For South Peace News
What started out as excitement brewed in two local businesswomen while attending the first International Hemp Symposium in 2018, is resulting in an introduction of economic opportunities for agricultural producers throughout the Smoky River Region and surrounding areas.
Smoky Hemp Decortication Ltd. [SHDL] Chief Executive Officer Avis Gagne and Smoky River Regional Economic Development [SRRED] Officer Diane Chiasson attended the symposium and came back to the region with an infectious excitement that ignited efforts to introduce Industrial Hemp as a new cash crop to local farmers. Although initially a desire to introduce a diverse crop, the efforts are now infusing opportunities that will create jobs and will boost economic efforts throughout the region.
“This, like any emerging industry, offers new opportunity for economic growth in many ways,” says Gagne of plans to build a hemp decortication plant in the Smoky River Region.
“But success doesn’t come easy in emerging opportunities, regardless of how promising it might look at the outset.”
Over the last three years, an investor group [SHDL] was formed to evaluate the opportunities, analyze best practices and ensure return on investment to producers. The group, which includes Gagne and Dan and Melissa Labrecque, have coordinated a team to work tirelessly to ensure this opportunity would be an economic driver and not an investment cesspool. After tedious evaluation of the industry and one trial year of industrial hemp growth [thanks to local farmers], the group is now in the process of purchasing a location to officially set up a decortication plant in the region.
“It takes years of careful planning, market research, finding the right people to provide expertise and guidance,” she says.
“[It’s also] finding the right equipment, the best resources for growers, the best technology to process, and best market strategies.”
Gagne explains the group has been carefully examining available decortication equipment available in Europe and throughout North America. She believes they’ve found suitable equipment in Canada with a new technology that will ensure their end goal is met: to have the best fiber and hurd processed to buyer specifications. Various companies have reached out to them to see how much product they’ll be able to provide, and she believes there will be more demand as the fiber is used more widely.
Globally, hemp is emerging as a material alternative to produce a variety of items including industrial and consumer textiles, building materials, paper, foods, personal hygiene items and even bedding for
animals and mulch/compost. The investors of SHDL see the potential to expand, hoping that their
decortication plant will attract a hemp cluster of businesses to the area.
“This is an opportunity to capitalize on the potential of what is produced by our farmers. The real economic driver, and potential to be a screaming success, is [found in] processing our own product here,” explains Gagne, noting that for more than three years the team has been researching tirelessly to ensure the success of their initiative.
“At every point, between crop buyer and the consumer, there is profit. Processing facilities do exist and are thriving in this province. We believe it can and should be done right where the crops are grown, and we think Industrial Hemp processing will provide that opportunity. Our goal is to provide growers and others, right here, with the opportunity to be involved and benefit every step of the way.”
In addition to the economic opportunities associated with the introduction of hemp and decortication facility in the region, the crop will also present an incomparable environmental benefit. It is noted that an acre of industrial hemp can sequester as much as two metric tons of carbon dioxide in only four months of growing. This could play a significant role in meeting global greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, while providing agricultural producers an opportunity to have an extra crop in their rotation and potentially increasing their farm revenue.
Gagne says Smoky Hemp Decortication Ltd. is looking for more farmers to grow hemp in the 2022 season and for potential investors. They would like to see the 2021 production of 180 hemp acres increased to 3,000 acres in the upcoming growing season.
In 2023, they anticipate being fully operational, processing the fiber and hurd from baled hemp grown in our region in 2022.
Editor’s note: The article was written by Emily Plihal for Smoky River Regional Economic Development, who granted permission to re-publish the article in South Peace News.