Hemp Commerce and Farming Report Article! 

Hemp Commerce and Farming Report Article! 
Posted by FoM on August 04, 1999 at 15:14:38 PT
by Gero Leson 
Source: Hemptech
Canada is now also moving ahead of the EU in the development of raw materials and products for the fast growing natural products market.
Pubdate:July 1999 issue - The HCFR recently approached noted industrial hemp consultant Gero Leson for an update on market developments and needed technological innovations. This interview was conducted by email in mid-July 1999. Q1. Where does Canada stand in relation to the international hemp community right now? Where are we behind and where are we ahead? A1. The status of industrial hemp in Canada is best compared to the countries in the European Union (EU) which have developed the same processing route for fibre. This includes the harvesting and modern processing of the field retted stalks into "whole fibre," as compared to the traditional water retting, followed by separation into long line fibre and tow. Over the last 5 years, Canadian farmers have, in particular, developed extensive experience with the growing, harvesting and processing of hemp for seeds. Despite frequent problems encountered, such as combines catching fire, successes are reflected in the, at least locally, extraordinary seed yields of up to 1.5 tonnes/hectare (1 t/ha is considered a good yield in the EU). Canada is also moving quickly towards establishing and registering new varieties which have been bred for specific goals, such as high seed yields, short growth and a specific fatty acid spectrum. Finally, thanks to the existing focus of Canadian agriculture on oil seed crops, there is sufficient and varied capacity for the production of high-quality cold pressed hemp oil, even in smaller quantities. Canada is now also moving ahead of the EU in the development of raw materials and products for the fast growing natural products market. Despite the variety and high quality of products, this market is somewhat limited in the EU, while in North America it is now extending beyond the traditional "health food customer". The implementation of processing capacities and products for hemp fibre has been slower and is lagging behind, compared to the EU where several hemp processors now offer various grades of hemp fibre for pulp, nonwovens and coarse textiles. While hemp stalks are being processed into fibre by the two relevant Canadian fibre processors, Kenex and Hempline, their capacities are limited. Also, operating efficiency and fibre quality still seem to require improvement. Furthermore, there are bottlenecks in the value-added processing of the bast fibre. This applies, in particular, when compared to Germany where a number of matting facilities now operate lines dedicated to the processing of natural fibres into mats for use in automotive panels, insulation materials and erosion control mats. The installation of Kenex's matting line is intended to improve that situation. What's definitely missing is a large-scale decortication/refining unit for the processing of the large amounts of hemp straw to be produced in Manitoba this year. While most European decorticators also feature low throughputs (~2 tonnes of straw/hour), groups in France and Holland have built decorticators with throughputs of 8-10 tonnes/hour, producing hemp fibre of a quality at least sufficient for pulping, if not for non-woven mats. Q2. In your opinion, what value-added industries is the Canadian hemp industry best positioned to explore? What's close? A2. Given the availability of hemp seeds and know how on oil crushing and hulling, the current growth in demand for healthy and tasty foods in North America, the use of hemp seeds for foods is, in my own opinion, the most promising short-term market for Canadian hemp. While I do not see the need for technology quantum leaps in seed processing, several technical hurdles need to be overcome on the production side. The quality of hemp oil, particularly for food, requires more consistency with respect to flavour, colour, free fatty acids and peroxide values. Market penetration by hulled seeds will require improvements to hulling techniques, which would result in both higher yields and cleaner products. Finally, there is need for research to elucidate the characteristics of hemp protein and, in particular, to resolve the issue of THC residues in seed products and their implications for employee drug testing in the US. Markets for hemp fibres in composites (see above) are not well developed in North America. While there are niche markets which can be supplied by the existing processors, the development of new markets will require work in several areas. As mentioned above, the largest technological/economic bottleneck will be the implementation of larger units for mechanical processing and value-added processing of fibres, such as matting, which achieve better economies of scale, thus reducing the premium that customers currently have to pay for a natural fibre product, and often won't. Q3. A lot of noise is made about hemp being a dual use crop. While dedicated fibre crops are the source of premium fibres that we see in high-end uses like textiles, most hemp in Canada is grown to maturity and the fibre is clearly a secondary product. In some producer cases, it's just ag-waste. In you opinion, what are the best uses for fibres originating from an oilseed crop? A3. Due to the lignification of mature fibre and the difficulties of properly removing hurds residues, the use of dual-purpose stalks as a source for pulp, where fibre fineness and cleanness is less important, seems most appropriate. Whether such stalks can be used successfully in nonwovens for automotive panels, insulation and other mats depends crucially on the performance of the primary processing technology (decortication and refining) and the customer's need. The fact that French groups have grown dual-purpose crops and are now marketing their fibre for non-pulp applications suggests that this can be achieved. Q4. Various companies and entrepreneurs in Canada are chasing a wide range of product objectives. Are there any overlooked markets that should be explored? A5. I do not claim to be aware of all ongoing market development activities in Canada. Based on observations in Europe, I believe that the use of hemp mats for agricultural/horticultural/erosion control applications have particularly good promise since these markets appear to be expanding and since mats from natural fibres combine good structural properties with biodegradability. As in other markets, hemp must compete with other domestic fibre sources, such as flax and kenaf. Q.5. Overproduction of hemp is a valid concern of many players and observers. How do you think farmers can protect themselves from the scenario of falling prices in the future? A5. I expect that prices, particularly for hemp seeds, will gradually come down, due both to competition between a growing number of suppliers, as well as improved economics of hemp farming. In fact, some decrease in seed prices will be necessary to expand markets for hempseed products. There is the risk of dramatic price declines if production jumps ahead of market development. The only way for farmers to protect themselves against their impacts is to expand acreage cautiously and grow under contract with established and realistic processors. Dr. Gero Leson has 15 years of experience in environmental research and consulting, primarily for US industry. This includes various projects for the wood products, petroleum and chemical industries. He is an acknowledged expert in the area of "biological air pollution control." Since 1994, he has also been involved in numerous research and implementation projects related to the use of fibre plants for technical applications, with a focus on industrial hemp. In 1997-98 he was president of Consolidated Growers and Processors. His firm, Leson Environmental Consulting, located in Berkeley, CA, provides services related to all relevant aspects of the hemp "value chain." He is currently co-ordinating a study to evaluate the correlation between hemp food ingestion and the likelihood of failing employee drug tests. The above artilce was excerped from the HCFR.For more details contact Arthur Hanks arthurhanks Hemp Farming & Commerce Report Issue # 3 - July 23, 1999
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