Alberta's NorQuest College has recently rolled out an online Industrial Hemp Program consisting of five modules. For an enrollment fee of $125, students can learn about the basics of hemp farming, harvest management, and the different techniques involved in conventional and organic production.
Once students sign up, they gain access to all the course videos and materials. They then have 90 days to work through the modules, and if completed, receive a certificate. While the online version of the course is convenient, farmers tend to enjoy more in-person and hands-on learning environments, so the college has already started developing different delivery options.
The program was launched with the help and advice of several experts in the industry. Byron James, a farm manager at the crop research organization InnoTech Alberta, was brought on to show students the various seeding techniques and discuss what's needed to grow hemp in the field.
InnoTech Alberta also runs a pilot decortication facility, which processes hemp straw into two different types of fiber. Hurd fibers can be used in building materials and bedding, while bast fibers can be used to make pillowcases and other textiles. The students also receive instruction on these processes.
According to James, the hemp market is largely driven by the food industry and health food stores. Farms are still small, and farmers haven't been growing a lot of hemp for fiber because they haven't had a means for processing it. End users, in turn, haven't been making hemp products because they haven't had access to the fiber. But with more education and commercial decortication facilities, he believes the market will grow.
Many see the online course as a shift in Canada's openness to the industrial hemp industry. With farmers planting over 138,000 acres of hemp in 2017 alone (according to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada), it's a booming business. Offering formal education options could further increase interest in the industry.