The local MLA recently went on a trip to Europe to investigate a new cash crop. Well, maybe the crop isn’t that “new,” and has been around for a while.
Drayton-Devon Wildrose MLA Mark Smith earlier this month spent about a week in Europe discussing the international hemp industry with some hefty players on the other side of the Atlantic learning how that industry functions from start to finish.
“Those are the kinds of conversations we had to have,” said Smith by phone June 14.
The group included Smith, Alberta businesses already involved in hemp, mayors of Alberta communities and Alberta Agriculture employees to name a few.
Smith said the trip, all paid for by the participants themselves with zero cost to taxpayers, allowed Alberta representatives to meet some very important people in the European hemp industry, and see some hemp operations firsthand. With the federal government’s new trade deal with Europe, cash crops like hemp could be a new source of income or local farmers.
The first stop in the tour was Cologne, Germany where a major international hemp conference was taking place. Smith said a place like Alberta, just entering into the hemp industry, needs all the advice it can get, and such a conference is a gold mine. He said Alberta representatives met some of the major hemp harvesters and gathered information on vital topics such as supply chain management.
Smith said the Alberta group also wants to gather as much information as possible about planting, growing, harvesting and processing hemp. He said the wide variety of products made from hemp, ranging from vehicle parts to cable, require material that could be grown in Alberta. However, different levels of government, business and producers want to know more about how it’s successfully done.
Smith said hemp is a rotational crop, so before Alberta dives in everyone would like to know more about the crop. Also, he noted if hemp becomes a substantial crop in Alberta, stakeholders will want to know how much processing is require here before the crop is shipped out of the province.
Next on the itinerary was Eindhoven, Germany and Bergen op zoom, Netherlands, where the group met with economic development officers.
Smith noted the Alberta Hemp Alliance, a regional group, will need to have talks with the provincial government about hemp production, and that hemp has to be a stand-alone product that can support itself in the Alberta agriculture community.
“Obviously, there are no guarantees,” said the MLA. But Smith said he and many other people see a lot of potential in hemp as a product for Alberta farmers.
“In the next two to three years I’m very hopeful we would have started to diversify our economy a bit,” he added.