Hemp making name for itself

About 30 people made their way to the Lowey farm on Highway 602 last Friday for an industrial hemp demonstration–and they seemed to like what they saw.
Blair Lowey, along with University of Guelph researcher Gordon Scheifele, who is supervising hemp test plots across Northern Ontario, held a field day at the five-acre plot just west of town.
People browsed over the displays of hemp products set up under a make-shift canopy, took in a hemp raking demonstration, and watched as Scheifele fed stalks through a fibre separator.
Many also lingered by the hemp field planted for grain production, talking a closer look at the plant.
“I think it’s interesting because I think that’s the way to go,” noted Clayton Edmunson, who helps a friend farm in Rainy River.
“All the uses are the best [thing about it],” he added. “I don’t know all the uses but there’s a whole lot.”
Dean Peters, who grew one of the nine hemp test plots in Rainy River District, said his plants did very well this summer.
“It definitely will grow here,” he said, noting his field, along with Lowey’s, was rated as one of the better test plots.
“I think it’s promising if we can get organized and have enough people,” he added. “I think it would help if we had numbers.”
“I think it’s something we need,” agreed Lowey. “One acre of this is equivalent to four acres of 20-year-old forest [for fibre].
“That’s quite a comparison. I’m hoping we can cash this next year,” he noted.
Scheifele said one of the main challenges right now is figuring out how to harvest the hemp with current farming equipment. While mowing the plants for fibre doesn’t seem to pose much of a problem, some farmers have experienced twining problems when it comes to raking it.
“The fibres don’t tear,” he explained. “All they do is wrap. Once they wrap around [your machinery], you spend a lot of time with a pocketknife unwinding it.”
But a bigger problem seems to be how to harvest the hemp’s grain. The seed grows at the top two feet of the plant–and many of the plots produced a crop eight to 10 feet tall.
The highest most combines can be set to harvest is four feet off the ground.
“There’ll be a lot of learning experience there, and all of Canada will be going through it,” Scheifele said.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. provided much of the financial backing for the hemp trials in the north, with the Rainy River Future Development Corp. here kicking in another $4,000 towards hemp research in the district.
Dan Wright of the RRFDC, who attended last Friday’s field day, said their investment was a “long-term project” which he hoped may lead to some sort of hemp industry springing up in the district.
“We’re excited about so much research and development in our area,” Wright said. “We’re probably the largest area they’re doing a lot of the growing in.”