Adapting agronomics for rapidly evolving hemp opportunities

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

It’s been 21 years since the hemp industry started in earnest in Canada, and within the last year, there has been a significant shift in research institutions taking a larger interest in the crop. Which is good, because the agronomic knowledge base for this multi-use crop is still quite limited.

Jeff Kostiuk, with Hemp Genetics International, says the spike in interest from both producers and researchers is in part due to the latest change in cannabis regulations, as well as the number of uses for the crop continuously expanding.

“It excites me, and it frustrates me, bcause there is so many things that you can sort of go in and see, and you need to stay focused on as much as you can,” Kostiuk explains to RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney at the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance conference at Calgary, Alta.

Hemp has piqued the interest of many farmers as a rotational option, but with so many uses, and maybe even more ways to harvest the crop, there are more questions than solid answers when it comes to offering advice on how to best make money with hemp.

“I think that by doing a lot of these speeches in the U.S. and Canada, you try to give the producers an idea of what could happen, but what we do isn’t necessarily what they should do. Producers need to realize that there are some issues or ways that we handle  different things but depending on your set up you might do it differently,” Kostiuk says. Every farmer has a different line up of equipment and a different risk tolerance, both of which will factor in to what kind of direction you take with hemp production.

Hemp is definitely a cool new crop with great potential, but it’s food, it’s fibre, it’s medicinal — and there’s plenty of agronomic know-how that we don’t have yet for each of these production systems, Kostiuk says.

2019, and really every year before it, has afforded learning opportunities, he says. We know that some plant stress can be good for CBD oil production, but that doesn’t mean we wish for snow in September, Kostiuk says. The crop is also daylight sensitive, like soybeans, and responds to nitrogen, similar to a high-protein wheat or canola crop.

There’s plenty to learn from the American experience, too, as oil-only production there seems promising, but is labour intensive.

The bottom line, certainly, is that hemp is a crop that requires research and a market ahead of planting it, he says.