Chris Dzisiak has a simple reason for producing 350 acres of hemp – it makes economic and agronomic sense.
“In the end you’re growing it because there are contracts available,” said Dzisiak, who farms northeast of Dauphin, Man.
Hemp diversifies his farm and provides other benefits as well, he added.
“It’s about integrated pest management, it’s about crop production diversity and it’s about crop rotation.”
Dzisiak has a lot of company.
Manitoba Agriculture diversification specialist Keith Watson says acreage has doubled since last year.
“I’m guessing in Manitoba we’re probably in that 4,000 to 7,000 acres (range),” up significantly from 2008 and exponentially larger than 2007 when Manitoba producers harvested 1,000 acres of hemp.
Most of those are in the Dauphin region, which is sometimes referred to as the hemp capital of Canada.
Dzisiak, who estimated that there are 50 commercial hemp growers in the province, was beginning to harvest his crop last week. While it’s early, his yield of hemp grain looks promising.
“Anywhere from that 900 to 1,200 pounds (per acre) would be a very good crop,” he said.
Hemp is selling this year in the 55 to 75 cent per lb. range, which is comparable to last year. Organic hemp, which Dzisiak doesn’t grow, sells at a sizable premium of $1 to $1.20 per lb.
On top of the return, Dzisiak said hemp works well on his grain farm, where he also grows pulses and winter wheat.
“When you break the disease cycle because you have a crop that’s totally foreign to the disease species and weed pressures, you do good things for the soil and for your own weed spectrum that you have to suffer.”
Once harvest is complete, most Manitoba growers will deliver their hemp grain to food processors such as Manitoba Harvest, a Winnipeg company that produces products such as hemp oil and a hemp milk beverage.
Watson said about five hemp processors operate in Canada.
“The industry so far has grown based on the food industry.”
To capitalize on the demand for hemp and find a use for the substantial amount of straw in a hemp plant, Manitoba producers would like to build a fibre processing facility in Dauphin.
The Parkland Industrial Hemp Co-operative, which has 40 members, has been working toward that goal for several years, said Dzisiak, who is the co-op’s vice-president.
While progress on the plant has been slow, he said the situation has picked up lately.
“We’ve never had more interest in hemp fibre processing,” he said, adding an investor has been scrutinizing the co-op’s business plan.
According to the co-operative’s website, hemp fibre can be used to manufacture insulation and non-woven matting, which could be used for erosion control and horticulture mulch.
Watson said the hurds, or pulp from the hemp, are popular with owners of thoroughbreds and other high-end horses because they are highly absorbent.