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!

 

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

Land Access for The XY Hemp Corporation

March 25, 2015 The XY Hemp Corporation completes a significant step in our business plan: signing the crop share agreement with Breadroot Farms.

The crop share agreement is a hybrid between a traditional crop share contract and a production agreement. This flexibility has allowed us to craft a truly unique partnership with our organic producers, Hélène Tremblay-Boyko and Al Boyko. We are growing 60 acres of hemp this summer and sharing input costs and profits from the sale. This structure allows The XY Hemp Corporation to share risk, costs and access mentorship from experienced organic producers.

As young professionals, C and I have limited experience with agriculture. An 8-month co-op term at the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture exposed me to different land access arrangements for young farmers. These alternative models of land access include incubator farms, land linking, co-operative farming and farmland trusts. Breadroot farms is actively searching for young agrarians to take over sustainable operations on their farm through land linking initiatives such as FARMLink. Al and Hélène have also set aside land for a farmland trust called Farmland Legacies. Our joint venture is a blend of land linking and co-operative farming.

Star Spangled (Future) Hemp Field on Breadroot Farms, SK
Star Spangled (Future) Hemp Field on Breadroot Farms, SK

In exchange for a land rental fee, a 30% share of seed sales and reimbursement for machinery operations, Breadroot Farms is providing The XY Hemp Corporation with 60 acres of pristine organic land and the mentorship of organic farmers with over 20 years of experience growing field crops in Saskatchewan. The location is perfect for hemp seed sales: close to the Manitoba border where the majority of hemp processing occurs.

Al and Hélène have grown a wide variety of field crops, but have never grown hemp. C and I were able to apply for a license to grow industrial hemp from Health Canada with permission from Breadroot farms. This application has been received and processed and we anticipate our license to be issued at the end of April, 2015. We have also accessed the support of Larry Marshall, an experience organic hemp farmer in Northern Saskatchewan. With these three incredible resources, C and I will learn so much about farming this summer.

The crop share agreement is the first contract on a series that sets our dreams into motion. Our next major milestone will be a production contract with a seed buyer. The XY Hemp Corporation and Breadroot Farms are currently reviewing several contracts and are very excited to move forward together!

-K

P.S. My pitch video is still up for votes online, please watch and give it a little “heart”

Pitch It! Plan It! Build It!

Start-up companies need lots of support, from our friends and family who understand why we are working late and always on the phone, to the incredibly valuable advice offered to young entrepreneurs. This week, The XY Hemp Corporation is meeting and working with start-up accelerators in Victoria and Edmonton for additional support.

The Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs (ICE) at the University of Victoria has been an excellent resource during the development of our business plan. After an initial intake meeting, we were directed towards Lean Stack, an online platform that helps entrepreneurs define their products and markets more clearly. These one-page descriptions of our products and customers are perfect for showcasing where we are now, and where we want to be in five years.

We are  participating in a few pitch and plan competitions through ICE this spring. My video submission for PitchIt! is online now, so please watch it and give me a little “heart” so The XY Hemp Corporation can win $500. I will be presenting the elevator pitch live for a panel of judges on March 31st, for another cash prize of $300. These funds will help C and I travel to Saskatchewan this summer to work with Breadroot Farms.

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ICE entrepreneur coach, Robin Milne, has been absolutely amazing. He has helped get my pitch and plan together by providing advice, resources, and letting me just talk things out. Recently, he helped to edit a short company description to submit to TEC Edmonton. The submission was successful and we have an initial meeting with TEC Edmonton Thursday March 19. The XY Hemp Corporation is looking to access the support of a larger start-up accelerator, and TEC Edmonton is the best in Canada!

TEC Edmonton was named the number one start-up incubator in Canada and the number three university business incubator in North America in 2014.  We are most interested in the services provided by the business development, technology management and entrepreneur education teams. TEC Edmonton is an ideal partner as we move beyond the pilot and expanded production phase and into processing industrial hemp. The TEC Venture prize is also an amazing opportunity for start-ups to access capital for expansion, and we hope to be able to compete in that competition after we have solidified our processing goals.

We are extremely grateful for the support we have already received, from Breadroot Farms, Larry Marshall and ICE, just to name a few! With their help we have developed a viable business case for 2015 that will be presented at the ICE PlanIt! competition on April 2nd. If we are successful in that competition, The XY Hemp Corporation will win $5000, which will contribute to our input costs and the transportation of hemp seeds to the commercial buyer. Farming is uncertain and more capital will give us more flexibility when responding to growing conditions this summer. We are very excited to work with ICE to pitch it and plan it, and hope to work with TEC Edmonton in the future to build our dream.

-K

P.S. link to PitchIt! video is: http://uvicpitchitonline.hscampaigns.com/ . Remember to click the little heart!

 

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name, would smell as sweet”

-W. Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

While a rose may smell as sweet by any other name, The XY Hemp Corporation sounds much sweeter to me than our previous numbered corporation. This week we are celebrating a small accomplishment: we have chosen a name for our company and made the change official!

At first, it may sound like a placeholder name but it was in fact chosen carefully to reflect our corporation culture and vision.

The XY Hemp Corporation is an ode to Canadian history. Canada was settled by corporate interests before the colonial powers of Britain and France decided to establish colonies and send settlers to the new country. Two powerful trading groups, The Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, competed for domination in the fur trade in the late 18th and early 19th century. The Hudson’s Bay Company was centrally controlled from London and had very a strict hierarchy, whereas the NorthWest Company was headquartered in Montreal and consisted of partnerships between traders across the country. The NorthWest Company eventually achieved full integration when a London office was opened to market furs from the company. Many of the shareholders of the NorthWest company were voyageurs: traders who lived in Canada and spent their winters in Canadian wilderness. Although power was more decentralized in the NorthWest Company, there was disagreement between the winterers and the management in Montreal. In 1799, the western fur traders broke away from The NorthWest Company to form the New NorthWest Company, also known as the XY Company.

The XY Hemp Corporation aims to become the #1 hemp processing firm in Canada through partnerships and collaboration. We are independent thinkers and firmly rooted in western Canada. Innovation is the key to what makes us different. Our innovative partnership approach to enter the agriculture sector is just the beginning. Willing to take calculated risks and compete with bigger corporations, our competitive advantage is the flexibility to start small and grow into new markets.

Happy #HempDay

XX

-K