those crops.
“There’s no point in seeding any wheat, canola, barley, peas, anything else,” said Harold Moore.
“Next spring I’m not going to seed any of it – I will only lose money. It will all go into grass, or alfalfa seed, or specialty crops.” And one of those specialty crops will be a small patch of hemp. “It’s survival,” he said.
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