100 Mile area farmers are on the cutting edge of local diversification. They’re working with industrial hemp, a crop that was grown for thousands of years before the government banned it.
“The word hemp was being used for medicinal or illegal drug side so it got a bad rap. The government said OK, just quit the whole thing altogether,” said Erik Eising, the hemp coordinator hired by the District of 100 Mile House through the Hemp Steering Committee.
He said the government re-introduced the crop 10 years ago and they now have the technology to test that growers are using the low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) plants. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The district received approximately $300,000 in grants from Western Diversification and Northern Development Initiative for this year’s pilot program.
Eising is working with farmers on five different properties and they have finished seeding some fields and some plants are already up. He said he’s fully aware of the challenges for farmers on the beef market, with that farming aspect taking a severe hit and, at the same time, hay farmers finding that yields on a field decrease over time, so diversification with industrial hemp could help.
“We’re looking at different avenues here and exploring if it would be possible for a rancher to incorporate this into a rotational program,” he said.
Eising said there are indications hemp could regenerate the soil and that will be explored in the project, although he said the benefits might be long-term.
The plant itself is used in a variety of applications, the seed for oil and the fibre for fabric and a myriad of other uses. Eising said the core can be used for animal bedding, which would be a primary, easy to access market.
The market is still in its development stages but industrial hemp can be used to create something equivalent to oriented strand board that is lightweight and has a high acoustical value, although Eising said the cost would be much higher.
“We are moving toward looking at local production and also marketing and processing the products in a fashion the local economy can benefit from,” said Eising. “We are looking at low-tech, low investment and maybe even on-farm processing and some of the products that can go into building, the green construction market or paper recycling.”
Eising is planning an open house day later in the season so the public can see exactly what is happening with the project.
“We hope to kickstart a strong local interest in the producer and we will also be able to provide — at the end of this year — technical background information and also cost input information so farmers can make their own calculations if this will work on their particular farm or it might not be in their best interest.”
– Article from 100 Mile House Free Press on June 16, 2009.