Health Canada announced in August that hemp growers could harvest the flowering heads, branches and leaves of the 2018 crop.
Farmers were only allowed to harvest hemp for seed and fibre, after the Industrial Hemp Regulations first came into effect in 1998.
“It’s going to give us a bit of a head start, in terms of learning more about the plant, learning how to harvest it, and learning how to store it, and dry it. Those activities have been ongoing now for two months,” said Russ Crawford, president of Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.
Oct. 17 was the first day hemp growers could sell their product to licensed producers.
While industrial hemp and marijuana belong to the same species, they produce different levels of THC, the psychoactive drug.
Hemp contains no more than 0.3 per cent of THC.
Instead, hemp is known for its content of cannabidiol or CBD, a cannabinoid that has no psychoactive effects and is used for medicinal purposes.
“In terms of food and fibre, we have 20 years of experience with that, and so we’ve got a path set in place, but CBD is new,” Crawford said.
In 2017, more than 138,000 acres of hemp was planted in Canada.
“In comparison to other crops, the return per acre on hemp is excellent. It’s one of the few crops where dual revenues are actually possible. By that I mean you can capture revenues for both the seed and the fibre, or the cannabinoid and the fibre,” Crawford said.
Garry Meier, who started working in the hemp industry more than 20 years ago, expects there to be a learning curve for growers, as they learn how to capture the greatest value from the plant.
“It’s just going to be another tool in the toolbox for growers, much like lentils, much like peas, much like canola was. It’s going to be another opportunity that’s going to be explored and not all growers will want to take part in it,” said Meier, Hemp Genetics International president.
“The big question is how big is that marketplace?” Meier said.
Meier said it will be important for growers to learn how to harvest and stabilize the product in storage.
“If you harvest this crop and it suddenly goes mouldy in storage, you’ve got a big mess on your hands. Currently, there is no out for the offgrade product.”
Hemp products are currently not approved as livestock feed ingredients in Canada.