Canada: Vegreville Centre Sheds Light on the Industrial Applications of Hemp
By Krista Allan, News Writer
Alberta is going green, but not in the way some might think. Just outside the town of Vegreville, the Alberta Research Council is working to add hemp farming to Alberta’s list of lucrative industries.
The Vegreville nursery is home to the largest research and production facility of hemp in North America. Industrial hemp grown in Alberta can be used in a number of products ranging anywhere from textiles to fibreglass. Products made from hemp have less environmental impact than those made from glass or plastics, and in many cases are more energy efficient.
Jan Slaski, breeder and plant physiologist at the Vegreville facility, explained why this is the case.
“Bio composites produced from hemp are more environmentally friendly. Replacing glass fibre with bio-fibre produces a much lighter product. A lighter product means that your car, boat, or airplane is lighter and uses less fuel. High-end European car manufacturers, particularly German manufacturers, use bio-composites in their panels,” he said.
Historically, hemp has been grown in Canada for hundreds of years, but was banned in 1938 due to the associations hemp has with marijuana. This ban was later lifted in 1998. Industrial hemp, unlike marijuana, does not contain high levels of THC, the compound in marijuana that causes intoxication.
According to Slaski, Canada has very strict guidelines for hemp farmers.
“Cultivating hemp in Canada is regulated by Health Canada,” he stated. “The hemp that can be grown in Canada is strictly industrial hemp, and can only contain less than 0.3 per cent THC.”
This amount of THC is not enough to associate industrial hemp with narcotics. Such a low amount of chemical in industrial hemp should take the negative drug associations out of the industry.
The varieties of hemp currently grown in Alberta have mostly European origins. Researchers at the ARC have adapted European varieties to thrive in Alberta’s climate. Researchers have tested about 80 different cultivars (or plant varieties) from different regions to distinguish which varieties grow best in Alberta soil. The ARC has identified a Polish cultivar, also known as the Silesia variety, which has a 20–40 per cent higher crop yield than the cultivars presently allowed for cultivation in Canada. The group owns the sole rights to this variety of hemp in North America, and covers all aspects of hemp from development to processing to production, which is a benefit to the Alberta economy.
“ARC is offering solutions from seeds to the final product. This means we work with hemp to develop new cultivars and new agricultural practices. The new cultivars have a high yield and are adapted to our Alberta climate conditions,” Slaski said “We then take the hemp stock to our facilities in Millwoods, and soon we will have a processing facility in Vegreville, and process it.
The ARC oversees the hemp from seed to the final product. This means that all research, farming, and processing of the fibres is done locally keeping jobs and revenue within Alberta.
Slaski argued that this is a huge benefit to Alberta farmers and the overall economy. It's also a benefit to individual farmers because hemp is a very lucrative crop.
“Farmers here in the province look for cash crops. They want something they can finally start making money on and hemp provides that opportunity,” Slaski said. Because industrial hemp is relatively new to Alberta, bio-composites are a bit more expensive, but the ARC is setting industry standards.
“At this point, it is a niche market,” Slaski said. “Working with mainstream industry, working with auto industries, buildings, textiles, it means we can get a much larger volume of materials produced and we can re-establish hemp as a valuable crop to Alberta.”