Hemp on the comeback
LAURENTIAN VALLEY -After decades of being misinterpreted, industrial hemp is staging a comeback in Renfrew County.
Municipal leaders and county officials saw firsthand some of the byproducts and benefits that can be yielded from a hemp plant during a demonstration at a township farm near Micksburg this week.
Farmer and entrepreneur Reuben Stone saw the opportunity after being approached by the Ontario Hemp Alliance to become a major grower of commercial hemp grain.
He is currently growing 100 acres making him the largest single grower in Ontario.
"It's got a lot of potential here," said Mr. Stone, owner/operator of Stone Farms and Valley Bio Ltd. "The development of it should be worth something."
Hemp production has replaced corn and soybean crops at his farm.
Having researched hemp, which has a history going back to the construction of the Great Wall of China, Mr. Stone contended Renfrew County has great potential to produce the crop as Canada is becoming a leading world producer.
Hemp was a significant crop for eastern Ontario and western Quebec back in the 1800s and early 1900s when it was used as material for sails, ropes, clothing, sacks and as an oil grain for human consumption.
Douglas in Admaston/ Bromley Township was the home for a major hemp rope manufacturing operation for decades.
Today, hemp production is predominantly in western Canada, accounting for 15,000 acres this season and tens of millions in sales.
The industry has experienced 30 per cent annual growth since hemp's production was decriminalized in Canada in the late 1990s.
Today, it joins 30 other countries that produce industrial hemp including Australia, Russia, France, China and Great Britain.
"It's still a niche crop," said Mr. Stone, noting it hasn't made the breakthrough into mainstream yet.
As the world's premier renewable source, hemp has been the source of food and fibre, which has been used to make clothing, paper and rope.
The oil derived from the grain has been used for cosmetics, paints, varnishes and medicinal preparations.
Like the marijuana plant, industrial hemp belongs to the Cannabis species. However, unlike marijuana, it only contains small quantities of the psychoactive drug delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Commercial cultivation of hemp was authorized in Canada in 1998 when the Industrial Hemp Regulations came into effect.
It covered cultivation, processing, transportation, sale, provision, import and export of industrial hemp.
Certainly there will be no competition for at least the next 20 years coming from the U. S. which has still not decriminalized hemp production.
While eight states have taken that step to secure the economic benefits, Mr. Stone said the problem is the Federal Drug Agency must still approve any lifting of restrictions.
"There's still a majority in that country that won't let it grow," he said.
"It's the government comparison to marijuana that is holding them back."
Ironically, the U. S. used hemp extensively during the Second World War in its textile industries after war was declared on Japan, their main hemp importer. Uniforms, ropes and canvases were all derived from the plant.
"They brought it back in a big way," he explained. "They probably grew 100,000 acres during World War Two."
However, many looking over the products that come from the plants believe there is greater potential for hemp as a crop in the county than corn.
"It's a big market and it's growing," said Alastair Baird, Renfrew County's business development officer for natural resources, pointing out that its contribution to the health food industry is substantial.
However, many of those products are currently purchased out of the area.
"It will be neat if we can buy it here in Renfrew County."
The hemp crops will be ready for harvesting the first week of September.
Mr. Stone expects a yield of 30 to 40 tonnes of grain which will be shipped over the winter to Great Britain.
He will save some of the crop to produce oil, which makes up 45 per cent of a hemp seed. Hemp oil is among the lowest in saturated fats at eight per cent of total oil volume. In comparison, canola contains six per cent.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer reporter