Ukrainian hemp farmers persist despite challenges brought by war

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Despite struggles with sourcing fuel, challenging logistics, blocked ports and clogged overland routes out of the country, some hemp farmers in Ukraine are forging ahead and have put in put in crops this year.

With fields estimated at more than 3,000 hectares (7,500 acres) last year, total area under hemp in 2022 is expected to be somewhere between 2,000-3,000 hectares (5,000-7,500 acres), estimated farmer Roman Fedorowycz, who grows hemp and other crops near Rivne in the northwestern part of the country.

Late plantings

Most hemp plantings were late this year, said Fedorowycz, a Michigan native who grows hemp for grain and fiber, and multiplies Ukrainian cultivation seed varieties which his company, Dibrova Farms Ltd., exports to the USA and other markets. Fedorowycz said he has put in 250 acres of hemp this year after planting in 1,500 acres in 2021.

A global leader in the export of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, Ukrainian agriculture interests have seen that business all but cut off amid Russia’s occupation of major ports on the Black Sea that brought a blockade on shipments.

While overland routes at Ukraine’s borders with its non-Russian neighbors are open, shipments can be delayed by as much as a week at major crossings, Fedorowycz said.

Fuel is scarce

Meanwhile, several hemp growers report fuels needed for their hemp growing operations are difficult to obtain after Russia and Belarus cut off nearly two-thirds of the total diesel Ukraine imports annually, with EU imports proving insufficient.

The war has all but shut down the country’s Institute of Bast Crops (IBC) a part of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences (NAAS) located at Hlukiv in the Sumy Region, near the Russian border in northern Ukraine, according to Aaron Barr, CEO at Canadian Rockies Hemp Corporation (CRHC), a bast fiber producer which cooperates with the Institute. Alberta-based CRHC has started a crowdfunding campaign to finance the relocation of IBC staff and key assets from the occupied territory. A state institution that dates to 1932, IBC develops genetics and farming and processing solutions for hemp and other bast crops.

Plan for medical cannabis

Only hemp grain and fiber varieties can be grown and processed in Ukraine, under annual licenses handed out by the federal government and a THC limit of 0.08%. That super-low limit, which compares to 0.2% THC and 0.3% THC limits observed in most parts of the world, means Ukrainian farmers are limited to Ukrainian hemp varieties, roughly a dozen of which are listed in the country’s official registry of plant varieties.

Ukrainian Minister of Health of Ukraine Viktor Lyashko said last week that the government supports a plan that would regulate cannabis for medical and industrial purposes as well as research, but it’s unclear if provisions in that measure, yet to be published, address industrial hemp.

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