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And the hemp beat goes on…

Keanan in Renfrew County

Reuben Stone, President of Valley Bio Ltd. is pounding the pavement to build his business and contribute to the economic sustainability of agriculture in Renfrew County. With some strong supporters behind him, Stone stands ready and able to grow the hemp industry in Eastern Ontario.

Producers high on hemp
Plant related to marijuana used in everything from granola bars to cosmetics

By TOM VAN DUSEN, Ottawa Sun
February 2, 2011

GALETTA — Other than medical marijuana, it’s the only Canadian crop requiring a criminal record check and licensing for prospective growers.

It’s industrial hemp, which is closely related to marijuana. In fact, it’s a strain of the same plant minus significant levels of the hallucinogen THC.

Acquiring a one-year growing licence from Health Canada is the first step for anybody embarking on hemp production for Valley Bio. The Renfrew Cty. company is trying to boost production and sales of the plant, which is capable of remarkable growth and is used in a wide variety of fibre and food products.

Valley Bio harvested 245 acres of food-grade hemp last year. In 2011, it hopes to boost that to at least 1,200 acres, most of it on contract with Eastern Ontario cash-croppers who are looking to try something a little different.

With that in mind, Valley Bio’s Reuben Stone hosted two information meetings this week, one at Douglas and the other at Galetta. The meetings attracted about 75 farmers.

“It’s exhilarating to stand in a field of hemp just as it starts to elongate,” said provincial researcher Gordon Scheifele, adding that at the height of the season, you can almost feel it growing. “It’s the most incredible plant God created for mankind.”

One of Ontario’s most prominent hemp experts, Scheifele downplayed the licensing requirements, saying they involve filling out a form, undergoing a police background check and paying a fee.

A separate licence must be obtained for each 10-acre plantation, and GPS co-ordinates must be provided to Health Canada’s Office of Controlled Substances. The grower must also arrange for crop tissue sampling and laboratory THC analysis.

Hemp was long banned all over North America because its leaves and flowers can contain THC. Canada reintroduced the production, sale, processing, exporting and importing of certain varieties of industrial hemp on a controlled basis in 1998. Growing any variety of the plant remains prohibited in the U.S., opening the door to the biggest market for Canadian hemp products.

The reintroduction of hemp caused a flurry of interest in growing and selling it in this country, but primarily as fibre, Scheifele said. However, the market wasn’t there and interest waned. Now it’s coming back, but on the food oil and meal processing side.

“This isn’t fly-by-night or boom-or-bust,” Scheifele said. “The market still isn’t huge, but hemp is here to stay this time.”

Hemp oil contains Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids as well as gamma linolenic acid, which is purported to have anti-inflammatory properties. Hemp meal and grain are used in granola bars and other food items, as well as cosmetics and birdseed.

Tom Greaves of hemp food processor Manitoba Harvest, which bought all of Valley Bio’s hemp last year, said there has been a “big spike” in demand for the crop. Greaves said his company will likely accept any extra Eastern Ontario production this year.

While he was thrilled with the turnout at this week’s information sessions, Stone said he’ll likely sign up only a small percentage of those who showed up.

Big operators who grow corn, which sells for $205 a tonne, probably won’t shift gears to hemp. While hemp pays $1,210 a tonne, much higher expenses per acre bring its net return down to $173 on limited acreage, compared with $138 for corn on vast acreage. Stone expects any interest to come from smaller niche farmers.

For more information, visit www.valleybio.com

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