- Global demand for hemp is an opportunity for Southern Alberta
As demand grows, Innotech Alberta Senior Researcher Jan Slaski told Invest Medicine Hat that there is increasing need for processing capacity to handle growing volumes of hemp seed and fibre.
“Ten years ago, there were a few dusty bags on the bottom shelf of a health food store,” says Slaski, who has been researching industrial hemp for 15 years. “Now you can find hemp hearts and hemp-based snacks on prominent displays in the major chains.”
Although hemp has moved up on consumers’ radar, he says there is still a lot of room to grow. In Canada, only 3.5% of pantry shelves are stocked with hemp food products.
On hemp’s full potential, Slaski explains that it one day be one of Alberta’s staple crops. The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance forecasts total potential of 1,000,000 seeded acres on the prairie provinces.
In 2015, 24,963 acres of hemp was seeded in Alberta, growing approximately 40% of Canada’s entire crop. The bulk of those acres are found between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
Hemp is prized for its nutritious oil that contains both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) as well as fibre. Hemp can be used to make beer, cosmetics, plastics, cereals, construction materials and is even being considered for bullet-proof vests.
“Hemp is a multi-purpose plant,” says Slaski. “From the seed to the stem, every part can be used.” Hemp grains are harvested for their oil and food applications while the stalk is processed by decortication, a procedure that strips the fibre from the core and creates materials used in products ranging from vehicle parts to paper.
As for hemp’s association with marijuana, Slaski says they are not the same. “You would have to smoke a four metre long joint to get a high from hemp.”
Canada is one of the world’s leading exporters of hemp for food manufacturing, with the majority heading to the United States.
As hemp crops are harvested near Medicine Hat and exported around the world, there’s a growing need for decortication and oil press facilities to compliment the region’s planned de-hulling facility.