With the opening of new markets, the demand for new varieties of hemp is emerging
FarmMedia Glacier – Canada has played a leading role in hemp production since the cultivation was legalized in 1998.
Initially, it was grains and products like hemp hearts, then nutraceuticals like cannabidiol.
But now Canada is positioning itself in a new area of leadership in the hemp sector: genetics.
It is still relatively early for strain development in Canada, said Jeff Kostuik, director of Hemp Genetics International, noting that this has only been happening for a dozen years.
The early days of Canadian hemp saw varieties imported from regions such as Eastern Europe, and at the time, were largely fiber-oriented, the expected goal of cultivation when it was introduced.
“We had these really tall cultivars,” Kostuik said.
It soon became clear, however, that production was going to be more grain-oriented, led by companies like Manitoba Harvest (now part of Fresh Hemp Foods). The company remains the largest entrepreneur of acres of food hemp in Canada.
This meant that strain selection had to follow suit. Instead of tall plants, suitable for husking and producing long fibers, the industry wanted nutritional value and grain yield. Height, in fact, was a handicap when it came to harvesting, and a much shorter variety, which could be harvested with a farmer’s existing equipment, was preferred.
“We found that it was possible to squeeze a 13-foot crop through a combine, but not without a lot of headaches and bloody joints,” Kostuik said. “The effort, especially on our side and the others, was to get shorter varieties. Try to maintain performance. Try to keep the seed head at the top of the canopy.
The industry found what they were looking for in varieties like Finola, originally developed in Finland and offered exclusively in the United States and Canada through Manitoba Harvest. It was short, developed in northern latitudes, developed specifically for grain and with good yield. It became the first oilseed variety approved in the EU and Canada.
It has also remained by far the most popular variety in the country, despite the arrival of new local varieties on the market and the emergence of new markets in search of different genetic traits. About 26,238 (or nearly 48 percent) of the acres recorded nationally by Health Canada last year were planted in Finola.
Much of this, according to Kostuik and Kory Lulashnyk, general manager of Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers co-op in northwestern Manitoba, is driven by Manitoba Harvest’s preference for it.
Clarence Shwaluk, director of farm operations at Fresh Hemp Foods, said Finola is their preferred breed, although the company promotes three main varieties and several more recently registered.
“(Finola has) been really good for us,” he said. “It has been a real good workaholic. One of its real advantages is that it is very easy to harvest. It is a short variety and it gives good yields and that gives us very good advantages in processing.
“That said, there is a lot of work behind the scenes and we get all kinds of requests to look at new varieties and see if there is something that works for us,” he added.
Growing a promoted variety comes with bonuses on the contract, Shwaluk said.
It is, however, an old variety, he acknowledged, and the company is “actively monitoring” for new genetics that may match their activity.
In 2018, Manitoba also reflected Finola’s popularity. Almost 2,900 acres of the 11,500 acres recorded in Manitoba that year were Finola, the largest variety grown that year.
The following years, however, saw the encroachment of new genetics, and one strain in particular. While Finola is still king nationally, Manitoba’s numbers in 2019 and 2020 gave more preference to Katani, another grain cultivar also offered for a higher CBD content and registered in 2015 by Hemp Genetics International.
Finola accounted for about 2,600 (or 21%) of the just over 12,500 acres of hemp recorded by Health Canada in the province last year, just under Katani’s 2,900 (or 23.5%) acres.
Those who wish to take hemp in new directions may be looking for something very different in a hemp crop, while those looking for synergies – selling different parts of the same hemp plant to different markets – may also encounter problems with variety.
For Lyall Bates, whose Manitoba company, Hemp Sense, first made a name for itself in low-quality hemp fiber products like animal bedding, short varieties don’t do the trick.
The company has since grown and is now looking to use every part of the hemp plant, with a list of products ranging from original fiber products to pet food additives and hemp hearts (a market largely captured by Manitoba Harvest). Birdseed, a market Bates hopes will help attract grain that is not suitable for human use, is coming. The company was also among those trying to exploit CBD (cannabidiol), although Bates has since said work is on hold.
Bates said the company decided to go into the food market specifically so it could offer farmers several markets to sell hemp, although he expects grains to be only a small part of the market. ‘activity.
With these versatile needs, the company looks elsewhere for its preferred genetics.
Hemp Sense has done important work with Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers on strain breeding, Bates said.
Canda, registered by the latter in 2010 as a dual-purpose grain and fiber variety, has so far become a favorite. At 10 to 12 feet tall, Bates estimates the variety makes about a ton and a half of straw per acre, as well as 1,000 pounds of grain.
“It gives a good supply of seeds for the farmers that can be sold and it also gives you a lot of process fiber that we use for all of our produce,” he said.
In terms of synergy, he said, most of the hemp grown around them comes from Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers and therefore poses no problem, although the company has had to turn away some farmers from further afield, who cultivate cereal-oriented cultivars. . In some of these cases, he noted, the straw is simply too short to merit harvesting and transport.
According to Kostuik, the diversification of the hemp industry paves the way for the development of the variety.
Part of that progress, he noted, is due to work south of the border. In the United States, hemp has seen a significant amount of research dollars, both in fiber and CBD, and the impact of that work is now being felt north. In particular, he noted, significant research has been done on hemp as a biodegradable alternative to plastics.
“We’re over 20 years old here in Canada with hemp, but it almost looks like we’re brand new again, as we start to explore all of these additional markets and add to the food market with specific varieties that will do the trick. case. specific things, ”Kostuik said.
Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers, for example, says its development efforts are still focused on higher CBD and fiber content, although there has also been work on grains. The cooperative currently has four varieties in Canadian Hemp Trade Association trials.
Last July, Protein Industries Canada announced a two-year partnership between Manitoba Harvest, Pulse Genetics, genomics company NRGene Canada and Farmers Business Network Canada. The partnership would develop varieties of hemp and peas with improved proteins for use in food processing and ingredients, including a mixture of hemp and pea flour.
“We may not have developed a variety for recording at that point, but we’ll be on the right track,” Shwaluk said.
He estimated that they currently get around 30% protein from their hemp. More than quantity, however, he said, the focus will also be on protein characteristics.
“We may be able to increase the content slightly, but this is as much the quality that we are looking for and vegetable proteins are a very strong trend in the food market and we are aiming for a more flavorful protein content. , better quality for mixability, ”he said.
In general, he said, the development of varieties in their business is oriented around three pillars: good agronomy (yields, easy to harvest, from small to medium height), good processing (quality of the crop). oil and protein and processing yield) and quality for the end user (such as taste).
Alexis Stockford is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator. His article appeared in the October 14, 2021 issue.