The Hemp Commerce & Farming Report
Volume 2, Issue 12, June 2000 ISSN 1488-3988
This issue of the HCFR comes in three parts
© 2000 AHEM, ARTHUR HANKS
This issue of the HCFR is proudly sponsored by Hedron Analytical
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IN THIS ISSUE:
Top of the Crop:
1) Hemp and climate change study
2) Kline & Co: significant markets emerging for natural fibres
3) Vote Hemp wants you
4) Lear Corporation introduces two natural fibre polymers
NEW COLUMN: American Beauty
FEATURE: Fibrex Québec: processing of natural fibres in North America remains a pioneering activity
Location, location, location by Jon Cloud
British Columbia: Peace Region Research
FEATURE: Cross Canada Crop Report 2000
Special Advertising Feature: Licensed Testing Lab Directory
PART THREE: Functional Marketing
a) First Canadian grown and woven textiles are now on the market
b) Fiber Ethics Magazine launches
d) HCFR readers are needed for Non-wood Pulping Survey
e) Webworthy: egroups.com
Association News: OHA officially up and running
Masthead, Credits, and more info
Hemp is now 3 years old in Canada and acreage across the country is down considerably from last year. This is not exactly unexpected.
Certainly, there are many challenges hemp has to overcome on and off the field to move forward in this country; more infrastructure especially for fibre processing is needed; planting seed has yet to be optimised for Canada's many bioregions; and hemp thirsts for more capital investment from the private sector.
However Canada's hemp industry faced challenges in 1999 that would have tried the economic viability of any new crop. It's an old and wise saying that things happen in threes. Last year, the CGP "debacle", The "Hemp Embargo" and rumbles of a regulatory changeup at Health Canada have all played a part in setting back development and driving people away.
But we still have our hemp. The HCFR estimates that we have up to 12 000 acres in the ground this year. Lower acreage this year is a relief to many, given '99's stunning overproduction and the slow pace of market development. Lower production will help maintain prices at the farmgate for producers. However, is it still too much hemp?
The good news is that many processors are now contracting for specific varieties and quality; experienced farmers who have lined up contracts with credible companies are positioned to make healthy returns. As the current demand for hemp grain and grain products is still rather limited, quality rather than quantity will determine who remains in the field in the future. The pull towards organics is certainly in the right direction.
This issue we are proud to present our annual Cross-Canada Crop Report an overview of what's in the ground this year and some of the processing and marketing that's developing. For this story, the HCFR contacted several dozens of individuals and companies of all kinds by email, fax, or phone through May and June in an effort to be as comprehensive as possible. Not all parties wished their activities to be publicised, for either they were not wishing to tip their hand quite yet or they had other reasons. In some cases, the HCFR just ran out of time we have a deadline to meet for you, our readers.
So let's make a deal. If you are working with hemp, and you are reading this, and we missed out on what you are doing, take our word that the oversight is not intentional; we'll gladly tell your story in upcoming issues.
Anyhow, enjoy! And be sure to have a hemp beer on Canada Day (our US friends included). And if you can make it north to Saskatchewan this summer, come in July for Herbs 2000 . This is shaping out to be an exceptional event. Otherwise, the HCFR will be back in the first week of August with some exciting research and more in-depth industry news.
HCFR business update: As we go to press, Jason Freeman is holding down an interim role as in HCFR sales as we search for the right person to fill his capable shoes. We realize that the process may take some time, but hopefully, not too much longer.
One more: Congratulations to Fiber Ethics Magazine with their launch...this publication welcomes the company. Please check out Hemp Shorts for more details.
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE. PRINT THIS ISSUE OUT ON HEMP PAPER
Top Of The Crop
1) Hemp and climate change study
Despite agreements-in-principal that have been reached, Western and Industrial governments have been slow to implement actions would address issues of global climate change. This footdragging is in part caused by a common perception that addressing environmental issues would "cost" industry, and would not bring economic benefits. The touted solution of carbon credits has also not yet won widespread appeal.
A new thesis prepared by Marc R. Deeley (University of Strathclyde, Graduate School of Environmental Studies) and theorises that industrial hemp has great potential on both an economic and an environmental basis for climate change mitigation. Deeley's work also questions the future necessity of genetically-modified foods in a scenario of sustainable agriculture; the study also addresses the differing needs of the developing and the industrialised worlds.
ABSTRACT: Cannabis: an environmentally and economically viable method for climate change mitigation.
This thesis examines the problem of global climate change, taking as its starting point the recommendations of both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). It is argued that an approach which directly addresses the (scientific) causes of climate change via the application of biology and chemistry "termed an 'environmental approach' in this thesis" is better placed than conventional regulatory instruments (i.e. a carbon tax) to fulfil the objectives of the (1992) Convention. Moreover, it is argued that an environmental approach/method has the potential to address other (related) areas of environmental concern, such as the use of chemicals in agriculture. In addition, because such an approach would not entail the predominately negative economic effects of conventional regulatory instruments such as "carbon taxation" it has the potential to be universally inclusive (through choice), extending global participation in the UNFCCC. An environmental approach is therefore elaborated upon which centres on the specific use of Cannabis (in particular, the Sativa L. sub-species) as a multipurpose source of biomass as an industrial feedstock for energy, agricultural and commodity applications. It is argued that the unique physiological and chemical characteristics of Cannabis make it ideally suited for such applications within the overall objective of climate change mitigation by addressing directly our industrial reliance on fossil fuels and several of the key land-use/management and consumption-related causes of climate change. It is concluded that Cannabis cultivation and the industrial utilisation of this crop would be environmentally and economically beneficial as a method of addressing the problem of global climate change.
For more information, contact email@example.com
2) Kline & Co: significant markets emerging for natural fibres
Natural fibres, used to fill and reinforce both thermoplastics and thermosets, represent one of the fastest-growing types of polymer additives, according to a market study undertaken by New Jersey-based Kline & Company. According to Opportunities for Natural Fibers in Plastic Composites 1999, the North American demand for both wood and agricultural fibre used as plastic additives is forecasted to range from 15% to 20% per year in automotive applications, and up to 50% or more per year in selected building products.
Kline and Company is a consulting firm serving the international chemicals and materials industries. Opportunities will assess the current market and make forecasts for a variety of natural fibres in all types of plastic applications, including building products, automotive, and industrial/consumer applications. The study will also profile leading producers of both fibres and composites and identify growth opportunities
The study's preliminary estimates place the North American market for natural fibres in plastic composites at 400 million lbs. a year. One quarter of the demand 100 million lbs. should go to long agricultural fibres as kenaf, jute, hemp, flax, and sisal.
Kline suggests that the majority of the projected market share will be claimed by wood. However, the study recognises that future demand for wood "is expected to be so fantastic that availability of wood fibre might become a problem.".
The study notes that long natural fibres, like flax, kenaf, and hemp are increasingly finding use, mainly in automotive composites. Typical long fibre composites include such interior components as door trim, package trays, and rear shelves. These composites are primarily compression-moulded polypropylene where the loading of the natural fibre is 50%.
According to Kline, the primary driving force for these new automotive materials is economics, since natural fibres are currently priced at one-third of the cost of fibreglass or less. Other reasons for their increasing use include: weight reduction these fibres are half the weight of fibreglass; recycling natural fibre composites are easier to recycle; and the green movement desire for natural products
The dominant polymers that use natural fibres are Polyethylene, PVC, and polypropylene; other polymer systems that use natural fibres include phenolics, polyester, and polystyrene. Uses are not limited to building products and automotive parts, as markets are also emerging in such applications as railroad ties, flower pots, furniture, and marine piers.
.For more information, go to: www.klinegroup.com
3) Vote Hemp wants you
VoteHemp.com was formed by leaders of the Hemp industry to educate the public about the politics of industrial hemp. This national organisation has formed over the last few weeks, and still has opportunity for involvement on local levels.
Recently David Brower of Earth Island Institute agreed to sit on the Board of Directors.
Also, Representative Cynthia Thielen, Assistant Republican Floor Leader in the Hawaiian legislature, has agreed to be on VoteHemp.com's legislative advisory committee. This multi-party committee was created to educate federal and state lawmakers including presidential candidates to the relevance of industrial hemp's reintegration back into our society.
National Co-ordinator Lloyd Hart would like to appoint State Co-ordinators to help in the mission. The goal is to have HIA retailers and restaurateurs to act as Vote Hemp Centres where materials can be delivered directly into consumers and voters' hands. "Votehemp.com Wants You" posters, bumper stickers, T-shirts and contribution tins are being made, and will be sent to anyone who requests to be a Vote Hemp centre.
Tasks of the State Co-ordinator would be to:
If you would like to volunteer with Vote Hemp, drop Lloyd a note. Or check out VoteHemp.com for more information
4) Lear Corporation introduces two natural fibre polymers
Lear Corporation has introduced two new polymers for interior automotive applications. These polymers, natural fibre acrylic and natural fibre polypropylene, are touted as offering enhanced occupant safety, cost savings and weight reduction
The polymers have been developed at Lear's Manufacturing Operation Division's development center in Ebersberg, Germany.
The patent-pending, natural fibre acrylic polymer has been developed for automotive door panel trim, package tray and trunk applications. A so-called "modular binder system" allowing stiffness and impact resistance to be varied according to need offers extreme flexibility for customers. The exceptionally lightweight properties of the natural fibre acrylic polymer also could make it suitable for a range of other automotive interior applications in the future.
The natural fibre polypropylene is made from plant fibres combined with polypropylene. Lear has chosen to use kenaf, hemp and jute for this polymer. The company made additional improvements in mechanical properties through using coupling agents that will improve the chemical bonding of fibre and polypropylene. Lear's new material has superior elasticity which provides high impact resistance. This new "elastic" environment could mean improved occupant safety by eliminating potentially sharp edges caused by conventionally brittle panels that may fracture during an accident.
The Lear Corporation, headquartered in Southfield, Michigan, USA, is one of the world's largest automotive suppliers, with 1999 sales of $12.4 billion.
For more information about Lear go to: www.lear.com
HempCyberFarm: HempCyberFarm.com is your source for hemp farming information. HempCyberFarm has been a hemp farming discussion platform since 1995. Sell your harvest here! Find hemp seed vendors here! Exchange hemp farming experiences. Our on-site library contains a large selection of articles related to hemp farming to further one's knowledge.
Web site: http://www.HempCyberFarm.com, email: Matthew@HempCyberFarm.com©
New Column! Clips, Quips and Observations on the US hemp movement, markets and policy
Fibrex Québec: processing of natural fibres in North America remains a pioneering activity
North American industry is increasingly looking towards natural fibres. A recent study by Kline and Company (see Top of the Crop) pegged the annual demand for natural fibres in plastic composites at 400 million lbs. per year. While most of this demand will be supplied by wood fibres, some markets will be filled by annual ag-fibres. Accordingly, fibres like hemp, flax and kenaf will all find their place. Further "greening" of the economy may help speed this process, but in the meantime, the ability of natural fibres to find their place will depend on good products, sound management, superior technical characteristics and economics, and "just plain guts" on the part of those who are in the forefront of this effort.
As of June 2000, processing of natural fibres in North America remains a pioneering activity.
Three crops are currently being produced specifically for fibre in North America: hemp, kenaf, and textile flax. (A fourth source of fibre is oilseed/linseed straw, a by-product of linseed production.) All of these fibres are in their processing infancy in North America. While hemp was a "pariah crop" for half of the 20th century due to what may best be termed "governmental reefer madness", textile flax, though also a crop introduced by early settlers, was sidelined as well. Though grown on large acreages in the U.S. and Canada as recently as World War II, flax essentially disappeared in North America after the war, as large wartime military contracts were summarily cancelled and the commercial world turned its eyes toward synthetics.
The marginalisation of hemp and flax in the 1950s and afterward meant that these fibres did not receive research and investment on par with other fibres. This is making the revival of these fibres in the 21st century all the more challenging. And while the re-introduction of hemp in Canada has received a great deal of attention, a parallel development has been taking place with textile flax. And the challenges are similar. "Hemp is about 60 years behind whereas flax," says Timothy Niedermann, Managing Director of Fibrex Québec, "is only about 25 years behind."
Fibrex Québec, located in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, southwest of Montréal, is the only textile flax fibre mill in North America. The mill is positioning itself as the only major supplier of high-grade flax fibre outside of Europe, because it can produce high-quality fibre in Québec that is the equal of European fibre. This has not been achieved elsewhere in the world, incredible as it may seem. And that is just the beginning "It isn't easy," says Niedermann. "You have to have a lot of money, because the initial capital investment is very high. You have to know the markets, and they are all outside of North America. And above all, you have to know the quality requirements, which are very complex."
Originally, the Salaberry-de-Valleyfield mill was known as Gilflax. It was built and operated by a Hong Kong-based flax and linen trading group, Gilbert Holdings Ltd. Gilbert was for a time, one of the biggest players in the international flax and linen trade, and was the only one that was public, trading on the Hong Kong exchange. The mill was finished in December 1997, and operated for a brief 3 months until circumstances forced it to close. It was shut down first by the great Ice Storm in January 1998, then later by a fire which required replacement of the dust collection system. In July 1998, the mill suffered a fatal blow when the Asian Crisis of 1997-98 brought down the ownership group.
Gilflax Mill at Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec (Courtesy of BioLin Research)
Subsequently, the mill was acquired by Vancouver's Quadrant Pacific Capital Corporation and reopened as Fibrex Québec in June 1999. Fibrex has now just finished planting its second flax crop. Fibrex is also encouraging hemp production in Québec and elsewhere and is working on a second year of hemp trials. Fibrex is able to process hemp on its flax machinery, as long as the hemp is prepared in a certain way.
At present, field operations are modest: 15 farmers grew 200 hectares of fibre flax in 1999, receiving a price of $150 per tonne for retted straw.
The mill has increased acreage this year to 300 hectares, which is complemented by continuing varietal trials of hemp. The small initial acreage increases reflect the company's focus on good crop management. "We need to establish good quality control at every step of the way," says Niedermann. "Our involvement with the crop is considerable. We start by having one of our people go out to the field to check on the seeding, and we go on from there. We ourselves perform the harvest to ensure quality. The harvest of flax requires considerable expertise to produce high-quality fibre. We just can't sit back and wait for the farmer to bring in a bale to the mill. They don't have experience with the crop, so we couldn't count on their being able to produce good straw by themselves."
Harvesting begins in early August. Fibrex harvests flax the European way, using a flax puller rather than a swather. The harvested flax is left in the field to ret, a process of decomposition that allows the fibre to be extracted easily in the mill. "Without good retting, one simply cannot produce a textile-grade fibre. Period," emphasises Niedermann. Niedermann also notes that retting is an acquired expertise and an inexact science. "You have to know what to do," he says. Generally speaking, the flax is left to ret 10 days to two weeks and then turned and left for another 2 -to 3 weeks. If it's a heavy yield, the crop will be turned twice. Textile flax yields an average of 6.5 to 7 tonnes of retted straw per hectare. Niedermann has some growers who do over 8 regularly. "It's simple," he says. "Good fields bring good results. The same applies to hemp. There is no such thing as getting a good crop off of a poorly handled field or bad soil."
Flax Puller (photo courtesy of BioLin Research)
When the retting is completed (a judgment call requiring years of experience to make), the fibres are baled and trucked to the mill, which processes the fibre with a Belgian-made flax scutching line. Essentially the whole process is a series of separations; the bales are fed into the line and opened; the fibres are then crushed through a series of fluted rollers.
This removes most of the woody part of the plant ("shives" for flax; "hurds" for hemp). A series of turbines -revolving blades strip the fibre and remove the rest of the shive. Some short fibre (tow) is stripped away as well, but that is recovered and cleaned in a separate tow cleaning system.
What comes out of the end of the scutching line is the long bast fibre.
Workers bundle and sort the long fibre, then press it into 100 kg bales. The long fibre is exported to customers in 20 tonne loads. Currently, the mill has an annual capacity of about 7,000 tonnes of straw, which means the plant as it stands could draw from potentially 1000 hectares in the immediate area.
Fibrex has two main fibre products: long fibre and tow. These are divided up into 7 different quality and colour grades (the company also sells the shive and waste seed it produces. Every part of the plant is sold. There is no waste.) Niedermann stresses that having so many products creates a considerable marketing challenge, to an extent that there are separate markets for each fibre quality.
Right now the markets for Fibrex's fibres are in Europe. According to a recent study by the Germany's nova institute, EU production of short flax fibres for 1999-2000 was estimated at 70,000 tons, or about 34,000 tonnes per year ( matched by was 25,000-30,000 tons of hemp short fibres production). From 4,000 tons in 1996, the nonwoven industry now takes 16,000 tons of European flax tow. The rest of the tow is used for textiles or pulped. By way of comparison, 1,100 tons of hemp fibre is used, according to that same study.
According to Fibrex, the costs of production are lower in North America than for a comparable mill in the European Union, and this allows Fibrex to compete successfully as an exporter. Nonetheless, being so far away has some disadvantages. "Being in North America, we are somewhere out of the loop in terms of (European) market development," senses Niedermann.
European markets are not necessarily stable either. Linen goes in and out of style in the fashion markets almost annually. This seems to be changing, as the flax industry becomes more global, but a priority for Niedermann, is to help develop domestic markets, particularly for nonwovens.
What are these markets? According to the USDA, the US now imports about $150 million worth of flax fibre, flax yarn, and linen fabric annually. In addition, the value of imported finished goods made of linen is around $US 500 million and growing. Fibrex has begun to work with the Canadian and US textile industry to develop domestic linen and hemp textiles. These industrial markets are very promising. Flax and hemp fibre are increasingly being demanded for geotextiles, biocomposites and nonwovens, where the fibre's characteristics and low cost make them viable replacements for fibreglass. But capturing these markets will depend in part on getting natural fibres to rival the uniformity of synthetic inputs. It is not easy.
"Flax is hard, and hemp, for a number of reasons, is harder," says Niedermann. "But the nonwovens markets are enormous, with multiple niches, each with potentially different quality requirements. It's not at all monolithic. So each fibre will end up being applied where its properties are best utilised. Flax and hemp will find markets; so will linseed flax, and so will kenaf."
The HCFR would like to thank Tim Niedermann for his technical assistance with the preparation of this article.
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End of Part I
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