Tucked inside a processing plant in Bruderheim, Alberta are bags of hemp seeds from the Institute of Bast Crops in Ukraine.
The institute, the country’s national agrarian science academy, is in northeastern Ukraine, an area that was under Russian occupation last year.
In an effort to help preserve and develop the work of the institute, the seeds were brought by the Canadian Rockies Hemp Corp., 60 kilometers northeast of Edmonton.
To get the seeds to Canada, the institute hired Hungarian truckers to pass through Russian checkpoints and eventually Poland and then Germany.
“They are extremely resilient people and it’s amazing what they are able to do even in these difficult times,” said Aaron Barr, CEO of Canadian Rockies Hemp, which has become one of the largest hemp processors. in Canada since it opened last fall.
The Ukrainian seeds will be offered to local farmers because they are well suited for cultivation in Alberta, producing the more fibrous industrial hemp, which can be split into different components through a process called decortication.
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The process separates the fibers from the hurds, the woody inner cores of the hemp stalks.
The fiber can be made into yarn for textiles and the wool can be used to make animal bedding.
Hemp can be made into compostable plastics, vehicle door panels, dashboards, pulp, paper, and hempcrete, which is similar to concrete.
“The hippies have been right about this product for years,” Barr said.
“It’s been touted as some sort of miracle plant.”
Health Canada licenses and regulates the industrial hemp industry. The regulator issued 1,050 permits in 2021, up from 542 in 2018. Alberta grew more than 8,000 hectares of industrial hemp in 2021, more than any other province.
Industrial hemp refers to any part of the cannabis plant, where the concentration of THC is less than 0.3%. Recreational cannabis can contain 30% THC.
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In a field outside the Canadian Rockies Hemp factory, 25,000 bales are waiting to be processed, with another 15,000 on the way.
“We call it hemp mountain,” said operations manager Spencer Tighe. “For most farms, you wouldn’t see that many bales.”
Canadian Rocky Mountain hemp provides farmers with seeds and also harvests the crop.
“They’re doing what the farmer would normally do,” said Chris Allam, who grows hemp for the company on a farm near Redwater.
Last year, hemp accounted for about 10% of Allam’s harvest. He also grows wheat, canola and salad beans.
Hemp is a good crop to grow, Allam said, because it is relatively simple and requires little fertilizer. It also has a large taproot that breaks up the soil, which is rejuvenated by leaf litter.
Since the plant can be used to make compostable products and replace single-use plastics, it is very attractive, he said.
“It’s probably the answer to pollution.”
Local economic boon
By next year, the plant plans to increase production by processing up to 50,000 acres of hemp and producing 50,000 tons of fiber and over 100,000 tons of hurd, employing about 100 workers.
Karl Hauch, mayor of the town of Bruderheim, 1,400 inhabitants, welcomes the growth of the company.
“It’s just fantastic news,” Hauch said. “Paying taxes, employing people, creating spin-off companies – those are huge benefits for our community.”
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