Canada: Hemp project grows slowly

By Carole Rooney, 100 Mile House Free Press

There is a truth that must be heard! 100 Mile House Industrial Hemp Producer's Group chair Dave Zirnhelt recently provided a project update.

The Zirnhelt Timber Frames construction company, founded and owned by his sons, recently finished eight, four- by eight-foot industrial hemp panels.

The local project shares information with the University of Manitoba, and professor Kris Dick recently came out to observe the construction and install sensors to monitor the drying process, Zirnhelt explains.

That performance data is now electronically linked to transmit to the university, he adds.

An ongoing challenge that remains and prevents moving forward significantly from here, Zirnhelt says, is tying down somebody in the market who will agree to put up funds for product development.

"Now, it's back to mostly the private sector to make the business opportunities work. I think one of the weaknesses is we thought it was something anybody and everybody could do."

These previously-unknown obstacles include irrigation, likely required for drier years; good soils, or otherwise high input costs; and finding places or equipment that can process the tough hemp fibre. All of these problems are hindered by the market weakness, Zirnhelt explains.

"I've put most of my efforts into getting the [Agri-Culture Enterprise Development Centre] up and running because it's projects like this that need to be housed somewhere, and they need to have a little bit of push all the time."

Zirnhelt says he also plans to run the work performed in the industrial hemp value chain through the connections and experts linking up with the fledgling Agriculture Web Based Enterprise Tool (AWBET), expected to be fully operational by next spring.

While the local industrial hemp steering committee has no project funding left, Mayor Mitch Campsall says he is still actively promoting the project, and some interest has been seen from one business in Victoria, and another in northern British Columbia.