China wants to become a player in the hemp world, and Canada’s industry is trying to figure out how to make that a positive rather than a negative.
The world’s most populous nation is trying to boost hemp fibre production and textile manufacturing.
“Can Canada afford … not to co-operate with China?” said Jan Slaski, senior researcher at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF).
Canada has a burgeoning trading relationship with China, and its large domestic market could offer much.
However, the country is also infamous for intellectual theft, so giving China’s hemp companies access to Canadian know-how could backfire if Canada doesn’t get good access to the Chinese market.
Slaski was clearly supportive of working with China’s industry, befitting his role with the AITF program involved in developing China’s hemp industry.
Robert Jin, owner of Plains Industrial Hemp Processors, also sees great potential for Canada-China hemp trade.
He said Canada has production advantages that give it an edge in fibre crop production, including a cool climate and an “if you want, you can grow large” approach. China’s farming conditions are more challenging, with hot weather in most areas causing poor fibre quality.
However, he didn’t sound positive about Canada developing its own hemp-based textiles industry because of high labour costs.
“This is a problem,” Jin said, appearing to recommend Canada focus on crop production and China on processing. “Maybe some good here. Maybe some good there. Work together. This is the best of both.”
Slaski said China is gearing up for a possible 3.2 million acre hemp crop in coming years, radically higher than the 62,000 it grew for fibre last year. However, in the early 1980s it was growing 395,000 acres.
“They want to reduce dependency on cotton,” said Slaski, noting that the Chinese government wants to replace 5.6 million cotton acres with mostly food crop acres. Hemp acres could supply fibre for the Chinese textiles industry.
Jin praised the Canadian hemp industry but said it can cause problems for fibre processors.
Spring can be too short and fall conditions unpredictable. As well, farmers are often trying to grow “dual purpose” varieties that produce good grain but not the best fibre.