Is hemp our next Cinderella crop?

In the April 17 issue of The Western Producer, the question was posed: “Will Canada ever develop another canola or deliver a discovery that revolutionizes global agriculture?”

I think the answer to that is an emphatic “yes,” and the crop that can do that is hemp: Cinderella 2.0.

Industrial hemp is quite possibly the most important plant on earth.

Its DNA structure is closely aligned with human DNA, so it offers protein, omegas and dietary fibre in perfect proportion to our nutritional needs.

Hemp is naturally gluten free, non-genetically modified, free of trypsin inhibitors, dairy free and virtually free of any form of residual chemicals.

Hemp protein is highly nutritious and easily digested, and hemp seed oil is cold pressed to retain all of its natural nutritional value. Hemp seed oil is a perfect balance of omega 3-6-9, which is ideally suited for optimal human nutrition.

The hemp plant also provides a strong, durable, long-lasting natural soft bats fibre. It has the characteristics to provide durable clothing, shelter, building materials and high-tech composite fibre applications.

Hemp has proven to be an excellent natural insulator and fire retardant. It has applications as a high quality pressboard material, hempcrete, composite and plastic substrate product.

The value of industrial hemp as a medicine remains undiscovered, but it contains important building blocks for an abundant source of medicinal applications based on early stage scientific testing and results.

Equally important are the agronomic advantages. Industrial hemp is environmentally friendly with low input requirements and beneficial returns to the soil and atmosphere.

It is an excellent rotation crop with a high return per acre, even without the huge investment in science and research experienced by other crop alternatives in Canada over the past decades, such as canola, flax and peas.

Is industrial hemp really the next canola? Could it replicate the phenomenal success and value to Canadian agriculture?

No one can answer those questions definitively, but we see the same configuration of circumstances when we look at the history of canola based on where it started, what it had to offer and the coming together of a group of passionate and visionary people to elevate the crop to its present status as one of the highest quality oils in the world.

In fact, hemp’s value-added potential in the food, fibre and medicinal sectors could well surpass the success of canola as a source of oil for human consumption and meal for animal feed.

It is not unrealistic to imagine high quality food components of hemp seed finding their way into a host of products as supplemental ingredients. The world’s aging population will be the ideal market for natural, nutritious food and supplements, which can offer extended years of health and vitality.

Many stigmas need to be addressed because of hemp’s shared genealogical pool with marijuana. The legalization process of medical marijuana is softening the message, but at the same time, leaves the door open for continued confusion and the assumption that hemp and marijuana are the same. They most definitely are not.

After 15 years of legal production of industrial hemp in Canada, what is preventing it from achieving its full potential? Why hasn’t it happened already?

In a word: regulation.

Hemp is an oilseed like canola, but it rests under the watchful and restrictive eye of Health Canada and remains classified as a Schedule 2 controlled substance.

How is a food product ever going to be considered for mainstream commercialization as long as government agencies classify it and demonize it as a drug? It is time to decriminalize industrial hemp.

At the risk of over dramatizing the situation, the hemp industry is at a critical crossroads, which the Canadian government can either support or suppress. The renaissance of hemp is possible but it requires vision, effort and commitment on the part of government leaders and industry stakeholders.

The need for action is immediate because the U.S. market is opening its doors to hemp production.

Our voice is small: 85,000 acres of hemp versus 20 million acres of canola. However, canola’s voice was also a small one in the 1960s, and look where it is now.

Is hemp Cinderella 2.0? It could be.

Russ Crawford is president of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.

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