Hemp is an important crop across the world, providing food, fibre and medicine. The interest in the multipurpose crop has grown as the global demand for vegetable and protein oils increases and the awareness of hempseed nutritional and nutraceutical properties proliferates throughout the industry and consumer consciousness. Canada has become a global leader in the production of hemp and hemp products, with production steadily on the rise since 2007. Most hemp exports from Canada are heading to the United States with some export to Korea. World demand for hemp production is predicted to double in value by 2020.
Hemp, by regulatory definition, has low levels of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (less than 0.3% THC content by dry weight). Hemp produces many phytocannabinoids (non-intoxicating) terpenes and phenolic compounds with potential pharmaceutical value. The phytocannabinoids are the compounds of greatest interest, which are defined as plant-derived natural products that either directly interact with cannabinoids or have similar chemistry to them. ECODA and our partners are doing vital research on this exciting and emerging industry.
Agriculture and Agri Food Canada reported the industrial hemp industry to be responsible for $146.5 million in exports in 2016 and demand has continued to rise, particularly in response to the recent regulatory changes in cannabis production, processing and consumption in Canada. Industrial hemp is a new market opportunity for Eastern Canada with economic growth potential being driven most recently by health industry demands as well as popular organic food markets. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most prevalent phytocannabinoid in industrial hemp and has been documented in trials to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, anti-arthritic and anti-psychotic properties as well as central nervous system therapeutic effects and some anti-fungal, sedative and anti-bacterial activity.
Incorporating a novel crop such as hemp into current rotations would help growers mitigate both economic and agronomic risks. The hemp roots will help aerate soils as well as build organic matter. Also, the relatively quick accumulation of hemp biomass can be useful in carbon sequestration.
An important goal in an industrial hemp-breeding program is to keep THC levels low and there is generally an inverse relationship between THC and cannabidiol (CBD). The ECODA hemp research targets yield and quality baseline data for common hemp varieties for Eastern Canada as well as production management recommendations for optimal seed quality for industrial markets. These outcomes will significantly increase the knowledge base for growth and production of industrial hemp in Eastern Canada and contribute to economic returns and influence human health for the region.
Development of this new rotational crop for production in Eastern Canada with a high-value market opportunity will improve the overall sustainability of agriculture in the region. The innovative research will improve the support for minor and emerging commodities, increase efforts in value-added commodities, and provide an opening for new opportunities in export markets and trade.
ECODA’s hemp projects are listed on the Current Research page.