Spring Seeding 2016

Hooray for Spring! Except spring is a very busy time for farming! And going forward, The XY Hemp Corporation will be spending more time doing research after harvest and more time planning for spring seeding during the winter. Let’s just say it’s been a bit of a rush to get everything together for this growing season, but now our plans appear to be in motion. In 2016, we’ll be taking a break from growing hemp and instead invest in our soil with a plough down crop. This will help suppress weeds and add nutrients to our soil which will support our 2017 hemp seed crop. The contract has been signed, the line of credit granted from ATB Financial, and now to plant the seeds and prepare for the inevitable set backs of farming.

The seeds we will be planting this year are 40/10 peas and faba beans. The peas have been suggested to us multiple times from our gracious mentor Larry Marshall. However, the peas were hard to find! On the other hand, the faba beans were bred at the University of Saskatchewan specifically for plough down crops. A plough down crop is when a field is planted with a rotational crop that you have no intention of harvesting. We’ll plant the peas and faba beans, then halfway through the season, before they (or the weeds) go to seed, we’ll cut the plants down and plough all the organic material into the soil. This process allows the roots of the legumes (peas and beans) to fix nitrogen in the soil while the plants grow. Then, when the plants shift focus to developing seeds instead of growing taller, the crop is cut down and ploughed into the field. This allows all the organic material to decompose in the soil. It will also suppress weeds by cutting down the competition before it goes to seed; anything that grows after the plough down should freeze and die in the fall before producing seeds. We would also like to maximize the nutrient content of the soil by having Al and Hélène’s organic, grass fed beef graze on the field before the plough down. However, that type of grazing and nutrient (manure) spreading is best done with a larger herd.

To facilitate our two year cropping plan, we altered our crop share agreement to cover 2016 and 2017. We also removed the cost sharing component of the agreement and now the XY Hemp Corporation will be paying 100% of the material costs and per acre farming operations provided by Breadroot Farms. As a result, we will also be earning all of the revenues from the hemp harvest in 2017. This would not be possible without the help of our bank, ATB Financial. We reached out to the branch where we were given a bank account in 2014, and the gracious and enthusiastic branch manager, Wendy Moyle, connected us with Jessie Pasquan. Jessie is in Peace River, Alberta (more evidence that our business can transcend distances) and she was incredible. She made it perfectly clear what information she needed me to provide, she took the time to understand our unconventional business model, and she advocated on our behave to ensure we got the line of credit we needed. We can’t thank Jessie enough and look forward to sharing our success with ATB.

In 2017, we will plant hemp on the field we are preparing this year. We hope to have more nitrogen available for the hemp and fewer weeds. This should improve our yield if we are given favourable weather conditions. We are excited to invest in our soil this season to improve our yield next year.

Cheers to the future!

Kayleigh

XY Hemp Winter Research

The XY Hemp Corporation is back in action this spring, and I’m excited to tell you about our plans for the next two growing seasons. However, we haven’t been on hiatus all winter. In fact, Chad and I spent most of our winter months diving into research projects. After getting majorly inspired at the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA) conference in November 2015, I worked on some of the economics behind a series of White Papers published by the CHTA this spring. Through February and March, Chad and I explored hemp processing possibilities by completing market assessments for bio-polymers, bio-composites and cannabidiol (CBD) extract products. There is always more research to do, but in this post I’ll tell you about what we’ve learned so far.

At the CHTA conference in Calgary, Chad and I learned a lot about hemp building materials, CBD extracts and made lots of industry connections. I attended the full three days and was able to attend sessions with Health Canada, and update on US regulatory changes, and several sessions on hemp fibre processing developments. JustBiofiber provided an update on their hempcrete building blocks along with price comparisons to conventional building systems and information on the pilot facility they are building outside Calgary. We also got to learn from researchers at the University of Alberta and the Albert Agriculture and Forestry Bioindustrial Research Branch. The Wednesday morning session with Paul XX of Elixinol was the most highly anticipated event of the conference. He presented the research supporting the use of CBD and hemp oil for a wide array of health issues and diseases. It was a moving and motivational presentation. Throughout the week, we connected with many amazing people in the hemp industry and I offered my support as an economics researcher for the CHTA White Papers on CBD extracts.

After January, Chad and I began working though structured market assessments of several products derived from hemp. In these markets assessments we tried to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about the market size, the value chain (how the product move from raw hemp to final product and how much are the mark-ups at each stage of production), established business models in the industry, a SWOT analysis if we were to enter the market and what our key success factors would be. This process involved understanding the basic science behind some of the more technical products and gathering and organizing information about how existing businesses operate in the market.

We decided to started with the most complex product, bio-composites, to make things easier for ourselves going forward. Based on our research, bio-composites are natural fibers combined with polymers. We are most interested in green bio-composites, which use natural fibers and polymers derived from plants rather than refined petroleum. To start our research we ordered an amazing text book written by the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp and the research organization JEC. It was well worth the investment and helped us understand the language of composite materials, the science behind how they work, how they are made, and current applications in hemp and flax fibers. The text book also included market research and comparisons between the structural properties of hemp composites and traditional composites such as carbon and glass fiber.

Following this we moved on to bio-polymers, the building blocks of plastics derived from plant sources. In this stage we were comparing processes and products derived from a wide variety of natural oils (for example: canola, waste from ethanol production, soy) to plastics derived from hemp oils. This is a new area of research and during this process we reached out to our contacts at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Alberta Innovates, who connected us with researchers at the U of A who are working on lipids chemistry. Chad and I have both made visits to the laboratory to see samples of the bio-composites being developed and are excited to continue our research in this field.

 

Finally, we turned our attention back to CBD extracts from hemp. CBD is a polyphenol, like THC, naturally occurring in the hemp plant. The hemp plant is a variety of cannabis sativa that has been bred to have very low concentrations of THC (<0.3%), but in doing so, it can often have much higher concentrations of CBD. There is a lot of interest in the health community about the potential therapeutic uses of CBD, and many products already available online. We reviewed some of the science behind CBD, the methods used to extract it from hemp and the potential market for these products. It is not possible at this time for hemp farmers to harvest or process the parts of the plant that are rich in CBDs. This is one of the reasons why the CHTA wrote its White Papers and has been sharing this information with decisions makers in Ottawa to help change the rules that govern hemp production.

Chad and I have a few more market assessments we would life to complete this year, for biofuels and hemp construction materials. We have started gathering resources for these pieces but have put our work on hold to get our hemp farming process organized for the next two years (more about that in the next blog post). We are also excited to observe and participate in conversations about how marijuana legalization should be structured in Canada, and we’ll be following the research on this topic closely. Bio-polymers and bio-composites are exciting new industrial markets for hemp, and we will be looking for ways to build a business model for those products which fits our desired scale. As always, we couldn’t do any of this without the amazing network we have been building in hemp and the Alberta bio-industry and we look forward to continuing to build relationships with government, researchers and other businesses.

 

 

 

The First Harvest

From September 6th to 13th, Chad and I travelled to Saskatchewan to see our hemp field mature and help with the harvest. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans and we were unable to take the hemp off the field. However, we were able to reconnect with our farming partners, gain new knowledge about organic farming practices, brainstorm and explore our business expansion plans, and experience the beauty of the prairies in the Fall.

Sunset at Coyote Ridge (Breadroot Farms)
Sunset at Coyote Ridge (Breadroot Farms)

Once again, we came upon our field after a long day of travel. Finally able to see and touch the work we had put into our venture, we explored the hemp field before going to greet our farming partners, Al and Hélène.

A man, outstanding in his field.
A man, outstanding in his field.

As we expected from conversations with Al and Hélène, there was quite a lot of wild oats in the field. The hemp had not grown into tall, bushy trees like we had seen online and in our dreams, but there were many plants in each square meter and all were producing seeds.

Facing east on the hemp field, a cold and rainy Monday.
Facing east on the hemp field, a cold and rainy Monday.

Throughout the next two days it rained intermittently and Chad and I tried to be as helpful as possible, moving the yearlings, and helping in the kitchen and the yard. The rain and the cool weather put most of the major farm tasks on hold, so we spent a few afternoons working on our business research.

Organic, grass fed, adorable yearlings
Organic, grass fed, adorable yearlings

By Thursday the weather was clear again, but the ground needed more sun and heat to firm up before heavy machinery could resume swathing the grains and hay or running the combine through the fields. Chad and I decided to take the opportunity to drive up to visit Larry Marshall. When we called, we were so delighted to find out it was the first day they would be combining the hemp. This meant we would get to see the mature hemp fields and watch Larry’s harvest process. When we arrived at Larry’s farm, one of his sons took us on a tour of the fields we wanted to investigate: the test varieties, the “best” piece of land, and a field which had wild oats throughout, like our own.

Welcome to the Jungle
Welcome to the Jungle

The test varieties were being grown for different seed characteristics and were planted next to the Finola variety both Larry and The XY Hemp corporation had chosen to grow. Finola has been bred as a dwarf variety, which makes it much easier to combine with conventional farm equipment. The height of the new varieties was the first characteristic we noticed, but upon closer inspection we saw that these larger plants also had much larger seeds. The trade off was larger seeds and different nutritional properties but more difficulty harvesting such tall plants.

Next we stopped in at “Grandma’s House”, Larry’s field with the best soil and drainage. Here we saw mutant Finola plants, seven feet tall with several seed heads. These plants benefitted from the extra nitrogen in the soil near the garden where there had once been a pig barn.

Mutant Finola at Grandma's House
Mutant Finola at Grandma’s House

Larry had told us a few weeks before that one of his fields had struggled with weed competition from wild oats, so we wanted to compare this field with our own. This field was along a narrow strip next to a road and the Finola looked quite similar to our own: shorter, pale, and with many wild oats throughout. We asked about the growing conditions when this had been planted and if this field was known to have a weed problem. The soil was a little sandier on this particular field, and it had rained the day before seeding, which may have supported the wild oat growth.

Wild Oats and Hemp, it can happen to YOU!
Wild Oats and Hemp, it can happen to YOU too!

Our last stop was at the field where Larry was combining. They had decided to start harvest early, so the hemp was still quite wet (24.8% moisture) but with so many fields, you have to start at some point. Larry also has a very sophisticated drying process, which makes it easier to harvest the seeds early. Chad and I squished into the cabin of the combine so we could chat with Larry while he harvested the hemp. It was really fun to watch the process in action and to ask a million more questions! It was during this ride that we realized that our hemp’s short stature was most likely due to insufficient nitrogen in the soil.

Hemp likes a lot of nitrogen, about 100 pounds per acre, but we had taken soils samples the morning of seeding, so we had not known the soil content before planing the hemp. We knew that Al and Hélène had taken care to rotate the crops on the field and that there had a been a manure plough down (where the cattle graze on the stubble then their manure is worked into the soil) in the last three years, but the precise nitrogen level were unknown until a few weeks later. If our hemp had run out of nitrogen, it would have been easier for the wild oats to grow taller, especially given the wetter conditions in the later half of the season. We resolved to check the soil sample results when we returned to Breadroot that evening.

We said goodbye to Larry, took a sample of the hemp to help calibrate our moisture meter, and drove back to Canora.

Like flying over a tiny boreal forest
Like flying over a tiny boreal forest

Things were starting to get busy back at Breadroot farm. When we arrived home late at night, Al was out swathing the wheat and didn’t get home until around 10pm. Throughout the rest of the weekend Al was able to swath more of the wheat and  begin combining. By Sunday morning, the weather had turned cold and wet and operations were on hold again.

Al and Hélène have a very demanding and diverse organic farm. They specialize in exclusively grass fed organic beef, which they sell through The Farmer’s Table, a farming co-operative that takes orders online and delivers fresh product to Regina and Saskatoon once a month. They have been organic for almost 20 years and all of their farming operations are certified organic. Aside from the hemp, this season Al planted fields of wheat, barley and oats and cut organic hay to feed the cattle over winter. Hélène also has a large garden in the yard which supplies her with many of the vegetables she needs for the winter. They manage these diverse priorities this without any additional help on the farm.

We are extremely grateful that Al and Hélène have taken time to mentor and host us during their two busiest seasons, seeding and harvest. Chad and I have learned so much this season about organic agriculture, running farm machinery, marketing agriculture products and maintaining a mixed farming operation. If you recall, we met Al and Hélène through Farm Link, a website designed to match established farmers with new farmers. Their goal is to transition their operations to young farmers committed to sustainable or organic agriculture. This will allow them to step back form active farming while ensuring the land they have worked so hard to rehabilitate stays in sustainable production. Chad and I feel extremely lucky that while the long term goals of The XY Hemp Corporation and Breadroot Farm differ, that we have been able to work together to learn about hemp farming.


While we were unable to help with the harvest during our visit this fall, the hemp seeds have since been taken off the field and are safe in an aeration grain bin. The seeds will be moved a second time and a sample will be sent to Farmer Direct Co-op, the organic co-operative with whom we contracted our harvest. Farmer Direct Co-op will then arrange to pick up, clean and market the hemp seeds.

Al and Hélène remarked at the ease of combining the hemp. Although the plants were quite loud moving through the combine, the seeds thrashed out quite well and appear clean and in good shape. We are all excited to know the final yield, although we recognize that it is less than we had hoped. As they say in farming, “next year”.

As we plan for next year, we are taking soil samples now to determine which fields are most suitable for the nitrogen hungry hemp plants. Chad and I also hope to attend the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance annual conference in Calgary, to keep up to date on developments in the industry. We will take everything we have learned and the connections we have made to push forward into next year and beyond!

Vegreville Decortication Plant Visit: April 2015

We’re getting really excited for harvest; Chad and I leave for Saskatchewan on Sunday September 6th! Plans are being finalized and contingencies put in place. While we’re deciding what to do with our hemp fibres and how best to dry our hemp seeds, I thought I should post this short story from earlier this year. Chad and I actually wrote this together at Breadroot Farms in May, and I hope it gets you excited to read about harvesting organic hemp this fall. -K

Vegreville Decortication Plant Visit

Chad visited the Alberta Innovates and Alberta Bio Development Center Decortication Facility in Vegreville, AB, on April 30th, 2015. Patti Breland was extremely helpful in arranging the tour and Chad was able to thank her at the Alberta Sustainable Building Symposium. Byron James led the tour starting with a display of inspiring and innovative hemp products made from the raw materials processed by Alberta Innovates. The pilot facility produces two grades of processed hemp which are inputs into other processed hemp products.

The plant is housed in brick research facility and includes an addition made from structural steel to house a pelletizer and bail chopper. These two machines are the beginning and end of the hemp refining process: the bail chopper cuts the raw agricultural product into 1 foot sections and the pelletizer compresses hemp dust into solid biofuel. After the hemp stalk bales are chopped, they are transported to the conveyor belt which feeds the hammer mill.

The hammer mill is the primary decortication machine. This separates the long, thin “bast” fibres from the inner core of the hemp plant “hurd” or “shiv”- which is coarse and wood like- with a circular drum and hammer. The higher grade material must go through the hammer mill twice. The broken down material moves through ducts to the separator. At this stage, a series of screens separates the bast and hurd fibres. The ducts are useful for transporting the hemp fibers and collecting dust, which is later pressed into pelletized biofuel .

Once separated, the bast and the hurd  fibres move through these ducts to separate cleaners: hurd into the “shiv cleaning separator” and bast into the “step cleaner”. Hurd fibres are deposited into industrial totes and bast fibres are compressed into square bales. The hemp dust released by the process is captured in the duct work and compressed in solid bio-fuel by the “pelletizer”.
The tour of the pilot facility was extremely useful to see first hand how natural fibre technology is developed and refined in the Alberta bio-processing sector. We will be using this knowledge and these contacts to further our research into how to build the best hemp processing plant with the right mix of products and the least amount of waste.

Hemp Mentor: Larry Marshall

At the tail end of our trip to Saskatchewan for seeding, Chad and I drove up to North Central Saskatchewan to visit Larry Marshall.  Larry has a fairly large operation located near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where he specializes in organic hemp production. The visit was an excellent professional development opportunity and we learned more than we could have imagined about high-tech organic agriculture and the Canadian hemp industry.

Beautiful valley in Sturgis, SK on our way North from Breadroot Farms.
Beautiful valley in Sturgis, SK on our way North from Breadroot Farms.

Larry, Chad, and I connected through family friends of mine who I reached out to when we first started investigating the possibility of hemp farming. They referred us to their neighbour, who turned out to be the brilliant farmer Larry Marshall.  Larry is a board member of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance and has quickly become our hemp mentor. He has been generous with his time on the phone, discussing everything from the best hemp varieties for different locations to equipment modifications to improve our farming operations. This has been extremely helpful, because although Al and Hélène of Breadroot Farms have a wealth lot of knowledge about organic agriculture — specifically organic wheat and grass-fed beef — they had never grown hemp before this year.

After hearing about our seeding trip, Larry had invited us out to tour his hemp operations. When we arrived at Larry’s place we were fed another amazing farm lunch while we discussed seed drying, field cleaning, and crop rotations. He then took us on a walking tour of his custom machinery, drying process, and seed storage in his yard. Even more exciting, we jumped into a truck and went to see various stages of Larry’s hemp cropping process while we toured several research plots and fields in different stages of crop rotation.

“Volunteer” hemp plants sprout up below Larry’s seed drying machine.

On these research plots, Larry is experimenting with new varieties of hemp and different combinations of beans and legumes to grow following a hemp harvest. Growing different crops to help fix nitrogen and add other nutrients to the soil is called crop rotation. Some crops are grown for half a season then cut up and mixed back into the ground with a tractor pulling a Discbine. This is essentially blending the organic material back into the soil so that it can partially decompose, making nutrients available for the next crop to absorb.  Other crops which fix nitrogen in the soil, such as beans, can be harvested and sold, which improves the soil quality and provides additional revenue. The process of crop rotations is crucial for organic agriculture because there is no addition of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides to improve crop  yields. The health of the soil determines the quality of the crop.

A very serious Discbine
A very serious Discbine

Larry shared with us his innovative organic agriculture processes and answered all of our questions. He actively works with universities and government research groups to further the progress of the hemp industry. This allows the research done at his farm to be shared for the benefit of all farmers. Larry’s use of crop rotations, custom equipment and homegrown effective microorganisms was truly inspiring. This knowledge will help us improve our process this year during harvest, next year as we choose the best crop to grow following the hemp, and into the future as we incorporate more innovative organic production techniques, such as effective microorganisms to ward off diseases and improve yield.

We learned so much more than we could have imagined by spending a few hours with a passionate and intelligent hemp farmer. We are extremely grateful for Larry’s generosity, taking the time to spend the afternoon with us and share his innovative organic agriculture processes, all the while patiently answering our nearly endless stream of questions. After putting our seeds in the ground at Breadroot Farms it was very motivating to see how our operations could potentially grow.

Chad and I will be returning to Larry Marshall’s farm in the late summer to see the progress of some of his new hemp varieties. These visits allow The XY Hemp Corporation to learn from experienced producers about the intricacies of the hemp plant and the Canadian market place. Larry is very familiar with all aspects of the business (regulations, industry development, and plant science, just to name a few) and has helped us connect the dots on the path to becoming hemp entrepreneurs. As we become better, more efficient hemp farmers, The XY Hemp Corporation will be able to maximize the benefits of growing hemp. Accessing mentors like Larry Marshall is one way we’re building our capacity to run a holistic agri-business.

-Kayleigh

Seeding in Saskatchewan

From May 24 to 30th, 2015, Chad and Kayleigh traveled to Saskatchewan to visit Breadroot Farms and help Al and Hélène seed the hemp crop. This week’s blog post is Kayleigh’s account of their time near Canora, SK.


 

Sunday May 24, 2015

A gorgeous sunny day greeted us on Sunday morning as Chad began a nine hour car ride from Edmonton and I hopped on a plane in Victoria. After nine months of preparation, we were on our way to Breadroot farms to meet our farming partners, Al and Hélène, and to help plant our 60 acre organic hemp crop.

The timing was as perfect as the weather and Chad arrived at the Saskatoon airport 15 minutes before I walked off the plane. After a quick pit stop to refill Sadie (Chad’s beloved 2015 Subaru WRX STI) we were driving east on the #5 highway towards Canora. The trip was carefully planned so the directions led us directly to our hemp field in a little under three hours. We are so grateful for this piece of pristine organic land with rich black soil. It looked even better than we could imagine.

Sunday Field and Sadie

 

From our field it was easy to find the home section. Al and Hélène greeted us with hugs and silly farm dogs (Maggie and Preta)  and invited us to come relax with them on the front deck. The log house is absolutely stunning with a view out over two large slews which are fed in the spring by a small creek. We shared a beer on the patio then took a ride in the truck to visit the cattle. The sunset was beautiful and the night was warm and calm.

View from the Porch

 

Back at the house, our hosts prepared a fantastic welcome feast. Tenderloin steaks from a hickory smoked barbecue, a big salad, pasta and homemade wine. A cozy night discussing trends in organic agriculture, climate change and our plans for the next few days was the perfect start to our week at Breadroot Farms.

Sunset Cattle Sunday

 

Monday May 25, 2015

Monday was spent setting into our roles and responsibilities. Chad and Al picked up a load of organic Cadillac wheat seed and Chad rode along in the tractor with the harrow attached. In the afternoon, he helped Al load the hopper with the Cadillac wheat for seeding.

Al Cadillac Wheat

I started the morning with a visit to the cattle and learning to repair electric fencing. Hiking along cow trails in the beautiful prairie landscape was idyllic but the 29C heat and pulling wire out of a swamp reminded me that it was real work. Hélène put on the hip waders and fearlessly marched into the swamp. I was left at the truck with a radio and instructions to drive over to the other side of the paddock (a smaller section of pasture) when she gave me the signal.

In the bush she discovered a beaver had chewed most of the way through a tree which had fallen on the fence line. It was still attached at the stump and too heavy to lift off the wire fence. So Hélène marched back through the watery swamp to me.

We met Chad and Al back at the farmhouse for lunch and Hélène and I spent the afternoon working on our computers and reading out of the hot afternoon sun. Hélène completed a grazing plan based on her assessment of the grass quality and fencing situation in each paddock while I worked on our market assessment research project.

 

Tuesday May 26, 2015

On Sunday, Hélène had announced that we would not be seeding the garden this week because she seeds based on the phases of the moon and this was not a good week for the vegetables she has left to plant. This sparked my interest in the moon’s current position in the sky and what insight this could provide for our week working together. I read that we were entering the First Quarter, which can signal that ventures that you began at the new moon will begin to face their first challenges.

This sage advice was useful as our plans began to unravel throughout the day. After a successful morning in the fields, Hélène and I were driving back to the pasture to repair some fencing when we spotted a Moose in the nature reserve. As we slowed down to see her walking through the swamp, the truck began to sputter and Hélène realized we had run the truck out of fuel. Luckily, Chad and Al were returning to the hemp field after lunch, which was the closest field to the cattle. Chad picked us up halfway down the road and we returned to the hemp field to collect Al. Al and Chad had a successful morning rod-weeding the hemp field and upon their return to the tractor they discovered that the tractor would not start!

Hélène confessed that she had run the truck out of fuel and we spent the next two and a half hours refueling and trying to restart the diesel truck unsuccessfully. When we gave up, towed the truck to the pasture and returned the the tractor, Al was unable to get that restarted as well. Despite the long, hot, frustrating afternoon, everyone was patient and civil with one another. This was crucial because there was more work to be done. Chad and Al returned to a wheat field and used the small tractor to harrow and Hélène and I took her Jetta to another pasture to walk the fence line and prepare the paddock for grazing.

Even after these setbacks, the plan remained the same: the tractor would be repaired first thing the next morning and Wednesday we would seed the hemp.

 

#HempDay Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chad and Kayleigh HempDay

Although by sunset on Wednesday we had seeded just 4 acres, #hempday was a  phenomenal day of personal growth. Chad and I learned that it takes A LOT of work to be ready to seed first thing the next day.

The three biggest tasks to prepare for seeding were to collect soil samples, harrow the hemp field and calibrate the seed drill. I had made a few calls on Tuesday to find a soil probe to collect soil samples to then send to a lab in Saskatoon. Hélène and I went to pick up the soil probe from a grain elevator in Canora during a grocery trip Wednesday morning.

Al and Chad Soil Sample

On Tuesday over lunch, I calculated how many grams of seed each “boot” on the seed drill should release over 100 ft to ensure a seeding rate of 30 lbs/acre. Al had set up the problem and I had double checked my calculations (along with diagrams) to ensure I understood the project. After lunch we measured 100 ft of twine, chose plastic bags that would collect the seed sample from the seed drill and packed the truck with wire to attach the bags and the scale to weigh the samples.

With only one truck now, we needed to coordinate efforts between seeding and preparing the paddocks for Hélène’s grazing plan. We all went together to take the soil samples from the hemp field then Al and Chad returned to a wheat field. Without much ceremony, Chad was about to graduate from Tractor Academy and finish harrowing the wheat before harrowing the hemp field immediately prior to seeding.

Tractor Graduation

Hélène and I took the pickup to fix a challenging section of fencing where the cows and calves were to move later that day. The wire had split in the middle, most likely due to a kink in the line. We used a pulley and clamp tool to bring the two ends of the wire closer together so that we could attach crimps and clamp these down on the wire to reconnect the fence. This took several tries to get the wires close enough and untangle the pulley. It was a huge relief when we were finally successful: we could now move the cows into a new paddock and stay on schedule with the grazing plan.

Hélène returned home for a phone meeting and I stayed with the truck to finish the calibration project and film the seeding of hemp. It was 5pm and Chad and Al had been working in the fields since 8am. Determination was stronger than exhaustion and Chad was going to harrow the hemp field alone so Al and I could fill and calibrate the seed drill. Al rode with Chad twice around the hemp field before handing over the tractor. We needed to return to the house to pick up the generator to run the scale in the field and I promised to come back with snacks; at this point dinner would be a long wait.

Chad was in fantastic spirits when I returned with water and snacks while Al retrieved the seed drill form another field. Finally driving the tractor alone, his confidence was high and he was enjoying the work! Al and I were able to fill the seed drill with hemp and set the markers for 100 ft. Chad triumphantly finished the harrowing as Al and I were collecting the first seed samples from the bottom of the drill. It was 9pm and the last of the sunlight was fading.

Tailgate Science

The first two samples were spot on! The second two weighed only 12 grams (our goal was 15g/100 ft). We reset one half of the drill and reattached our sample bags. Our second test section was perfect, all four sample bags weighed approximately 15 grams. We swept the dirt with an old paintbrush to find our seeds: they were hard to find in the dim light. When we did find the hemp seeds, they were about 2 cm into the dirt, right at the moisture level.

Hélène had returned to the cows after her meeting and was thrilled to have moved them into their new paddock. Two of the calves had escaped onto the road but she herded them back to their mothers without a problem. When she returned to the hemp field, the sun had set and Al had seeded 4 acres of hemp. We all returned to the house exhausted but exhilarated with our progress. We would be able to seed the whole field first thing Thursday morning.

 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thursday was our last day at Breadroot Farm and was spent tying up loose ends. Al finished seeding the hemp at noon. In the morning, Chad and I went into Canora to return the soil probe, send out the soil samples to Saskatoon and pick up a few groceries. In the afternoon, we emptied the hemp from the seed drill and helped Hélène move the yearlings into their new paddock. I was able to make dinner for everyone using delicious, farm fresh ingredients and we spent the evening drinking wine, listening to records and discussing organic and sustainable agriculture.

Glamour and the Yearlings

Our time at Breadroot farms was far beyond our expectations. Our hosts were so kind and generous and shared so much of their knowledge with us. Chad and I were able to achieve all of our goals for the week because the weather was kind to us and the challenges we faced were overcome with patience, determination and teamwork. We know that not all of our farming trips will go as smoothly, but seeding our first hemp crop was a phenomenal experience.

-K


P.S. Next week we will discuss the organic hemp operations we toured on Friday May 29th at Larry Marshall’s farm near Prince Albert, SK. His advanced technology and crop rotation techniques were absolutely inspiring.

Coming Together

Over six months of hard work came together in just one week! Between April 20th and 24th, The XY Hemp Corporation received it’s industrial hemp license from Health Canada, signed a production agreement with Farmer Direct Co-op and purchased Finola seeds.

Licensing industrial hemp farming is done by the Office of Controlled Substances at Health Canada. The Industrial Hemp Regulations are an annex to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Producers, distributors, and processors must apply to Health Canada to secure a license to work with hemp. The XY Hemp Corporation submitted the application on January 28th. This application includes a detailed map of our location, consent for criminal records check for the directors of the corporation, signed consent of our landlords at Breadroot Farms, and our chosen seed variety. Our license to produce, distribute, export and store hemp arrived on Monday, April 20th, 2015!

The arrival of our license allowed us to move forward with a production contract to secure a buyer for our harvest at the end of the season. We reviewed five contracts from different buyers before deciding to accept one with Farmer Direct Co-op. We are so grateful for the many offers we received to buy our seeds. Growing organic hemp has so many benefits, in this case it provided us with a much higher price for our final product than conventional and the product was in demand from many seed buyers.

During this process we received excellent service from Clarence at Manitoba Harvest. He was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. The North American Hemp and Grain Co. also provided helpful information on seed suppliers. Although we did no pursue a production agreement with Hemp Oil Canada, we were able to purchase our Finola seeds from them and are happy to get to work with them on this venture.

We chose to sign a production contract with Farmer Direct Co-op (FDC) for several reasons. Our farming partners, Al and Hélène of Breadroot Farms, are members of this small organic co-operative. FDC is 100% farmer owned, 100% organic, and 100% fairDeal. The fairDeal certification means that farmers receive premium prices for fairDeal organic products and ensures farm workers receive living wages and safe working conditions. Certified organic supports sustainable agriculture by promoting soil fertility, healthy food, and healthy people. We are very happy to be supporting this small co-operative with such strong corporate social responsibility commitments.

Once our production contract was accepted by FDC on Thursday, April 23rd, we could proceed with the purchase and pick up of Finola seeds. This was done on Friday, April 24th, which means everything is in order for seeding in late May.

The weather is warming up in Saskatchewan, and the adorable cows at Breadroot farms are starting to calve. As of yesterday, April 28th, there were three new calves out in the pasture. During our visit from May 24th to 30th, C will be operating machinery with Al, tilling and seeding our crop, while I plant gardens with Hélène and visit with the cattle. We also plan to drive up to see our hemp-farming mentor, Larry Marshall, to tour his much larger organic operations.

After so many phone calls, e-mails, applications and contracts over many months, things are falling into place. We are very excited to be moving into a more tangible phase of our business, and to see our efforts truly grow. The summer will be similarly uncertain, as we put our faith into the climate in Eastern Central Saskatchewan. With the help of the team we have built around us, I truly believe that everything will come together.

-K