Seeding Hemp 2017

2017 marks The XY Hemp Corporation’s third year in farming and second hemp crop. Chad and Kayleigh traveled to Saskatchewan to seed the hemp with Al and Hélène of Breadroot farm. Kayleigh provides a quick update on how seeding went this year.

I arrived at the Farm on the afternoon of Saturday May 27th, 2017.  On my way to the home quarter, I stopped to check on the soon-to-be hemp field and saw mostly black soil. I got a warm welcome from Al and Hélène when I arrived at their home and we enjoyed a beer on the front deck. The wind was a bit unforgiving, so we cut cocktail hour short to warm up inside.

I worked on my computer most of the day Sunday, as Hélène had announced that we were going to tag and immunize the calves on Monday. The cows had all finished calving the day before I arrived and it was time to identify all the babies and give them their first vaccination. Monday morning I joined Hélène, Al, and Jonathan to round up the cows and calves. This was the closest that I have ever gotten to the livestock! The process involved placing an ear tag on each calve and injecting them with one dose of vaccine. I recorded each calves’ number and the date and our team of four finished before lunch.

cows and calves corralled before tagging and immunization

 

Tuesday afternoon I helped Hélène plant the lettuce and corn in the garden. Last summer, there were some extra peas and fava beans left over from our green manure ploughdown crop. Al was able to plant these extra seeds in two sections of the garden to provided some extra nutrients and organic material. The corn, another nitrogen hungry crop, was planted where the peas and fava beans were ploughed-in last summer. Hélène also plants her corn in the traditional “Three Sisters” grouping: peas, corn and squash are all planted close together to feed and protect one another.

Hélène in the garden

 

On Wednesday I went out the take pictures of the weeds emerging in the hemp field. The weeds emerging at this stage could provide some indications about the soil: thistles grow in tight soil with little air, while yellow flowered weeds thrive in sulfur depleted soils (pg. 65, Barber, 2014) . In the evening, I cleaned out the seed drill when Al finished seeding the wheat. This signalled that we were getting closer to preparing the hemp field! After emptying the wheat from the seed drill, I helped Al move all the machinery over to the hemp field. It was time to confirm that we were ready to seed!

Weeds in the hemp field: grass and wild oats with straw leftover from the ploughdown crop
Plantain: a medicinal weed
Another medicinal herb: dandelion!
Kayleigh cleaning the wheat from the seed drill

 

Wednesday night, Chad and I discussed our recent soil samples and the stages of the hemp field. We completed a successful ploughdown crop the year prior, including grazing a small heard of organic cattle on the land. The hemp field had been cultivated and harrowed once, and the weeds had emerged a second time. There was rain at the beginning of the week, and a long stretch of clear weather ahead. Our hemp farming mentor had suggested this precise crop rotation and assured us that even if the soil test didn’t indicate available nitrogen, it was there, mineralizing in the soil. Chad and I affirmed to one another that the hemp seeds had everything they needed to succeed. I left a note for Al on the breakfast table confirming our decision to proceed with the two final machinery operations: rodweeding and harrowing.

Thursday morning, Al left early to get started on the rodweeding. It was the hottest day yet, 30 degrees Celsius and clear skies. I worked inside on my computer and called potential custom harvesters about the fall hemp harvest. In the late afternoon, Al came in to declare a tire had gone flat on the rodweeder. He had a spare in  a junk equipment pile hidden behind some trees and he loaded the generator in the truck to power an impact wrench. I came along to pass him tools and help move vehicles.

These breakdowns always take longer than expected to repair and have unforeseen challenges. I learned this lesson fixing Austin Minis on the side of the road in Saskatchewan. This was a much larger tire to remove and replace, located between sharp ploughs and harrows. I am small enough to get into these tight spaces, but not strong enough to free rusted bolts. There I was, lying in the dirt in my lululemon pants, holding wrenches in place while Al used levers and raw determination to unscrew 30-year old bolts.  We managed to remove the large weights that keep the wheels from bouncing, and had almost freed the flat tire when a single bolt refused to come free. After 30 minutes of trying various strategies, we returned to the farm for a grinder. By grinding down a lip on the wheel, I was able to get a wrench in position so that it wouldn’t slip free and Al released the stubborn bolt. In another 45 minutes, the new tire was installed and Al was ready to finish the last hour of rodweeding left on the hemp field.

The forecast for Friday was mixed: heat and thunderstorms had been predicted throughout the week but the day started muggy and overcast. By the time I got up, Al had been out harrowing the hemp field for about two hours. Chad was driving in from Saskatoon and the possibility of seeding the hemp was becoming more and more real! I met with a Saskatchewan Crop Insurance adjuster in the hemp field just as Al was finishing the harrowing. Over lunch, we decided to fill the hopper with the hemp seed and start seeding in the afternoon.

Chad arrived at the farm just as a parade of vehicles was heading out to the hemp field. Al was driving the small case tractor, used to pull the seed drill, which was full of fuel. Hélène was carefully pulling the hopper of hemp seeds in the John Deere Tractor and I was following behind to pick-up Hélène and bring her back to the house. When we all arrived at the field there were hugs and handshakes then we jumped up on the seed drill to finish adding the hemp seeds. Ready to get into the activity, Chad offered to join Al in the tractor to drive the seed drill. They returned for dinner at about 8pm with 45 acres complete!

The last 7 acres to seed!

Saturday, June 3rd, was overcast and dreary but we were joyfully excited to finish seeding the hemp! Chad joined Al in the tractor again and jumped out to move large rocks and check how much hemp was left in the seed drill. With just seven acres left to seed, I came out to take pictures and see if there was anything they needed. In the afternoon, we helped Al move tractors to new fields and cleaned the remaining hemp from the seed drill. The sun came out and it was a hot windy day. I was grateful for the moisture in the soil and the straw from the cover crop holding our soil down against the strong winds.

My mantra for this year is “strong relationships and healthy harvests”. It was a pleasure to nurture our relationship with Al and Hélène of Breadroot farm by participating in all the activities on their farm. We are so grateful for their mentorship and partnership in our endeavour. I look forward to visiting them again at harvest in September for a healthy harvest!

Mentorship & Partnership
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2017 Hemp Farming Update

2017 is an exciting year for the XY Hemp Corporation: we will be planting our second hemp seed crop. Last year, we prepared the soil by growing a cover crop (ploughdown crop) of peas and fava beans. This processes added nutrients and organic material to the soil and will hopefully reduce weeds. We’re now ready to seed hemp and reap a healthy organic harvest!

Chad submitted our application to grow industrial hemp to Health Canada in December 2016. Our location was confirmed and land agreement signed in early 2016, so there was no reason for us to delay. The shortened application form was simple to complete and we received our hemp license a few weeks after submission. With our license in hand, we set out to review production contracts for the 2017 growing season.

We requested production contracts from several wholesale seed companies to review their terms. We were pleased with the continued upward trend in organic hemp seed prices. While our primary objective is to grow a health yield of hemp seeds, we are also interested in selling our fibres. Many of the contracts included a right of first refusal for the seed buyer to also purchase the fibres. We requested that clause be removed so that we are free to sell our fibres to the highest bidder. A developing market for hemp fibres is a long anticipated and very welcome opportunity for farmers. Will 2017 be the year of hemp fibre sales?

From May 24 to June 7, I will be in Saskatchewan to seed the hemp field, visit mentors and potential partners and catch up with friends. Our farming partners, Al and Hélène of Breadroot farms, will host us for the two weeks. They are also welcoming a new family to their land this year! This is the start of a new partnership that will see Al and Hélène move towards retirement while mentoring young farmers to continue with organic practices. We are so delighted that their search for long term partners has been successful.

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The final step to complete before travelling to Saskatchewan is to arrange for hemp seeds to be delivered to our farm. The production contract we chose, with Hemp Fresh Foods/ Manitoba Harvest, provides us with guaranteed access to seeds. This is because Hemp Fresh Foods are the owners of the Finola variety we will be growing. The team at Manitoba Harvest, including Darryl McElroy, Jennifer McCombe and Clarence Shwaluk, have been extremely helpful to The XY Hemp Corporation, long before we signed a production contract. Jennifer shared her agrology knowledge with us while we were deciding on our cover crop last year and she always keeps us up to date on hemp events on the prairies. In 2015, Darryl tracked down Finola seeds for us when supplies were getting low and seeding was starting soon. From all their hard work and dedication to customer service, we are thrilled to grow hemp for Manitoba Harvest!

 

2016 Cover Crop Update

ploughdown fieldAug162016

For the 2016 growing season, The XY Hemp Corporation grew a cover crop of peas and faba beans. The term cover crop is used to describe a crop that is not grown to harvest, but instead to cover the soil to prevent erosion, add organic material to the soil, suppress weeds by increasing competition for light and moisture, and create a habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms. For legumes crops, like ours, there is the additional benefit of nitrogen fixing in the roots of the plants. Another term, which is commonly used to describe this process, is a green manure crop or a plough down crop. These practices are different than summerfallow, where a field is left bare between cash crops and the soil is vulnerable to erosion or excess water.

pea blossomsAug162016

Our primary motivation for the cover crop is to fix nitrogen in our soil to prepare for the 2017 hemp crop. In 2015, we also struggled with wild oats and so weed suppression is another goal for the cover crop. The 2016 cover crop (and 2017 hemp crop) is in the field next to our 2015 hemp crop. The last crop grown on the new field was oats and our soil tests revealed that there were similar levels of nitrogen in each field following the hemp crop and following the oats crop. This means that we need to fix as much nitrogen as possible in our 2016 field to support the growth of the 2017 hemp crop.

pea nodulesAug162016
Pea nodules, where the nitrogen is fixed into the soil.
bean nodulesAug162016
Faba Bean nodules, where the nitrogen is fixed into the soil.

To do this, we planted a combination of 40/10 peas and faba beans. This combination was determined after conversations with our farming partners Al and Hélène, our hemp farming mentor Larry Marshall, and various organic agrologists and seed suppliers. The faba beans were chosen because they will fix a lot of nitrogen in the soil, but they do not provide very good weed competition and they need a lot of moisture, which is not ideal if the growing season is dry. On the other hand, the peas provide better weed competition and do not require as much moisture. In order to hedge against either weather outcome, we decided to grow a 50/50 blend of peas and faba beans.

pea podsAug192016

Our final strategy to increase our soil’s nitrogen content organically, in a single growing season, was to ask Al and Hélène to graze their cattle on our cover crop before ploughing (or discing) the plants and manure into the dirt. While Al and Hélène have a relatively small herd – this type of manure spreading is best done by flash grazing a large herd – the additional nitrogen from the manure, and the weed suppression from cattle gazing on wild oats, should be beneficial overall.

Yearlings in Tall peas Aug212016

In late June, Nordrick’s Norsask Seeds delivered our blended peas and faba beans to Breadroot Farm and Al was able to seed the cover crop. The seeds were treated with an organic inoculant to help the plants germinate and establish in the soil. This was quite effective, as both the peas and beans grew well together and there is a lot of plant material for grazing and working into the soil. When Hélène left for a conference in Montreal, the faba beans were taller than the peas, but when she returned, the peas had overtaken the beans. As you can see above, the crop was about three-quarters the height of the yearlings when they were released into the field to graze.

Yearlings in the small section Aug212016

Al and Hélène tested the cattle in a small area (about 10 acres) to ensure that the peas and beans did not cause bloat in the livestock. To the contrary, the yearlings quite like the peas and appear to have healthy digestion from the perfectly round patties they are leaving on the field. On August 21, Al and Hélène opened up the rest of the field to the yearlings, who have been eating the peas and the wild oats, but leaving the faba beans for the most part. This is ideal for us, as the peas should be disced-in now because pods are already formed, while the faba beans can continue growing and fixing nitrogen. The cattle have been a very effective way to selectively mow down the cover crop. As they trample the crop, they are also starting the decomposition process, which will continue to mineralize the nutrients in the soil through the fall, winter and spring. The success of this strategy is a true triumph for the XY Hemp Corporation and we are hopeful that it will be reflected in the health of our 2017 hemp crop.

yearlings checking it outAug192016

 

 

 

Our Farming Partners: Al and Hélène

In every blog post, I try to show our gratitude for the many people who have supported us in our venture. There is no one we are more grateful for than Al Boyko and Hélène Tremblay-Boyko. They have provided us with access to land, welcomed us into their home, and taught us the practical aspects of organic farming. Smart, compassionate, hardworking and funny, Al and Hélène have been the best partners we could ask for. While they have enthusiastically jumped into our hemp-growing project, their original goal was to find successors to their farm to keep their land in organic or sustainable production when they are ready to retire. In this blog post, I will give you a brief profile of Al and Hélène, and Breadroot Farm, to show our gratitude and in hopes that it might help connect them with future farming partners.

HeleneSunsetCows
Our first tour of the pasture on our first night at Breadroot Farm

We connected by chance when I built a profile for the XY Hemp Corporation on FarmLink. After Hélène’s first e-mail, I was able to browse the website she created for Breadroot Farm, which provided me with so much information about their philosophies and farming practices. We arranged an initial phone call, to explore what each of us could bring to a partnership – and if we were interested in pursuing one, given our different goals. As we shared information about our hopes and plans for the future, a plan began to emerge for our joint venture. We continued to discuss the plan for the next four months as we developed a crop share agreement, cropping plan, financing terms and organized our first visit to Breadroot Farm. It was thrilling to be building a relationship through collaboration and we were so impressed by the generosity and understanding our future partners were showing us. It was so great to be able to find landowners who were active on this online land-linking platform, open to a new type of agriculture, interested in teaching new farmers (with no previous experience!), and willing to share the risks of our first crop together.

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Chad and I were nervous about our first meeting, but our concerns quickly dissolved when we arrived in Canora, Saskatchewan in May 2015Another libra lady, Hélène and I connected quickly through a shared intellect and appreciation for balance and partnership. A former french immersion teacher, Hélène is an excellent and patient teacher (Chad and I are also former french immersion students!). I have a deep appreciation for Hélène’s intelligence, including her knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and eagerness to learn new things. She is also highly organized and helps with the website administration of The Farmer’s Table, a sustainable agriculture initiative to sell fresh food straight from farmers to families in Regina and Saskatoon. Aware of the balance between hard work and play, Hélène is also very festive and a gracious host. She likes to engage in celebration through song and food and has welcomed musicians, chefs, and many aspiring farmers into her home.

ChadHeleneKetchup
Chad and Hélène making ketchup.

Hélène channels these gifts into so many worthwhile causes. She is active in her compassion through her work with Development and Peace, and caring for the elderly and homebound residents in her rural community. Hélène is also very passionate about the struggle of rural peasants throughout the world and is conscious of the impact climate change will have on these vulnerable populations. She recently travelled to Paris to participate in COP21 with Development and Peace and other non-profit organizations. Through this lens, she has been able to teach Chad and I about organic farming by not only explaining how it is done, but why it is important to our world.

Al is an absolute delight; he has a quick wit and ever present sense of humour, which is so necessary given the ups and downs of farming. Like many farmers, Al has a never ending set of skills including mechanics, mathematics, negotiation, as well as a deep knowledge of organic farming practices. Al helped me set up the calculations to determine how to calibrate the seed drill for hemp, and helped Chad and I set up the experiment to ensure we were putting the right amount of seed at the right depth. He also patiently taught Chad how to drive the tractor with the harrow on the back, which was a challenge for two large men in a very small space! Al likes to tell stories, which were endlessly entertaining for Chad and I, and delivers lots of his advice in the form of short one-liners. Anyone who knows me knows that this is the best way to communicate with me. Our favourite saying was “How long COULD it take”, which helped Chad and I remember that not all things would happen on our tightly organized schedule.

Al and Hélène are also entrepreneurs themselves, as independent farmers, co-operative founders and former owners of a bakery in Preeceville, Saskatchewan. Al baked delicious, organic, whole grain bread almost every day while Chad and I visited, which was such a treat for us. They are also founding members of The Farmer’s Table and active members of Farmer Direct Co-op, a small organic co-operative (and the buyer of our organic hemp). Al and Hélène sell their grass-fed beef, as well as seasonal vegetables, through the Farmer’s Table and sell their grain crops through Farmer Direct Co-op. They take a really active role in their farms operations, the marketing of their products, and their community.

AmsterdamAccess1
Amsterdam, SK, is between Breadroot Farms and Canora, SK.

 

Breadroot farm is beautiful place in the Good Spirit region of Saskatchewan. The farmland has been certified organic since 2000 and they began raising organic grass-fed beef in 2008. Because they have worked so hard to nurture their land and maintain their organic certification, through OCIA (their current certifier is TransCanada Organic Certification Services), they are looking for partners who will carry on with sustainable agricultural practices. Some of their land will be placed in trust with Farmland Legacies, who will lease it to farmers who share a commitment to sustainable agriculture. However, Al and Hélène also believe farm land should be owned by farmers, and have held some aside to sell to future partners looking to establish themselves in the area. Lastly, there is a lovely conservation easement covering some of the pastureland owned by Breadroot Farm, which provides crucial habitat to prairie wildlife.

Breadrootmeadowconservation
Wildflowers in the conservation easement.
Breadrootlillies
Prairie Lillies.

 

YearlingsFive
The yearlings…always so curious.

Al and Hélène have ambitious goals for their farm. They wish to live in:

  • in a vibrant community made up of a balance of young and mature families engaged in organic, sustainable living and farming,
  • where there are abundant natural resources including productive land with areas set aside for wildlife habitat,
  • where there are healthy water, mineral and energy cycles,
  • where a land legacy system is in place to ensure land access for future generations, and
  • where mentoring is ongoing and knowledge is shared from generation to generation.

We are incredibly grateful to be working with Al and Hélène on our hemp venture, and we would like to support their search for long-term farming partners who are interested in establishing a life in rural Saskatchewan. If you are interested in learning more about Al and Hélène and life on Breadroot Farm please visit their website: https://sites.google.com/site/breadrootfarm/

or send them an e-mail!

breadrootfarms@gmail.com

 

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.

 

 

 

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.