Canadian hemp officials should focus on growing their domestic industry and not worry about opportunities to sell pedigreed seed and expertise to potential customers in the U.S., says a plant breeder.
Colorado and Kentucky are now importing hemp seed for research programs and Canadian hemp players may be well positioned to supply seed and establish a foothold in the nascent U.S. marketplace.
Dale Horn, a plant breeder with Terramax, a company in Qu’Appelle, Sask., that develops and markets edible beans, soybeans, peas, hemp and other seeds, said it’s too early for Canadian hemp breeders to jump into the U.S.
“We have our hands quite full just trying to move the Canadian hemp seed industry ahead,” he said. “It would be like doing an aid mission when you don’t have enough to feed your own family.”
The new U.S. Farm Bill, passed this winter, featured an amendment permitting the cultivation of hemp for research purposes. State agriculture departments and universities in states that have passed legislation allowing hemp production can now initiate research projects.
The change prompted speculation that Americans would acquire hemp varieties from Canada, but that isn’t happening yet, said Russ Crawford, Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance president.
As far as he knows, no Canadian seed has gone to the U.S. for hemp research, partly because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency isn’t granting import permits for hemp seed.
“Health Canada won’t give us an export permit without that (U.S.) import permit,” Crawford said.
Kevin Friesen, operations manager with Hemp Genetics International, a company that develops and sells hemp varieties, said he’s received a number of inquiries from the U.S.
“Lots of calls, but we haven’t supplied any seed to anyone as of yet,” he said, “because we have yet to have a permit issued by the DEA, which would allow us to export seed to a research facility.”
Horn said it’s not worth the effort to pursue opportunities in the U.S. because the rules, such as protection of intellectual property rights, aren’t established.
“I think we’re at the stage of trying to figure out the lay of the land and figuring out how things work, before we dive in,” he said.
Friesen agreed the situation is kind of like the Wild West.
“We don’t want to have someone smuggle across five gallons of our variety and it becomes the next premier U.S. variety and we receive no royalties for our efforts,” he said. “It is concern because it has already happened. There is a new variety called Colorado Star, which was probably derived from some smuggled seed from last year.”
Friesen said it’s uncertain where the seed came from, but he doesn’t think it’s from Hemp Genetics International.
“As far as we know, none of our seed has been smuggled into the U.S.”
Friesen said he’s willing to work with U.S. partners if certain protocols are followed.
“With proper agreements and documentation. Where it clearly states the germplasm is applied for evaluation purposes only. It not be used for any internal breeding programs.”
The hemp trade in the U.S. is unstable right now. In May the DEA seized approximately 120 kg of hemp seeds imported from Italy at the Louisville, Kentucky, airport. The Kentucky department of agriculture sued the DEA for unlawful seizure and the federal authorities relented, releasing the seed for research programs in the state.
In Colorado, another state pursuing hemp research, the conditions are also chaotic.
“The Colorado State Department of Agriculture is issuing research permits to people (farmers) who aren’t researchers,” Friesen said.
Horn said it could be years before the U.S. sorts out regulations for the hemp industry. In the meantime, Canada’s hemp trade has it’s own issues to resolve.
“What we’re focused on is getting the glitches out of our system, (including) combine clinics and production techniques.”