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Trip Report: 3rd International Bioresource Hemp 2000 Symposium

Posted on October 24, 2000

Wolfsburg, Germany, September 13-16, 2000

Thunder Bay, Ontario — I arrived in Wolfsburg for the 3rd International Bioresource Hemp 2000 Symposium on Thursday noon, September 14th having left the Woodstock Outdoor Farm Show on Wednesday, September 13th. The conference was well organized by the sponsors, Nova-institute and Michael Karus, managing director. The Wednesday, Sept 13 topics focused on International Development of the Hemp Industry Markets & Economy. The Thursday, Sept 14 topics focused on Varieties/Breeding, Cultivation & Harvest. Dr. Ernie Small, Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre, Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Canada presented very vital information identifying significant genetic variability in the polyunsaturated fatty acid profile within his valuable germplasm collection. The title of his paper was “Hemp germplasm trials in Canada.” The Friday sessions focused on Fibre Separation Processing, Fibre Conditioning and Product Lines. The Saturday morning first session was focused on Seeds and Oil. It was during this session that I presented the paper “Environment and genetic effect on quality of hemp grain and oil extracted from grain grown across northern Ontario, Canada, 1998-1999.” The second Saturday morning session focused on Cannabinoids and Food. It was during this session I presented our research paper on “Management of delta-9 THC levels in industrial hemp grown for fibre and grain in Ontario, Canada, 1995-1999.” I was able to establish professional contact and expect communication with Dr. Helga Molleken, Physioligiche Chemie der Pflanzen, Bergishe Universitat Wuppetal, Germany re exploring a cooperative research venture studying the quality of hemp seed and oil. The proceedings of the Bioresource Hemp 2000 will be available exclusively via Internet at www.bioresource-hemp.de Access to online-proceedings is available for non-participants for 100 DM. The long versions will be up on the Internet beginning November 2000.

I was able to meet several other Canadians at the conference from Quebec, New Brunswick and British Columbia. I met and visited with Dr. J.C. Callaway, hemp biochemist and breeder (developer of FIN 314) from Finland. We discussed the potential of cooperative research re hemp seed and oil quality analysis. I will be sending him FIN 314 seed samples of northern Ontario from 1998 and 1999 for fatty acid profile analysis. I met and visited with Dr. Ivan Bocsa, eminent Hemp breeder (referred to as “grandfather of hemp”) from Kompolt, Hungary; Dr. Vjaceslav Virovetz, the Gluchov Research Station, Gluchov, hemp breeder from Ukraine; Dr. Serghei Grigoriev, hemp breeder from Vavilov Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia and Dr. Steffen Preusser, Technology Officer/Business Development Officer with the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. The Ukrainian varieties, Zolo 11, Zolo 13, USO 14 and USO 31 are contracted with Parkland Industrial Hemp Grower’s Cooperative, Manitoba. Mr. Peter Dragla, IHSDC/Kenex Ltd., has been contracted to bring these varieties into purity standards of the Canadian Seed Grower’s Association. There appear to be open opportunities for partnership with Ukraine for germplasm development and seed production. The Vavalov Institute is also very open to cooperative research re sourcing germplasm for Canadian application and maintaining it for the institute. Hungary is reluctant to become directly involved in a breeding/seed production partnership venture in Canada until Canadian hemp acreage is more stabilized and larger. Other significant contacts at the conference were: Michael Karus, Managing Director of Nova-Institute; Gero Leson, Leson Environmental Consulting, Berkeley, USA and Dr. Don Wirtshafter from the Ohio Hempary, Ohio, USA. I benefited considerably from the assistance of Mr. Peter Dragla, Hemp Breeder with IHSDC/Kenex Ltd., Chatham for helping in developing contacts and interpretation from Russian, Hungarian and Romanian into English.

Mr. Peter Dragla and I were able to visit and observe two totally different fibre processing plants in Germany (Gardelegen and Dresden). Dr. Steffen Preusser, Canadian Embassy, Berlin was very helpful in getting us scheduled to visit the VERNARO GmbH plant in Gardelegen, owned and operated by Fred Bohndick. This is a LaRoche production system operating 5 days/week and 24 hours/day processing about 2 tonnes/hour of field retted stalks into 100 tonnes/month of fibre for Mercedes Benz. Mr. Bohndick contracted 850 ha hemp with local farmers in a 60-km radius in 1999. A local farmer contracted the custom harvesting using a Kranemann harvester. VERNARO has an agronomist on staff to work with the growers. VERNARO became fully operative during the summer of 1999. About 80% of the processed fibres go to the automotive industry (primarily Mercedes Benz) and the core or hurds (shives) go for bedding. Other markets with more value-added $ are being explored and developed. This was a very impressive operation (was not in operation -late Saturday pm) and we were able to unrestrictedly take pictures. Mr. Bohndick gave us a thorough plant tour. We were able to travel on Sunday by car from Berlin to Dresden with Dr. Chuck Schom, New Brunswick, to visit and observe a fibre processing proto-type system developed by AKE-INNOTECH. This system is quite different from the LaRoche (French) system observed at the VERNARO plant in Gardelegen. It was put into operation for our observation and we were able to examine the fibre quality coming out of the system, which appeared very acceptable. After about 5 minutes it did plug up and had to be shut down. The VERNARO system uses square bales from the field and the AKE-INNOTECH system uses round bales. The AKE-INNOTECH president, Joachim Schneider toured us through their offices and plant in Lichtentanne, a small city just west of Dresden. This company is focused on engineering and development of fibre processing technology (separation, non-woven mats to spinning yarns), for flax and hemp. We also saw a prototype 2 sickle bar harvesting system cutting the hemp stalks into two pieces in a single swathing operation. Plans were to develop this system into a 3-sickle bar swather for 2001 harvesting season. This would allow the stalks to be cut into 3 sections and laid directly into a swath on the ground. This harvesting system has the advantage of being mounted onto a conventional tractor and hydraulically operated. Both these processing plants expressed strong interest in developing Canadian partnerships to introduce their processing technology into the Canadian hemp industry. The AKE-INNOTECH processing and harvesting systems are considerably less costly than the LaRoche processing system and the Kranemann or Hempflex harvesting systems. Both systems have the built in capability to produce several quality levels or grades of fibre based on the required end market.

Initial travel plans were to visit the Kompolt Hemp Breeding and Research Station in Hungary but due to the lack of expressed interest in potential research/breeding partnerships we diverted our travel resources to Romania. The breeding efforts of the Kompolt Breeding program are focused on fibre hybrid & dioecious breeding systems. The varieties Uniko B and Kompolti originate from this station. I did have a contact with and invitation from Eric Steenstra, representing the ELSO Magyar Kenderfono Rt. (First Hungarian Hemp Spinnery Co. Ltd.) located about 2.5 hours south east from Budapest to visit this largest hemp processing Company in Central Europe. Our en route change of travel plans did not permit us to accept this invitation.

We traveled over a total of 5,000 km by train to & through Romania and return to Hanover, Germany during the next week. During the total trip we spent 6 nights in motels, 2 nights in private homes and 5 nights either on the train, in train station or on the airplane. Mr. Dragla and I were able to visit the Hemp breeding station of Dr. Constantin Gauca at Statiunea de Cercetari Agrozootecnice, Secuieni situated at the north East side of Romania, just outside of Roman. Dr. Gauca (hemp breeder for over 30 years) has made a partnership in the breeding effort with Mr. Peter Dragla, IHSDC-Kenex Ltd, Chatham, Ontario. This breeding station is the source of Secuieni 1 and Irene and is focused on monoecious fibre germplasm. Dr. Gauca showed us several selections with very large seed (24+ grams/1000 seeds). We were shown a single leaf hemp variety in which the single leaf trait could be used as a marker. Dr. Gauca showed us some very impressive selections for fibre and grain. He has about 5 ha of research plots. I saw excellent source material for early grain types with large and regular seed size. The THC levels in these materials could be brought within Canadian standards within 2 generations of selection using the DG THC Test developed by Dragla. The Ukranian, Russian, Hungarian (Dr. Bocsa) hemp breeders and Dr. Gauca all commented on the productivity of the IHSDC based on the few years in operation. Great work Peter! They all expressed the need for a successful breeding venture to have adequate resources (Plant Breeder, 1 trained full time technician and several supporting technicians). Dr. Gauca also strongly recommended the need for the IHSDC breeding effort to consider developing a grain selection breeding nursery and seed production north of the 48th latitude to identify and select for regional adaptation considering that grain production acreage in Canada will be mostly north of the 48th latitude. THC selecting should be done in a southern Ontario location to give the genotype opportunity for maximum genetic expression.

We had the privilege to meet with Dr. A.V. Vranceanu, president of the Academy of Agricultural Science in Bucharest to discuss the prospect of a partnership to analyze hemp meal and oil for amino and fatty acids through their established sunflower research laboratory. We met with Dr. Ilea Vasile, principal flax breeder for Romania and discussed the possibility of evaluating several of his flax fibre varieties in Canada. Dr. Gauca is exploring the potential of a cooperative partnership between IHSDC and Romania to chemically and physically test hemp fibre from breeding and developing varieties for fibre quality merits. We were able to make a rapid visit to the Romanian Trade Show in Bucharest and made contact with one of the principal hemp and flax textile companies, S.C. Integrata Pascani S.A. This company was founded in 1976 and restructured in 1990 manufacturing hemp and flax fabrics and clothes. They are the only Romanian producers of DENIM hemp fabrics for trousers and jackets. The hemp and hemp-type fabrics are finished with ecological products. Mr. Dragla and I were invited to attend the National Association of Flax and Hemp meeting in Bucharest, which we were able to do. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the Romanian government’s efforts to institute a registration system for industrial hemp growers similar to Canada and European Union. While in Bucharest we were able to visit the parliament building (largest in Europe and larger than the Pentagon building) built during the end of the communist rule. We traveled by train to Timisoara, on the south West side of Romania and visited the square where the 1989 revolution started. We tried to make contact with a hemp retting processing factory in Lovrin (location of Hemp Breeding station from which Lovrin 110 originated) but were not successful.

The trip was most rewarding and educational. I was not prepared for the “culture shock” experienced while traveling through Romania. We saw many cornfields divided into small (several hectares) strips with hemp planted into the corn, which was used to tie the corn sheaves by hand at harvest time. Much of the corn was hand husked, stalks hand cut, tied into sheaves and the sheaves stooked. I even witnessed several times alfalfa being cut with a scythe into swaths and harvested by hand onto wagons or stacked in the field into haystacks. The country had experienced a very wet spring with extensive flooding followed by one of the hottest/driest summers on record. The agricultural sector experienced a devastating drought. Manual labour was the predominant form of harvesting corn, potatoes and sunflowers. I witnessed very few tractors and farm machinery in the fields. Most people were using horses and wagons (50-100 years old) hauling crops back to the towns and cities from the fields for storage in their back yards or barns for their own livestock. Any livestock in the fields were either in herds (sheep and cattle) with shepherds or tethered individually. Farm machinery and tractors which were in the fields were very old (appeared ancient) but they kept them in running condition. The explanation for much of the hand harvesting was due to small tracts of land (several hectares) re-allocated to the people by the government after the revolution. Both the small tracts of land and drought (poor yields) did not permit the owners to contract custom equipment for harvesting. I was privileged to visit one of the better farms. It consisted of 57 ha, had 2 very old tractors, a very old two-row corn picker which was broken and being repaired with parts just obtained from Yugoslavia and some other land preparation machinery. The livestock consisted of 4 sows (farrow to finish), turkeys with some geese and chickens. He was buying his wheat seed at the foundation level and increasing it another generation himself to the certified level for his own personal use. He was growing hybrid corn, the seed obtained from Yugoslavia. The farmer was putting his son through University for a mater degree in Agronomy. They were expecting another 100 ha land from the state in the next year or two. The farmer explained that he had no debt and was making some money. Only a very few farmers were in the situation of this family. I was impressed by the success and excellent management demonstrated by this farmer in-spite of the poor quality of farm machinery this farmer had to work with. Most families lived a subsistence life style. The buildings, public and private homes were mostly in poor conditions requiring repair. Saw many empty deserted buildings (factories and etc.) deteriorating.

The Nova Institute released a market report re the hemp industry for Germany in March 2000 forecasting production increases from 1999 to 2005 as follows: fibre from 2,500 t to 23,800 t; hurds from 5,800 t to 45,150 t; seed production from 145 t to 1,341 t. Fibres will be primarily used in construction materials, automotive parts and other composite materials. Hurds will be used for construction materials and animal bedding. Seeds will be used for the technical applications of the oil. Some other applications mentioned by the companies we visited were: fibre for sound and heat insulation, hurds for the pet liter industry and seed processed into oil for skin care products.

Romania is presently at a “bottoms out” state of both hemp and flax acreage for fibre with about 1,500 ha of each crop in 1999. There was no seed production increase in 1999. Both the flax and hemp breeder were projecting a significant increase in acreage (double) for both crops over the next 5 of years. There was strong optimism. The hemp and flax fibre end use is for the textile industry. Romania has about 14 textile mills and at present about 9 are in operation. Some of the plants have been up graded with infusion of Germany and US dollars. It is expected that the remaining 5 mills will be upgraded and in production over the next couple of years. All the retting for textile fibre in Romania is done in environmentally controlled systems. Romanian textile fabric quality is excellent. Some of the Romanian hemp fibre is exported to Hungary for processing into textile.

I wish to express my appreciation to the University of Guelph, Hemp Industries Association, Ontario Hemp Alliance and Greg Harriott of Hempola for making this opportunity and trip a lifetime experience.

Thank you,
Gordon Scheifele, College Professor
Kemptville College/University of Gulelph
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Copyright © 2000, Gordon Scheifele. All rights reserved.