Hemp poised to become billion-dollar industry

written by Brenton Harding and edited by Doug Firby

Olds – Research in Alberta is finding new uses for an old product.

In fact, industrial hemp could become a billion-dollar industry by early in the next decade, said Jan Slaski, principal researcher in plant sciences for InnoTech Alberta.

Industrial hemp, legalized in 1998, is still an emerging industry, with limited resources and absent the stable funding necessary for strong development.

Yet markets are emerging for many hemp-derived products, Slaski said.

While industrial hemp is from the same plant as cannabis, THC levels in industrial hemp are less than 0.3 per cent. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive component of cannabis.

Slaski said that less than five per cent of Canadian homes use hemp products. Yet tangible opportunities are emergy. Like a four-cylinder engine, the hemp industry has four basic “cylinders:” grain, fibre, fractions and feed.

Grain is a new product in the domestic market. It is being studied for Canadian Food Inspection Agency registration of hemp-based feed products, Slaski told a conference held at Olds College in March.

Using 2018 sales as a baseline, Slaski said hemp sales are projected to rise by some 600 per cent from $138 million to more than $1 billion by 2023. Full-time-equivalent employment is expected to rise from 1,311 to more than 9,500 and payroll will climb from $94 million to $689 million by 2023.

David Fielder of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, told the conference wholesale prices of hemp products range from approximately $7 Can per kilo to $18 per kilo for oil. Protein ranges from $4 to $20 per kilo. Hemp hearts range from $12 to $24 per kilo.

InnoTech Alberta, a subsidiary of what used to be the Alberta Research Council, was established to commercialize applied research. It operates laboratories and performs applied research and development, and laboratory services for government and industry clients.

The audience for the sold-out conference included investors and researchers, business representatives looking for opportunities, hemp growers, and governments.

The second annual conference at Olds College was co-hosted by the Agriculture Food Council of Alberta (AFC) and the Alberta Council of Technologies Society (ABCtech). AFC assists Alberta farmers and food companies in moving to the next level. ABCtech brings companies and individuals together for advancing emerging technologies and diversifying Alberta’s economy. Olds College conducts applied research and integrated learning to agriculture, horticulture, land and stewardship.