Winnipeg, Manitoba — To get Ethelbert Heck’s blood boiling, just inquire about his hemp.
“Don’t ask!” said the Liebenthal, Sask., farmer.
Last summer, he contracted 34.18 acres, precisely, with Consolidated Growers and Processors Inc.
Heck thought he might make up to $1,000 per acre on the crop.
Instead, he spent $1,200 on lawyers’ fees to try to get payment. Then, the company went bankrupt in March.
Heck thinks he lost about $500 per acre on his hemp.
“You can’t really make up for it,” he said, adding he feels sorry for farmers who planted large acreages of the crop.
Near Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, Dave Malowski admits to feeling disgruntled about his hemp experience.
Despite reservations about the company, the grain and cattle farmer contracted 110 acres with CGP last year, hoping it would compensate for low prices for other crops.
“This almost put me under,” said Malowski, adding he found it hard to get trade credit for inputs this spring.
“I have to take blame for it because I seeded it,” said Malowski.
Luckily, cattle prices rose. He also withdrew money from his Net Income Stabilization Account. But he won’t gamble on the crop a second time.
“I refuse to grow this again,” said Malowski.
Supply in bin
The odds were stacked against hemp this spring as farmers made their seeding plans.
A high-profile bankruptcy left more than 200 farmers holding the bag for last year’s bumper crop and created a glut of hemp seed in bins.
Troubles moving seed across the United States border for several months last winter added to the uncertainty about the new crop.
But a remarkable number of farmers still chose to plant the oilseed and fibre crop. Last week, Health Canada released a report showing 255 farmers applied to grow more than 13,500 acres of hemp. Contractors in the industry estimate farmers ended up seeding about 12,000 acres.
Norbert Van Deynze of Somerset, Manitoba, farms with his two brothers and their families.
He said they know the crop holds production and market risks, but they decided to plant hemp again this year.
“We’re desperately trying to find something that will supplement the income,” said Van Deynze.
“It’s a good crop, but we can’t have too many producers,” he said.
They cut down to less than 100 acres this year from more than 150 acres in 1999. The farm joined a co-op made up of former CGP suppliers to try to market its seed from last year.
“I think there’s a niche market there; I just don’t know how much the niche market is,” said Van Deynze.
Joe Federowich, chair of Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers Co-operative Ltd., figures he has one of the largest hemp acreages planted this year. Federowich, who farms at Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, seeded 340 acres.
He estimates co-op members account for 4,000 to 5,000 acres of this year’s hemp crop.
Farmers are growing it for the same reason they grow canaryseed, another special crop with a large glut in supply, he said.
“It does have its potential,” said Federowich. “I wouldn’t bet my farm on it, but I would be willing to put more in the ground next year, no doubt.”
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