One of the things I never thought I would be talking about is hemp and cannabis, but things change and they change quickly. Hemp and medical cannabis are growing industries, and with the Government of Canada proposing legislation to legalize marijuana by spring 2018, this industry will change quickly and dramatically and the Leduc region is preparing for this. With the addition of HempCo and Aurora Cannabis to our business environment, we are already seeing opportunity to grow this cluster.
So what is hemp and what are the opportunities? I’ve certainly learned a lot about hemp recently, but as I always say I know enough to be dangerous and am certainly not the expert. More info here: www.hemptrade.ca
So here we go. Hemp is one of the strongest, most versatile crops ever grown. It has a variety of applications from utilizing the seeds and oils in foods and medicines, to utilizing the fibers as fabrics and products that are stronger than cotton, plastic and wood. This plant is multiuse and multifunctional. Though still regulated to be grown through Health Canada, these regulations are getting easier to pass and hemp provides a significant cash crop opportunity for farmers. They can earn more per acre than canola, and it is a hardy crop great for growing in Alberta. Once acre of hemp also sequesters five times more carbon than one acre of forest, so it is also good for the environment.
This industry is growing in Alberta. We are seeing manufacturing operations in construction, car parts, food, clothing and much more coming up all over Alberta. This industry is rapidly moving from research to commercialization and there are lots of areas of opportunity. This industry needs all base level supports from raw product to processing facilities to equipment to manufacturing. Currently there is only one processing facility in Alberta that can take raw product and produce fiber and seed from it. This cannot supply all the manufacturers. There are only a limited number of farmers growing the crop, so many manufacturers are importing crop from the EU and China. There are needs for specialized equipment throughout the supply chain from harvesting to processing to manufacturing.
So what is the opportunity, well it is vast and the Leduc region has all the elements to make the most of it. We need to engage our farmers in understanding how to grow this crop. There is a market for it and it is growing. We need to engage equipment manufacturers to develop and import the specialized farm equipment needed to harvest the crop – hey Nisku that means you! We need to build decorticators which are the processing facilities that take the raw product and turn it into seed and fiber used by manufacturers. This means areas like Thorsby and Warburg can have plants to do this, create employment and grow their communities. This means manufacturing of products – this industry can develop across the region – we are already building a base with a company like HempCo, who is on the cutting edge of hemp product development.
So how can this happen? Well, we are already starting. A multi-region/ community collaboration has started up and is tentatively being called the Alberta Hemp Alliance. This includes Leduc County, Brazeau County and Wetaskiwin County with their representatives such as the Leduc-Nisku EDA, Clean Energy Technology Centre and Joint Economic Development Initiative. Regional communities represented include: Warburg, Thorsby, Devon, Drayton Valley and Breton. The mandate of this collaboration is to find ways to build an industry cluster and gain interest and promote hemp in the region. We are exploring opportunities to work with the federal and provincial governments on grants and support to help grow this industry and diversify the region.
If anyone can do it, I know the Leduc region can. With the ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in this region, hemp will be a great opportunity to diversify our economy and leverage existing skills and opportunities we have here.