For South Peace News
Smoky Hemp Decortication Ltd. and Smoky River Regional Economic Development have been working tirelessly in recent years to introduce a hemp decortication plant in the region to help increase growing opportunities for local producers and to boost the local economy.
This year, as part of their efforts, they found six local agricultural producers willing to grow 185 total acres of hemp to increase knowledge on what it requires to grow industrial hemp in the region.
“It’s a new initiative and with that there’s always a learning curve,” says Donnelly farmer Frank Cote, who grew 55 acres of industrial hemp during the 2021 growing season.
“There’s not a whole lot of information out there, so we went on what our agronomist and seed companies recommended. Hemp is a crop in development, but we feel it will provide a good alternative for producers.”
Agronomist Darcy Boisvert, who was hired to help people grow hemp in the area, says he was part of the team at SARDA who grew test plots over the span of a few years. They discovered the region’s growing conditions allow for higher yields of hemp than other places in the province.
Boisvert adds with an approximate $300 per acre input cost, growers would need to produce two tonnes per acre to break even. He anticipates a target of 4-6 tonnes per acre in optimal growing conditions.
“There’s definitely money to be made in a good year,” says Boisvert, who is hopeful that hemp can be an addition to crop rotations.
“We anticipate that we can make the same money off hemp as we do off wheat, or on good years even potentially as much as we do off canola.”
Boisvert explains currently 70 per cent of this year’s bales are being bought by one plant in the province. with the remaining 30 per cent expected to be sold to the second hemp decortication plant.
“Our objective at the beginning was to ensure our producers would have a market for their hemp bales,” says Boisvert.
“We were able to secure two companies in Alberta, one in Barrhead and one in Drayton Valley, both who were looking for hemp fiber. This could be a huge opportunity for farmers in our area.”
Ensuring there is a market for the hemp fiber was an integral step in introducing the new crop into the region. Boisvert says after the hemp was baled, they were inspected by the first company and some
bales did not meet their requirements. Some had too many wild oats and some were baled with the settings on the baler too tight. These are all attributed to the learning curve growers in our region are
facing with this new product.
Cote says although the weather did not cooperate during the growing season, producers were able to analyze some things that could be altered in future years. He adds he used 30 pounds of seed per acre in 2021 but feels that a 22-24-pound per acre seeding rate would likely produce a better product. He
felt where the crop was heavier there was finer stalks, deducing that the fiber quality would also be negatively affected.
Boisvert and Cote urge other farmers to get in contact with Smoky Hemp Decortication Ltd. To grow some acres of hemp to help increase knowledge on the crop and to help discover best growing practices in regard to the local soil. They both indicated they feel it will be a great crop to add into a farm’s rotation and could prove to be quite lucrative when growing conditions are optimal.
Cote says there was a lot of speculation that the growing process may be more difficult than conventional crops, however; he says the hemp was easy to seed. He did note there is a learning opportunity for baling it because it’s different than baling a hay crop. He says he was concerned about
cutting it because of the height of the stalk, but he was able to cut between 5-6 miles per hour.”
“The more acres out here, the more knowledge we will have and the ability to expand will be greater,”
says Cote, who explains he would suggest other farmers try to grow hemp next year.
“Experimenting with different varieties will be important to determine what type of end product we want.”
Boisvert does anticipate that due to lack of rain during the growing season that producers will likely be losing money on their hemp this year. As was the case with many crops, the limited rainfall did not allow the stalk to grow as high as it should. He says the variety of hemp grown in 2021 should be between 8-10 feet tall but was stunted at just over foru feet.
“Hemp is sensitive to early moisture. We had a dry May, which is great conditions for starting to grow hemp and we were all excited,” says Boisvert.
“But then we had no moisture through the summer, and it affected its growth.”
Cote has confirmed he will be increasing his hemp crop to 60 acres in 2022. Boisvert says he will likely allocate 10 acres again to figure out the agronomics.