By DONAL O’CONNOR, Staff Reporter, July 2009
Private-sector funding for establishing hemp-processing factories may be a hard sell at the moment, but Gordon Scheifele is undaunted in his passion for developing the enormous potential for hemp.
Earlier this week on a farm just east of Tavistock, Mr. Scheifele was showing a group of 16 mostly student workers how to distinguish male and female buds on hemp plants within a 10-acre seed crop.
Plants showing yellowish male buds, he explained, were to be pulled — a task known as roguing. The plants with female buds, which will develop into seeds that can be certified for resale, were to be left alone to grow to maturity.
Mr. Scheifele spared few details in explaining to the young workers — area students ranging from Grade 9 level to first-year university — the potential that industrial hemp holds for the future of farming and manufacturing.
The list includes building and insulation materials for houses, material for garment and bags, a substitute for plastic in the automotive industry, an antiseptic and absorbent bedding for horses or other livestock.
That’s apart from the edible seeds that are rich in essential fatty acids and the seed oil that can be used in the making of non-dairy cheese and yogurt.
The immediate task at the farm — which is one of several in the Stratford-Tavistock-New Hamburg area with a total footprint of about 85 acres — is to produce “certified seeds” that farmers can plant to develop their own crops for industrial use.
The crop is monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and must meet a high standard of purity. Industrial hemp approved for cultivation contains only small quantities of the psychoactive drug delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is contained in marijuana. Approved hemp contains less than 0.3 per cent THC compared to 10 to 30 per cent in marijuana.
A hemp researcher and the secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Hemp Alliance, Mr. Scheifele has been extolling the value of hemp for more than a dozen years.
Still, he acknowledges that even 11 years after the Canadian government removed it from a prohibited list (because of its genetic association with marijuana) development of a hemp industry remains a challenge.
“It’s globally revolutionary but it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. Ontario processing plants — one in Delaware and one in Stirling — that were funded by the provincial and federal governments more than a year ago are apparently still trying to line up private sector funding.
Ontario production that was up to 2,000 acres in 1998-99, when the crop became legal, is currently down to 300-400 acres, said Mr. Scheifele.
Despite the reduction, Mr. Scheifele is optimistic.
“It’s been very difficult but it’s coming,” he said, referring to efforts to produce enough product to meet industrial demand while at the same time developing processing plants that will provide a market for Ontario-grown hemp.
Stonehedge Bio-Resources Inc., based in Stirling, planned to open its Hempcrete plant this year to produce a building material similar to concrete that incorporates hemp fibre.
The company expected to produce some $17 million annually in hemp fibre, wood-like chips, pellets, matting and seed products.
Stemergy in Delaware, formerly Hempline Inc., operates a large research-and-development facility at Delaware and since 1998 has created technology and expertise for extracting and refining the fibres in stem fibre plants.
Company officials could not be reached for comment.