‘FIN-314’ in Canada

Sasha Przytyk

Gen-X Research Inc.
1237 Albert Street
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Tel: +1 (306) 525-6519 e-mail: genx@net1fx.com

        In earlier issues of this journal, Jace Callaway and Tero Laakkonen have reported (e.g., Callaway and Laakkonen 1996, 1998) on the development and progress of their northern variety of oilseed hemp known as ‘FIN-314’. With the advent of legal commercial hemp cultivation in Canada last spring, ‘FIN-314’ was an obvious choice for new hemp producers here, many of whom were looking for an easy-to-harvest hemp seed variety. Jace Callaway and Tero Laakkonen were aware of this fact and had been following developments in Canada closely. However, as the variety has only been multiplied in Finland since 1995, the supply of Finnish seed was sufficient enough only to allow further multiplication before it could be fully commercialized. Because of this, it became necessary to partner with a group of organic hemp producers in Canada who could carry out this directive.
        In early 1998, an alliance was forged between Callaway, Laakkonen, and a group of growers, traders and researchers known as Gen-X Research Inc., for the purpose of introducing the ‘FIN-314’ hemp variety to Canada. Based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Gen-X Research now coordinates the distribution of ‘FIN-314’ planting seeds to Canadian hemp growers, and markets recipient farmers' hemp "grain" production.
        The adventure has been quite successful so far. Now into our second year of production, ‘FIN-314’ is being cultivated on a total area of approximately 300 hectares, in various locations: from British Columbia on the West coast, to Nova Scotia in the East, and from the southern tip of Ontario at 42 degrees North latitude, to the Peace River area of northern B.C. and Alberta at 56 degrees North (Young 1999). So far, our experiences with this variety have confirmed and strengthened the positive observations made in earlier reports, as well as raised some interesting new questions. Clearly, ‘FIN-314’ is a uniquely valuable strain, both from the hemp grower's perspective and from a nutritionist's point of view. The demand for seeds of this variety greatly exceeded the availability this year, but with any luck, we expect to be in a position to supply ‘FIN-314’ seed for approximately 5000 hectares of production in the year 2000.

Fiber vs. Seed
     All of the hemp varieties currently being sold commercially in Canada were developed and licensed in Europe (mostly in France and Hungary). It is difficult to compare ‘FIN-314’ to any of these, for reasons to be detailed below. In addition, there is no record of short-stature seed-producing types of hemp ever being grown in North America. In Europe, hemp breeding efforts have concentrated until recently on increasing the yield and proportion of fiber, the creation of monoecious varieties, and the reduction of THC content. Seed production was mostly viewed as a secondary goal, as its main purpose was to serve as sowing material for the following year.
        Hemp fiber processing is now making a comeback as an industry, but has a very long way to go. Fiber processing is complex; it requires high capital inputs and years of research and development. Transport costs can be prohibitive. On the other hand, new markets are rapidly being created for hemp seed products in the food, cosmetics and nutrition sectors. Thus, it is attractive for many Canadian farmers, who may view hemp straw production as secondary or unwanted, to grow hemp primarily for its seed. It makes little sense, in their case, to grow the predominant types of hemp, which will grow to anywhere from two to four meters in height, yet produce seed only in the plants' top 40 cm. This creates technical difficulties during harvest, and so requires careful preparation. Also, hemp straw left on the ground does not degrade quickly on conventional farms (where chemical applications may have curbed fungal and bacterial activity) and can be a nuisance while attempting to cultivate a crop on the same field the next year.
        Strange as it may seem, many prairie hemp farmers who are cultivating tall hemp varieties will have little choice but to pile up their straw in the field and burn it after seed harvest, just as they do with their oilseed flax straw. It is not hard to see this as a waste. For this reason and others, there is increasing demand for short-stature seed types of hemp. Currently, ‘FIN-314’ is the only available variety that fits the bill. Several new varieties are being developed to supply the demand, but these will not likely be available for at least a year or two.

A Late Start
     Bureaucratic delays with the Canadian hemp licensing bureau and with Customs regulations delayed the importation of our lot of ‘FIN-314’ seed issued from Callaway and Laakkonen’s Finnish production until the end of June, 1998. Knowing this variety's reputation for early maturity, we went ahead and planted the seed anyway. Two multiplication plots were sown on organically cultivated land: one in southern Quebec (4 ha, June 29th), and the other in Saskatchewan (14 ha, July 1st). Small research plots were also seeded by outside parties for agronomic evaluation, in southern and northern Ontario, northern British Columbia, and Alberta.
        Nobody was quite sure whether a viable seed crop would be obtained from this unprecedented late planting. However, our frustration at the delays soon began to fade, as the plants' growth kicked into high gear, averaging about 2 cm each day for the month of July. Incredibly, on our main site (Saskatchewan), male flowers appeared on day 21, and began releasing their pollen on day 27, just as the female plants started to bloom. Despite the late planting, all of the sites matured within 78-90 days, and were ready to harvest in late September. Plant stature at maturity varied from about three to four and a half feet: extremely short for hemp, yet a very manageable height for standard grain harvesting machinery. Yields of grain ranged from approximately 300 kg/ha (in drought-stricken Saskatchewan) to 1100 kg/ha (Quebec). It is expected that yields will increase significantly this year, with properly timed planting and our increased understanding of the crop.

Plant Height vs. Latitude
         Cannabis sativa usually exhibits three distinct stages of growth: the seedling stage, the vegetative growth stage, and the flowering period. The vegetative stage begins when the hemp plant has formed its first true leaf, and extends until the onset of flowering. It is during this period that hemp plants put all their energy into vertical growth, a rate at which other plants or weeds have a hard time keeping up. Late-flowering hemp is usually preferred for fiber production: the longer the vegetative growth stage, the higher the stalk yield.
        After the vegetative stage comes the flowering stage; in dioecious varieties, male plants flower first, and females follow approximately two weeks later as the males are getting ready to shed pollen. Once flowering sets in, hemp plants typically begin slowing their vertical growth and concentrate their energies on pollen and seed production instead.
        From what we have observed so far, it appears that ‘FIN-314’ has a very short vegetative stage, if indeed it can be called that. This variety, unlike any others we have observed, basically skips the vegetative period and goes straight from seedling to flowering. Male flowers begin appearing about three weeks from seeding, and the plants spend most of their 85-90 day growth cycle in the flowering stage. Vertical growth continues steadily, even as the plants are flowering. We have also observed that the farther south ‘FIN-314’ is cultivated, the shorter it's final height. In Regina, Saskatchewan (at 50 degrees latitude north), our crop reached heights of approximately 1.2 meters (maximum)- somewhat shorter than the 2 meter maximum that was reported for Finnish crops (above 60 degrees North latitude). And farther south, e.g. near Montreal, Quebec, at about 45 degrees latitude, our crop finished at approximately 80 cm - 1.0 m.
        In addition to the data obtained from our official test sites, the accidental re-growth of hemp plants from seed spilled during last year's harvest revealed some unexpected information. At the previously mentioned site in Quebec, a thick stand of "volunteer" seedlings was discovered growing in early April of this year in a location sheltered by farm buildings. As this article is being written (early June), a time when many farmers are still busy planting their crops, mature seed has already been produced by these plants. This extreme early ripening may not be unheard of for wild Cannabis, but to our knowledge, is unprecedented for domesticated hemp in Canada. All this may have some surprising implications for hemp seed growers, and raises some new questions to research. Theoretically, while not necessarily practical, it may be possible to obtain two ‘FIN-314’ seed harvests from one field in one year, in much of southern Canada and the United States. At the very least, this variety has a longer planting time window and a wider geographical range for seed production than other varieties. However, there is still much research to be done to determine the effect of latitude, temperature and planting time on potential seed yields.

Fiber: Low yield, high quality
     As a consequence of its short growing period, ‘FIN-314’ produces low straw yields. However, because the plants are thin and unbranched like flax, the stalks contain a high proportion of primary long fiber. These stalks bear so much resemblance to linen flax that it seems probable they could be processed by the same extraction and spinning machinery, should it prove economical to do so. Trials will be carried out this fall, in a collaborative effort between Quebec ‘FIN-314’ hemp growers and Fibrex Quebec Inc., who have acquired the former Gilflax mill in Valleyfield, to determine the suitability of ‘FIN-314’ hemp stalks for processing into fine linen textiles. We hope this could greatly increase our hemp growers' income in the future.

Test Results
     THC analysis results obtained in 1998 were slightly higher than those reported from Finland, but well within the 0,3% limit: tests registered between 0.06% and 0.16% in Canada, compared to 0.04% to 0.08% in Finland. The higher test results were generally obtained from more southern locations. This is in line with findings from Scheifele et al. (1999a), which show the tendency for lower THC levels at higher latitudes.

Fatty Acid Profile
     Few other food oils even approach the exceptional fatty acid profile found in hemp seed oil. ‘FIN-314’ in particular seems to produce oil of superior quality in terms of Essential Fatty Acid profile. Research has confirmed the high gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA) content in oil extracted from ‘FIN-314’ seeds grown in Canada. Tests results ranged from 4.2 to 4.7% GLA and 1.5 - 1.8% SDA in oil, compared to a maximum of 3.1% GLA and 1.0% SDA for other varieties tested. These high levels are probably also linked to FIN-314's northern origin, as discussed by Callaway et al. (1996).
        Hemp seeds are also known to be a good source of easily digestible proteins. Two separate tests on ‘FIN-314’ seeds have produced a 31% protein reading on a whole seed basis and 35.8% on hemp cake, respectively (after oil removal). Oil content tested at 26% (Scheifele 1999b), somewhat lower than the 37% reported by Callaway and Laakkonen (1996). More tests are needed to determine the reason for this variation. It seems possible that the abbreviated growing season in 1998 is responsible for this. Given more time to mature, oil content in the seeds may be higher.

     ‘FIN-314’ is very different from other currently approved hemp cultivars, yet it is uniquely appropriate for seed production in Canada: it can produce viable seed in any area in Canada where land is cultivated. It is especially appropriate for the northernmost farming regions. It also demonstrates superior flexibility in terms of planting dates. Mechanical harvest of ‘FIN-314’ seed is quite simple, due to the plants’ short stature and early ripening. ‘FIN-314’ also presents superior nutritional characteristics. All these factors lead us to expect the demand for this variety to increase over the next few years.