Interest high in hemp, but acres stable

Demand for hemp cereal, hemp milk and hemp protein bars is booming in North America, but western Canadian hemp acreage is unlikely to expand in 2015.

Near bumper yields in 2013 and 2014 will cause a significant carryover into 2015-16.

As a result, hemp processors aren’t contracting additional acres in 2015 because they need to consume the existing supply, said Clarence Shwaluk, director of farm operations for Manitoba Harvest, a hemp foods manufacturer in Winnipeg.

“We want this to be a bit of a correction year so we can match our supply to demand,” said Shwaluk during Ag Days in Brandon.

He said Manitoba Harvest will contract 40,000 acres of hemp this year.

“It’s down a little bit from last year,” he said.

“We had a very large 2013 crop, and 2014 is shaping up to be a very good crop as well, from what growers are reporting to us.”

Prairie farmers planted 90,000 acres of hemp last year, but record June rain drowned out 5,000 to 15,000 acres in eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Many in the industry assumed that Canadian acreage would easily top 100,000 this year, considering stout demand for hemp food in the United States and Canada.

Barry Tomiski, chief operating officer of Hemp Oil Canada, said those predictions may be high.

“I don’t think the acres are going to increase substantially this year.”

Hemp Oil Canada, a Ste. Agathe, Man., company that sells hempseed, hemp protein and oil to food manufacturers, will likely contract a similar number of acres to last year, Tomiski said.

“There’s a bumper crop out there from this past year,” he said.

“The Alberta crop (was) extremely good. We’ve had reports of one acreage that was irrigated that hit 3,000 pounds to the acre. That is an exceptional level of production. Normal on irrigation would be 1,800 to 2,200.”

Dryland hemp yields were also respectable last year. Shwaluk said many farmers topped 1,000 lb. per acre, above the historical average of 800 to 1,000 lb. per acre.

“One of the (highest) I had in conventional production was 1,800 lb. per acre,” he said.

Chris Dzisiak, who farms near Dauphin, Man., and chairs Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers, said yields in the region were poor last year because the wet spring drenched many fields.

Still, hemp acres in the area will likely remain stable this year. The co-operative is offering contracts to its members at 90 cents a lb., Dzisiak said.

“We’re just talking to our buyers, trying to confirm acres and absolute volume.”

Tomiski said most contracts for conventional hempseed were 70 to 75 cents per lb. in 2014.

Prices will likely be similar this year.

“They (prices) are steady,” Tomiski said.

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