Despite varied results from 28 five-acre plots across Northern Ontario, University of Guelph researcher Gordon Scheifele said farmers now have a better idea how to grow hemp for industrial uses.
Scheifele, who will be in the area Sept. 4 during “Industrial Hemp Field Days” at Blair Lowey’s farm on Highway 602, said it’s been a year of mixed but educational results for hemp researchers.
“We have everything from very good to very poor fields,” he said. “At Lowey’s, it’s a very good field. [But] we had to request a couple of fields to be destroyed due to poor growth.”
Scheifele added farmers had similar results at the trial plots in the Thunder Bay and Dryden areas.
“It’s demonstrating, by and large, the crop does require some intensive maintenance during its establishment,” he noted.
Hemp seems to do best on light soil with high level of fertility and good drainage, Scheifele said, noting some of the fields around Emo were badly hurt during the wet period in June.
But hemp doesn’t do much better in overly dry conditions, either, he added.
“In the Thunder Bay area, we’ve had a real drought this summer,” Scheifele said, noting the hemp’s growth there is stunted. “If you don’t have enough moisture, it won’t grow.”
Once hemp is established, it grows very quickly, Scheifele said. And since it is a very competitive plant, farmers don’t need to use herbicides to fight weeds.
But it does require a vast amount of nutrients, something which Scheifele said a couple of farmers learned the hard way.
“A number of guys felt they didn’t need fertilizer on the hemp,” he noted. “And now they realize it needs fertilizer for this plant to grow.”
Still, the results from this year’s test plots are very promising for setting up an industrial hemp industry in the north. Scheifele said Rainy River District has plenty of fields that meets the criteria for growing hemp.
“The challenge for the people there is to come up with a product,” he said. “That’s one of the big challenges since this product has so many uses.”
Scheifele said these uses will be outlined during the field day at Lowey’s farm next Friday, as well as swathing, raking, retting, and bailing demonstrations.
One which may hold potential for local industry is the use of the hemp stalk’s fibre in the making of oriented strandboard (OSB) and chipboard.
Unlike the rest of the plant, the stalk is not considered a controlled substance and can be bought and sold without much hassle, including to the U.S., which still forbids the growth of hemp.
Growers here have to be licensed by Health Canada, and Scheifele doesn’t see that changing much in two years when hemp regulations are up for review.
But he does hope getting a licence will become much easier in the next two years.
“Many farmers aren’t willing to deal with the hassle [of getting one],” Scheifele said, noting the growth of the hemp industry depends on the federal government easing up a bit.
“Health Canada has to establish a more friendly process,” he said.