Niagara College’s Commercial Cannabis Production program is growing its comprehensive curriculum after acquiring a license from Health Canada to cultivate industrial hemp.
A virtual jack of all trades among field and greenhouse crops, industrial hemp is a specific type of Cannabis sativa L. plant grown for a variety of uses, including home insulation, textiles, paper, biofuel, cannabidiol (CBD) for medical uses, and even food. Industrial hemp differs from cannabis produced for recreational purposes because it is non-intoxicating, containing 0.3 per cent or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Getting the green light for hemp cultivation within the program is significant because it provides hands-on learning and academic research opportunities that will enable students to advance Canada’s burgeoning hemp and cannabis industries when they graduate. Students will study plant genetics, seeding and germination, flower identification, harvesting and drying hemp.
With industrial hemp part of the program’s portfolio, students will also learn how to grow cannabis in the industry’s three sectors: in a controlled agriculture environment, which the program’s CannaBunker is, in a greenhouse setting, and outdoors.
“This is a natural progression for us. The crops we’re hoping to grow in the future will provide opportunities for students to participate in all growing sectors,” said Alan Unwin, Niagara College’s Dean of Business, Tourism and Environment. “The uses and the industries for the hemp plant and the cannabis plant are quite different so this will help them when they graduate. It’s staying on top of things that we’re seeing in the industry. Our responsibility as a college is to meet that demand for the labour market.”
Production of industrial hemp is already under way at the college. This summer, students grew a small field crop in the college’s hop yard. The experience exposed them to growing hemp transplants from seed, germination rates, plant maintenance and hemp flower identification. The latter, in particular, will help those students who go on to work for companies cultivating plants for CBD, which is derived from female plants.
“It provides students with an opportunity to gain hands-on knowledge of outdoor hemp production,” said Laurie Zuber, horticulture technologist with the College’s Commercial Cannabis Production program. “This is a good introduction crop.”
In addition, students’ academic research related to industrial hemp will enable them to see first-hand results that are similar to what industry is determining from its own research, Zuber said.