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A hemp field in Carleton County, N.B. Photo credit: Reter Scott, NB Dept. Agriculture, Aquaculture & Fisheries.

Hemp in the Rotation?

Several investigations in New Brunswick are looking at the suitability of this crop for the region.

Potato farmers are always keen to include lucrative new crops in the rotation, and various groups in New Brunswick are currently looking into the suitability of hemp.

To start examining that possibility and all other economic growth opportunities related to hemp, the leaders at the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture & Fisheries put out a request for proposals (RFP) last fall, explains Kevin McCully, the department’s provincial director of agriculture.

“We awarded the contract in December 2018 to a Quebec-based firm called Expansion Strategies,” he explains. “As indicated in the RFP, by July [2019] this firm will complete an asset inventory, a scan of funding possibilities, market scan, infrastructure needs assessment, investment strategy, ‘SWOT’ analysis, operational plan, and a scan of the regulatory and policy environment related to hemp.”

Whether hemp is a good fit in the potato rotation will depend on many factors, says McCully. This includes whether pesticide residues from applications on potatoes or other rotational crops the year before are a concern in the end product (e.g. CBD; more on that later), whether there are any common disease or pest issues, and whether the infrastructure required for the processing of the potential various end uses is available or feasible within the potato-growing areas of New Brunswick.

About 1,200 acres of hemp were grown in New Brunswick last year. Claude Bertheleme, director of the province’s crop sector development branch, notes European corn borer was already identified in one hemp field grown outside the potato belt this year, which is a pest that can affect potatoes. There are not many registered crop protection products for hemp, but he says more are projected to be registered as hemp acreage throughout Canada increases.

David Joly, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Moncton, says as far as he knows, most hemp producers in the province don’t spray anything on the crop. He is currently surveying fields planted by various producers to see what diseases and pests are present.

A team of research scientists at Agriculture and Agri-food Canada in Fredericton are in the very early stages of studying hemp in the potato rotation. BioNB, a bioscience authority in New Brunswick, is also involved with a firm in conducting a research trial related to hemp in the potato context this year, but project officer Jennifer O’Donnell says further details are not available at this time.

Hemp Facts

Hemp was legalized as a crop in 1998 in Canada. Its oil and high-protein “hemp hearts” (which both contain healthy omega fatty acids) and fibre are already marketed for various food, feed and other purposes, such as fibre incorporation in composite building products.

Ted Haney, executive director at the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, predicts national hemp acreage will increase from a historic average of 100,000 to 450,000 by 2023. Some varieties being planted are dual-purpose (oilseed and fibre) and some tri-purpose (early harvest for flowers as well).

Hemp chaff (flowers and leaves) was only allowed to be legally harvested and sold to licenced cannabis producers for CBD extraction starting in 2018. The chaff (mostly the flowers) contains high amounts of CBD, a cannabinoid that is included in a class of pharmacologically-active compounds also found in the cannabis plant (but unlike THC, does not produce a “high”). CBD is useful for pain relief, stress reduction, sleep assistance, epilepsy, arthritis and more. It is also being marketed for the same purposes for pets such as dogs and cats, but CBD pet products are not yet legal in Canada.

Overall, Bertheleme reports he and his colleagues are excited about the new opportunities that this crop represents for N.B. potato farmers. “We already have five companies established: 1812 Hemp, Arcadia Ecoenergies, Canutra Naturals, Modern Hemp Innovation and Global Hemp Group,” he says, “all pursuing cultivation, processing and market opportunities here.”

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