POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS FOR NEWEST CROP
Dazed and Confused, Cheech and Chong .... Dude, have you seen my crop?
You'll have to excuse Grant Moorcroft if he tells you he's heard every pothead joke around. And with good reason, he is, after all, one of the area's most accomplished growers of a strain of hemp that's all about industrial as opposed to recreational.
With 30 acres of the crop, Moorcroft works hard for the fibrous end product, and for that any farmer of any crop would surely doff his or her cap to the him. Anyone who's tried to take off a crop before the fields turn to slop or the rains make the product unsalable knows what a challenge farming can be.
Add to those inherent hurdles of agriculture what must be an endlessly annoying task of explaining and clarifying his crops for the uninitiated - that and keeping dummies who think you can smoke this hemp out of his fields - and Moorcroft's got his work cut out for him.
He recently received a regional Premier's agricultural innovation award worth $5,000.
"( Hemp ) is really tough stuff," he said.
No understatement there, as he explained to Intelligencer reporter Samantha Craggs.
He's now helping develop a technology that separates the hurd from the fibre - a difficult task that sends many hemp farmers packing in the stalk-born product for an easier crop.
Currently, the possibilities of hemp are greater than the technology and marketing available for it. It can be used to make everything from milk to clothing. Moorcroft's crop is used exclusively for a new environmental wave; the tightly-packed bales are stacked and covered in mortar to form the walls of straw bale houses.
Moorcroft knows he's sitting on possibilities. Hemp can be used to reinforce recycled plastic and cardboard, but no one has paved the way in Ontario yet.
Its hurd can be used as an eco-friendly dietary supplement. Its tough fibre can make rope, clothing and carpets. But researchers and hemp growers themselves are still figuring out exactly how to efficiently separate the two.
Turns out Moorcroft's rocky land north of Madoc was getting increasingly tough for a dairy farmer. Ask anyone who's tried to carve out such a living on the Canadian Shield north of Highway 7 and you'll get the picture. Moorcroft is to be applauded for finding a crop that's suited to that farmland and one that presents economic potential for farmers facing similar challenges or who possess the same amount of innovation and drive to succeed.
The crop proved easy to grow, he found, but when he tried to harvest it, he hit a roadblock. The fibre was so tough that the usual farm implement blades couldn't cut it, and it simply wrapped around the equipment.
"The first time I did it with the old combine, and it took four days to combine four acres," he said. "It's the toughest plant in the world."
Moorcroft modified his equipment - part of the reason why he won the innovation award. He and a western Ontario hemp grower are also building a machine that will automatically separate the hurd from the fibre by running the straw through a machine called a decorrelator.
This is the kind of collaboration and innovation the provincial government needs to continue to recognize, nurture and promote.
After all, Ontario has only about 55 hemp growers and about 700 acres of the crop. Manitoba, by comparison, has 30,000 acres of hemp being grown by dozens of farmers.
There still remains a Cheech and Chong stigma about hemp growing - something that should, in an informed society, have long exhausted itself - and it would be wise for Health Canada to start looking at loosening restrictions on growing the crop.
The products that can spin from a field of hemp are as limitless as the imagination of those who incorporate the fibrous plant into their agriculture plan.
Intelligencer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007, Osprey Media Group Inc.