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Veteran Hemp Producer Unveils New Crop Processor
Canada legalized industrial hemp in 1998 so farmers up there have a lot more experience harvesting and processing the versatile crop. We recently talked to Bruce Ryan at CannaSystems, who has experienced first-hand the boom and bust cycles of the last 20 years.
Ryan says one of the biggest problems hemp farmers face is finding a processor to extract the valuable fiber in a form that’s usable for manufacturers. That’s why he’s spent the last few years developing a turnkey processing system that fits into a standard 40-ft. shipping container. Bales of hemp feed into one end of the “Decorticator” and totes filled with hemp fiber and the core hurd (the woody material at the center of the stalks) come out the other end.
  “In Canada last year, 98 percent of hemp was grown for seed only, not fiber,” says Bruce Ryan, CannaSystems. “It just isn’t worth hauling bales more than a couple hundred miles to a mill.”
  He says on-farm processing should change all that. He notes that while a farmer might get $150 for an unprocessed bale of hemp, he can get more than 3 times as much for properly processed fiber and the core hurd.
  Decorticating is the name of the process used to strip hemp plants down to fiber and hurd. Ryan’s first full-scale, $250,000 Decorticator is being shipped to a farm in Virginia. He says hemp farmers should start processing their own crops, the same way grain farmers use combines to harvest their crops. “We’re also working to develop alliances to help farmers market their fiber and core.”
  Ryan was one of 7 cofounders of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance in 2003. Founding it was a reaction to the boom and bust following Canada’s decision to legalize industrial hemp production.
  “Production expanded like crazy and then collapsed because there weren’t any established markets,” says Ryan. “We grew the industry by helping people produce seed and sell into the health food marketplace for products like CBD oil.”
  He started working on his decorticator when he was contacted by a manufacturer who wanted 2 1/2 to 6-in. long hemp fiber. There weren’t any hemp processing plants that could produce fiber longer than 2 1/2 in.
  “There are people producing long fiber but they’re doing it by hand with no real automation,” says Ryan.
  After failing to find a working, automated decorticator that would produce longer fiber, he began designing his own in 2015.
  His R-2 Helical Decorticator is designed to process between 1,000 and 6,000 tons of fiber and core per year. Ryan suggests a single unit would be viable for farms from 200 to 1,500 acres.
  Depending on the feeding system, the Decorticator can process up to 4 tons per hour. It is powered by a diesel genset with an electric option.
  Bale unwinders feed hemp biomass onto conveyers that deliver it to the helical rollers. Once the fiber and core have been broken down, they are separated and aggregated.
  The first 10 machines to be produced in 2020 will be available to members of CannaSystems Strategic Alliance. These are hemp producers who contract seed and fiber production through the Alliance.
  Unlike during the earlier boom/bust cycles, Ryan is confident strong market opportunities are there today. He points to companies like HempWood out of Kentucky and BioFiber from Alberta.
  “HempWood has a factory up and running, making engineered timbers out of hemp fiber and are offering to license the technology,” says Ryan. “BioFiber has a process for making hempcrete blocks that fit together like Legos. They are insect and fire proof, with structural strength for up to 5 stories.”
  Ryan was recently contacted about hemp core pellets to replace coal in European power plants. “They burn cleaner and hotter and are biodegradable,” he says. “One of the smallest contracts would have required all the core from 100,000 acres. That’s almost as much as was grown in all of Canada last year.”
  If approached by a prospective buyer, Ryan advises hemp producers to look closely at the end user industry to evaluate legitimacy. “Look for companies where hemp would be an add-on or replacement product,” he says. “I had a an inquiry from an automotive company. They were looking for fiber that could be used in injection molding. They have a process and end use already established.”
  Ryan says he has more than 300 inquiries already in hand for his Decorticator.
  “Our game plan is to eventually develop a field harvester that processes the crop in the field with one pass,” says Ryan.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, CannaSystems, 29 Lynnhaven Rd., Toronto, Ont. Canada M6A 2K7 (ph 416 939-6143; www.cannasystems.ca).

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2020 - Volume #44, Issue #1