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Barnett Looks For More Hemp Funds


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Stigma can be a funny thing. Once born, it tends to be pretty hard to shake. On the other hand, once dispersed, it doesn't often return.

That trend holds true with the 100 Mile House industrial hemp project, which came about two years ago as means of economic diversification.

"A guy by the name of Jack Witty," remembered mayor Donna Barnett. "For years and years, he's always been a really enthusiastic and energetic person to come up with ideas for economic diversification. So I said, 'Okay, let's do something.'"

When she took the idea to Pat Bell, provincial minister of Agriculture and Lands, he thought she was having him on. But, after proving herself serious, he came on board.

So resolute is the ministry's support that they just chipped in $8,100 for the project, this on top of an earlier investment of $5,000. Over the years, funding has also been accessed from the Northern Development Initiative, the National Research Centre and the District of 100 Mile.

But a lot of money is still needed. During a recent meeting with representatives of the Northern Liberal Caucus, Barnett called for another $300,000. Chiselling cash from Northern Development is too exhausting, she added.

Currently, the hemp scheme is in the pilot stage, with three years left until it hopefully takes off. By the end of that time, a steering committee chaired by Barnett hopes to have 200 acres of viable hemp. The grand vision is to have between 1-1,500 acres, with a local processing facility employing 10 people directly. However, until there's enough of a supply to justify a processor, raw materials will be shipped to Manitoba for production.

This year, there aren't actually any plants in the ground. Rather, time is being spent on research and development, as the data from last year's planting sheds light on a sure fire strategy. To that end, people close to the project recently took a trip to Kamloops, where the Thompson Rivers University rolled out a seminar based on last year's data. The university is also studying the results of an ongoing greenhouse operation, where all the variables can be controlled. A report detailing that experiment will be filed with the steering committee in the fall.

"The research clearly demonstrated that hemp will grow successfully

in the South Cariboo," said Howard McMillan, president of the Chamber of Commerce and one of the early organizers.

According to Mc-Millan, there are a few lessons to be learned from last year's effort. Early seeding is key,

with May being the month of choice; of the five farmers licensed last year, one didn't seed until July, when it was too hot and dry for a hardy plant to take root.

"We were under the impression you could get away with a zero

till," McMillan added, "and one of the things that came from Thomp-son Rivers was that the results were quite disappointing."

It's best to turn the soil in the fall, as snow melt is better absorbed the following spring.

McMillan was quick to point out that the project was brand new last year, and that new things typically require some trial and error, especially for ranchers used to growing crops for grazing.

"So that's part of the process of getting them in the mindset to shift farming practices from forage crops to annual crop rotations," McMillan said.

Canada has been in the hemp game since 1998, after a 60-year ban spurred by American narcotics policy came to an end. Hemp and marijuana are essentially the same plant, although the THC component — the pyschotropic ingredient — has to be less than 0.3 per cent for the plant to be considered hemp.

Ever vigilant to factors like criminal records, the Department of Health issues licenses to prospective farmers.

Operations have picked up across the country, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan achieving notable success. In 100 Mile, applicants must be prepared to grow at least 10 acres. To boot, they'll have to provide precise GPS co-ordinates to the RCMP.

For Jordan Zach, the chance to be a part of the project was hard to refuse. She works in a research capacity, acting as a liaison between the project and the ministry. A third-year Land and Food Systems student at UBC, Zach had a few options open to her this summer, but she decided to settle in 100 Mile.

"One aspect of this is sustainability," she said, "and that's something that interests me. It applies a lot to the agro-ecological principals that I learned in school."

Zach spends a lot of time sipping green tea in front of a laptop. She's looking into an operations model for licensees. The so-called farmer/contractor model has emerged as the most likely scenario.

"The farmer/contractor person can personally own the equipment and do a lot of the labour," she said. "The land belongs to the farmer, so when the revenue comes in, it's split between the contractor and the farmer."

Further, Zach is also involved in recruiting farmers and encouraging them to pursue organic certification. The stigma hemp carries in places like the United States is sometimes a hindrance, but she chips away at it with information.

In 100 Mile, the stigma problem doesn't appear so dire. In other North American jurisdictions, police are worried that farmers might try to hide marijuana plants amid their hemp. However, 100 Mile's Corporal Scott Ksionzyk said the local detachment has no qualms with the project, as long as it's regulated.

The mayor said there are currently three different companies looking into the project. Although she declined to say who, Barnett did say they were interested both in purchasing hemp, as well as in establishing a processing facility.

"We've accomplished a lot in the research department," she said.

News Mod: CoZmO - 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: 100 Mile House Free Press
Author: Paul Carlucci
Contact: newsroom@100milefreepress.net
Copyright: 2007 100 Mile House Free Press
Website: BCNG Portals Page

Herb Fellow

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Excellent article! Amerika is sooo far behind.
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