Work continues on hemp plant

The Plains Industrial Hemp Processing plant would process 40,000 bales annually and could employ up to 30 people.  |  Robert Arnason photo

GILBERT PLAINS, Man. — It’s taken six years and more than $5 million in taxpayer dollars, but a hemp processing plant in Manitoba’s Parkland region may soon open its doors for business.

“I think now it’s on the right track,” said Blake Price, Reeve for the rural municipality of Gilbert Plains. “They (the owners) would be disappointed if it’s not up and going by 2017.”

In the spring of 2010 the federal and Manitoba governments announced $5.3 million in funding for Plains Industrial Hemp Processing, a company with plans to process hemp fibre for textiles, building materials, animal bedding and other products. The bulk of the funding came from the federal government, which contributed $4.775 million.

Robert Jin, a Chinese businessman with experience in the textile industry and president of Plains Industrial Hemp Processing, predicted in 2010 that the plant would open shortly.

“The financial contribution towards this project will enable my company to complete the purchase of equipment and construct the processing facility in Gilbert Plains,” Jin said.

“This project is important as well so we can export Manitoba hemp fibre around the world. I am very happy about the progress of the project and look forward to the start-up of the facility.”

The plant’s official opening has been delayed, many times, because of issues with machinery imported from China and failures to satisfy Canadian construction standards.

“There was an electrical issue…. There were some wiring issues that weren’t up to code. They had to go back in and re-wire most of the plant at a very high cost,” Price said, noting the company decided in December to upgrade the wiring.

“They’re well on the way to doing that. This is a guess, but I’d say they’re somewhere in that 75 percent completion…. Structurally, there’s a few dust and smoke proofing issues that have to be addressed. They are reasonably minor (matters) and they (the owners) are moving forward on those.”

In late May three electricians were working at the Plains Industrial Hemp Processing plant. There were machines inside the main building at the site, which also has a storage shed for hemp bales and another structure that may be a maintenance building.

Round hemp bales were stacked by the highway, next to federal and provincial government signs promoting the project. Much older bales were stacked behind the main building and inside the storage shed.

Overall the site was reasonably tidy. There were a few spots where weeds have taken over but it didn’t look completely abandoned.

The plant may not be open but the company’s website is up and running.

The website says the firm sells a number of products under the Plains Hemp brand, including matting, insulation, BBQ pellets and “technical grade quality hemp fibres and hurd for use in nonwoven applications, biocomposites (and) green building materials.”

When operational, the plant will process up to 40,000 hemp bales per year and may eventually employ about 30 people.

Price said residents of Gilbert Plains, a community of about 750 people, have been waiting a long time for the plant to open. Consequently, many have become cynical about its future.

“Frustrating? Probably more disappointing…. It hasn’t caused the community a lot of issues other then ‘is this actually for real?’ Is it every going to happen?’”

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