Farmers Produce Area's First Legal Hemp Crop! 

Farmers Produce Area's First Legal Hemp Crop! 
Posted by FoM on August 09, 1999 at 10:05:32 PT
The Canadian Press
Source: Sympatico News
BRANTFORD, Ont. (CP) - The fibre was so thick and strong they broke a knife blade. And they had to cut the crop in turns over three days, and wait out a violent storm. 
But when they finally finished all 10 hectares this week, Harold Edgar and his son Ken had harvested the first legal, commercial hemp crop in Brant County since the federal government legalized the activity last year. Their operation is part of a group including four other farmers in the Ayr area who have a contract to grow hemp fibre for the processing firm Hempline Inc. outside London, Ont. "It's exciting to think we're in on a new crop," said Harold Edgar. "I hope it works out for us." But he says the harder part is still to come. The hemp stalks will be left in the field to "rhett," which means to weather and mature naturally until the leaves can be taken off and the core fibres can be split and baled. "We'll have to wait until then to see how the whole thing goes," Edgar said. Larry Davis, of the Burford, Ont., area is also planting hemp this year. He's leading five other farmers who are planting a collective 20 hectares for the business promotion group Brant Agribusiness. He and others agree that hemp is so new to the province's agriculture that they're all still feeling their way. They often turn to reports by crop scientists for guidance, and when they aren't certain about something, they get on the phone to an expert. How they grow the crop depends on the intended end use. The Edgars' hemp is meant for fibre, so they're looking for height and stalk strength. Their crop grew between four and 12 feet high. Meanwhile, it was important for Davis to plant a variety that wouldn't grow high and in a field that would give a yield of uniform height because he has to use a combine to harvest. "This crop is difficult to combine because the fibre wants to wrap around anything that touches it," he said. "It's strong and can jam things up. And you want all the seeds around the same height so it will be easier to combine." Farm machinery maker Case IH is so interested in how Davis fares that the company has sent a man to help get the combine ready for the big day. And as each farmer prepares to harvest, each is acutely aware of the crop's importance to the future of Brant's agribusiness scene. There has been a surge of interest in growing and processing the crop since federal Health Minister Allan Rock introduced legislation in 1998 allowing the strictly regulated production of a genetically engineered, low-THC (the barbituate content) strain of hemp. That legislation reversed a 60-year-old ban on the crop imposed in 1938 by the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King. The ban wiped out what was then one of Ontario's largest crops and an entire processing industry. The release of all that pent-up entrepreneurial demand last year sent growers in many Ontario counties scrambling to get in on the action. But they faced the obstacle of a lack of a nearby processor, since hemp carries high transportation costs. There are only two hemp processing firms in Ontario: Hempline Inc. and Kennex, outside Chatham. Consequently, most Ontario hemp growers are in Essex County, Chatham-Kent, Middlesex and Oxford. But transportation isn't the only important hurdle facing hemp growers. They also face heavy federal regulation of the stigmatized crop. To be a hemp grower you have to acquire a permit from the federal government, as well as a licence for the precise plot of harvest land. Farmers must go through the same procedure each time they move to another plot. That adds up to a lot of money given that most farmers rotate their crops every year as part of better field management practices. Hemp growers also have to send samples of their product to an accredited lab to check for the THC level. Although the strain has been engineered to keep the level low, it can rise if there's too much heat during the drying process. If a test shows an unacceptable THC level, a farmer's whole harvest can be ordered destroyed. And, finally, a paper trail of reports and documents must follow the hemp from the arrival of seed at planting time all the way to the processor. "It's going to take awhile to get used to this," said Davis of all the red tape. "It's amazing how much licensing they putting us through." Mon, Aug 9th(Brantford Expositor)  The Canadian Press, 1999
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