South Peace News
It would be hard to find a more passionate Alberta MLA when it comes to hemp projects than Drayton Valley – Devon MLA Mark Smith.
Smith was one of many dignitaries to attend the June 24 ground-breaking near Donnelly.
“Industrial hemp is such a unique crop,” he said in an interview before the trip north.
“It is the strongest natural fibre in the world. Its seed is used in the agri-food and pharmaceutical industry and its stalk can be used in everything from clothing to the car industry, to aviation to the core of wind turbine blades.”
And what makes Alberta – particularly the Peace Country – such a great place to grow hemp is its long summer days.
“Alberta is one of the best places in the world to grow industrial hemp and with whole plant utilization could be close to the most profitable crop in Alberta next to canola.
“It is a rotational crop that helps to impede club root and it takes five times the amount of carbon out of the air in one year that will take a north American forest 20 years to take out of the air. It is a huge carbon sink.”
Smith supports not only the project in Smoky River but also others in the province.
“I became interested in industrial hemp because of a local company called Bio-Composites Group that makes a hemp matting for market garden grow cubes, they produce a hemp insulation and a hemp matting for all sorts of purposes from erosion control to matting to control weeds around tree seedlings. They were pre-commercial when I first became an MLA in 2015 and today they sell their products around the world.”
As a result, Smith helped start the Alberta Hemp Alliance which has grown into the primary advocacy group for industrial hemp in Alberta.
“Most recently, I helped to bring in two new businesses [Inca and Blue Sky] into Alberta that will begin to process all of the seed in Alberta now and will increase our decortication in the province 10 fold. This will create the demand for farmers to begin growing hemp as a part of their crop rotation.”
Some of his attention is now turning toward the Smoky River project.
“As MLA, I am always looking for another way to grow the industrial hemp industry.”
He says Alberta presently grows about 40,000 acres of hemp.
“It may not sound like much but we still dominate the North American market,” says Smith, adding he is confident of its success.
“The Smoky River project will ensure that this is not simply a southern crop but will increase the demand for hemp in the northern parts of Alberta as well. As we increase the demand for industrial hemp then we will also see the farmers begin to grow this very valuable crop.”
He commends the Smoky River group for its perseverance moving forward.
“[They] are so creative, [they] have a vision and are prepared to work hard and take the measured risks necessary to grow this new industry,” says Smith.
As an MLA, he adds it is his job to help government work for the people of Alberta.
“I see this trip as an opportunity to make the relationships and have the conversations that will hopefully result in the industrial hemp industry solidifying and growing on the gains of the last five years,” he concludes.