Low-THC hemp can reduce the strength of high-THC cannabis.. and vice-versa. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)

Kootenay growers call for ban on hemp production in region

Concern that low-THC hemp could spoil outdoor-grown cannabis crop

A cannabis growers co-operative wants to ban industrial hemp production from the Regional District of Central Kootenay.

The Kootenay Outdoor Producer Co-op (KOP) has asked its membership to lobby the directors of the RDCK to implement the ban.

In a letter to members and supporters released this week, the KOP says the problem is how the two kinds of plant — industrial hemp and consumable cannabis — can cross-pollinate.

“This leads to two different end products — our bud and [their] hemp seed,” the letter says. “But if their males pollinate our females we will be left with a valueless crop.”

The letter says cannabis pollen can travel by air for several kilometres and that “our valley geography will make it worse.”

“So our ask: As it is election time, please call or visit one or more of the rural director candidates… and ask them if they will support field production of cannabis by banning the production of hemp in the RDCK,” the letter states.

It’s not clear the RDCK has the power to ban a crop, and the issue is not an immediate concern, says Todd Veri, the president of KOP says. The co-op wants to raise the issue of a possible threat to what they say could be a $200-million business in the West Kootenay.

“We so support the industrial hemp sector,” Veri told the Castlegar News. “Just not in the RDCK.”

The feeling is mutual

While KOP wants to keep industrial hemp out of the area, the head of a national hemp organization says they want to keep a clear distance too.

“This is an identified issue,” says Ted Haney, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. He says it’s an odd position the industry finds itself in.

“It’s one of the weird and wonky outcomes of legalization,” says Haney. “Here we have the growers of what’s right now an illegal crop, calling on the government to ban the production of what has been a longtime legal crop, and identifying it as the source of a problem.”

Haney says strains of cannabis can also pollinate industrial hemp, which is used primarily for food production. In the threshing process, higher-THC parts of a cross-pollinated plant can contaminate the seed pods and husks, raising the final THC level in the product.

THC is the psychoactive chemical in cannabis. When the THC content goes above 10 parts per million, it not longer qualifies the hemp as a food product.

“Is a food producer going to be willing to contract with a supplier who may have accidentally cross-pollinated their crop to a higher level of THC?” he asks. “The answer is probably ‘no.’ They’d be hesitant to do that.”

Cross-pollination is a risk for producers of industrial hemp, a $160-million cash crop in Canada that’s expected to grow to $1 billion soon.

But it’s not a big issue for B.C. growers at the moment. The province lags far behind in hemp production. While Saskatchewan farmers cultivate more than 22,000 hectares of hemp, B.C. farmers only plant about 80 hectares annually.

“It’s not a concern yet, as outdoor production is not an issue yet,” says Haney. “It will be an issue for 2019, and it has been identified as an issue, absolutely.”

Haney says everyone is waiting for Health Canada to rule on how to meet the needs of both industrial hemp, seed and commercial cannabis producers.

Getting along

Back at the co-op, Veri says it’s less likely outdoor-grown cannabis would cross-pollinate with industrial hemp, as the cannabis clones are all female — though he says it could be an issue at larger, indoor production facilities like those found on the Prairies.

Right now, he’s just trying to ensure there’s no conflict in the offing.

“We don’t want a future of feuding neighbours,” he says.

Another way to avoid conflict would be to actively promote cannabis over industrial hemp production in the region, he says.

“Our climate and geography suits the growing of the female cannabis flower,” Veri says of the West Kootenay. “It’s a little wet here for hemp.

“We’re not saying we don’t want you to grow one thing, we are saying grow the other, you are going to make a lot more money growing cannabis than hemp.”

 

Cross-pollination is not a concern in indoor operations, but the Kootenay growers want to raise crops outdoors. (File photo)

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