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Cape Breton hemp company going off-island to meet production demands

Cape Breton businessman Parker Rudderham is moving his hemp business off-island and switching his focus from health food to the pharmaceutical market.

'We need large acreages. And we just don't have that here,' says Highland Hemp's Parker Rudderham

Parker Rudderham, the president of Highland Hemp, shows off one of his company's hemp oil products. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Cape Breton businessman Parker Rudderham is moving his hemp business off-island, and switching his focus from health food to the pharmaceutical market.

Rudderham launched Highland Hemp in 2016. In its first year, the company grew hemp on about 25 hectares on Cape Breton and produced 22,000 bottles of hemp seed oil for sale as a health food product, mainly to markets in Europe.

Rudderham had planned to hold information sessions with local farmers in the fall of 2017 to persuade them to switch their crop to hemp, but that plan got sidelined once he realized the growing potential in another hemp-based product, cannabidiol (CBD) oil.

"In the last two years, CBD is just taking the pharmaceutical industry by storm," Rudderham said Tuesday.

Several pharmaceutical companies are doing research on using CBD for pain and seizures, he said.

While Rudderham is also president of Pharmacy Wholesale Services, he said the production of CBD oil was not his original goal in getting into hemp.

'Twists and turns'

"This was something that came about after. And, as when you're developing any business, there's lots of twists and turns that present themselves.... My main reason for getting involved was to try to do something here on Cape Breton Island, which is still our goal … but my DNA is not to pass up opportunity," he said.

CBD oil sells for $5,000 to $8,000 per kilogram — much more than hemp seed oil — and it's possible to sell much larger quantities to a single buyer.

Why the company is looking outside Cape Breton

The need for greater quantities has forced the company off the island.

"We need large acreages. And we just don't have that here," Rudderham said.

Last year, Highland Hemp worked through a contractor to grow its new product on 400 hectares in Quebec, producing about 960 kilograms of CBD oil for sale to a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Germany.

Rudderham is looking at moving the CBD crop to Manitoba in the next growing season.

'We've got sidetracked'

But he hasn't turned his back on Cape Breton-grown hemp seed oil.

"To be in Cape Breton, and to create this market in Cape Breton, and to use local farmers, that's always been our goal. And we've got sidetracked," he said.

"But I would be pleased to get back to that."

That's not likely to happen until the 2019 growing season, he said.