Hemp yield uncertain ahead of harvest

MarketsFarm — While Canada’s licensed hemp acreage nearly doubled from 2018 to 2019, yield estimates will remain uncertain until licensed producers report their crops to Health Canada after harvest.

“Health Canada, for the first time, will be collecting information on hemp acres that were seeded, rather than hemp acres that were licensed,” said Ted Haney, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance Association.

“We’re very pleased that Statistics Canada has started to show hemp in annual acreage estimates and future acreage estimates, but it’ll take a few years for that to work out and become a reliable data source for us.”

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Statistics Canada’s estimate suggests about 80,000 acres of hemp were seeded in 2019, up from 42,000 in 2018. Haney anticipated this number “may be underestimated.

“Because it’s a sample of a small crop, if you miss a couple of large producers, your numbers are off.”

Producers will report their harvested yield to Health Canada in November. Average hemp production is typically around 900 pounds per acre.

Growing conditions have been “variable, like with all other crops,” Haney said.

“Weather was dry and difficult out west, but irrigated crop are producing well. There was a lot of heat.”

Crop production is expected to be lower in non-irrigated areas. “We’ll probably see a decrease in average total production,” Haney said.

Dry weather in parts of the Prairies put hemp crops under stress, but “the drop in quality and quantity of the crop will be relatively minor.”

Though there is some hand hand-wringing regarding the possibility of an early frost during harvest, hemp is known to be a resilient crop. The 2018 harvest in Western Canada was delayed by unexpected snow in September.

“Luckily, hemp deals well with snow, but still it made for a very difficult harvest. Yields dropped slightly,” said Haney.

Hemp is typically seeded and harvested later than traditional crops. Seeding typically occurs until the beginning of July and harvest goes until late September.

“Because of its large canopy and density of production, it handles frost really well,” Haney said.

Prices have remained relatively stable industry-wide, as almost all contract sales are to food processors or a selected export market.

Since 2018, prices have been around 50-60 cents per pound for commercial conventional seed, and $1.50-$1.60 for organic seed.

As only licensed hemp companies or hemp license owners can buy and sell hempseed, the market for the crop is very narrow.

The industry hopes hemp seed and derivatives will soon be recognized as livestock feed, which could incentivize more acreage in years to come.

“We hope by the 2020 harvest, hemp seed and major derivatives will be registered as livestock feed ingredients in Canada,” said Haney. “That will de-risk this crop for producers significantly.”

— Marlo Glass writes for MarketsFarm, a Glacier FarmMedia division specializing in grain and commodity market analysis and reporting.

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