Alberta farmers cashing in on hemp farms
Many Alberta farmers have taken to hemp to round out their crops and some say they're making a tidy profit.
According to a recent study done by Alberta Agriculture, farmers in the province seeded the most hemp in all of Canada at 6,434 hectares last year.
The preliminary estimate for this year is 8,000 hectares.
"As long as we keep making money we'll keep growing it," says Will Van Roessel.
The Bow Island-area farmer is about to harvest hemp for the third straight year.
He's been contracted to grow the hemp for its seeds, which could be processed into a wide range of products including oil, flour, shampoo and wood sealant. Van Roessel says he's expecting to make three times the amount he would get for wheat.
As for the overwhelming smell from the acres and acres of hemp, Van Roessel says he doesn't mind.
"Well some people don't like it at all. I quite enjoy the smell, so it's fine with me," he said.
New market needed
The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance says what's needed now is a market for the fibre or straw part of the plant.
"We really just need some industry to step up, and start to put some risk capital in to start to build that business," says Russ Crawford, the alliance's vice president.
Students at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary are one step ahead as the school is trying to develop building panels made out of hemp for Bio-Struct.
Andrew Mackie, the president of the Calgary-based company, says the panels are an all-natural option for fiberglass or foam insulation.
"We can use it to create a very high-performance structure, which means a very energy-efficient structure as well as high performance in terms of how it deals with moisture and retains heat or cool in the summer," Mackie said.
He also said he’s hoping to start construction on a demonstration hemp house within six months, which is good news for farmers like Van Roessel.
He says most of the plant's straw is waste so he either bales it or burns it. Van Roessel says the Bio-Struct project is "encouraging."