Hemp farming is nothing new. The earliest records of hemp being used by farmers dates back as early as 2800BCE, in ancient China. However, as our sciences and agricultural practises have evolved, we have taken the humble hemp plant from near obscurity to the cutting edge of industry. From textiles to building houses, hemp’s versatility makes it an agricultural dream.
As a result, more and more farmers are incorporating hemp alongside their pre-existing crops. One such farm whom have adopted this model is Canna Fields and Crafted Hemp Farm, who have seen the potential for hemp to be used as feed for their cattle.
We at Skyf.co wanted to learn more about how this works, and so we met up with Dustin Culverwell and Kevin Pearman, the founders of Canna Fields and Crafted Hemp Farm , in order to find out more.
So why hemp? What got you guys started in this industry, and where do you see yourselves going?
I was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis 3 years ago and at that point I was looking at different disease management and maintenance options for myself. During this research I realized cannabis has quite a bad stigma attached to it, this I feel comes from the abuse of it, yet the positives when not abused are groundbreaking. When I came across CBD containing no THC products and produce which contained no chemicals or pharmaceuticals was when my health turned around. I have stabilized and discovered a newfound gratitude towards nature. During my research I thankfully crossed paths with Kevin Pearman whom too has an auto-immune disease and was following on the same journey. We are at the forefront of a re-revolution in hemp farming in South Africa and are positioning ourselves to be the leaders and mentors in the hemp space for local and international trades. Our dedication and research are groundbreaking but most importantly of all things it is being tried and tested on South African soil. We want the world to eat better, live better and most importantly be healthy. We believe wholeheartedly we can achieve this.
Would you say that’s what led you into the cannabis industry?
Yes definitely, it comes down to what we’re putting into our bodies, whether it’s food, water, cold drinks, everything affects us. So, I wanted to go into the organic side of things, producing pure beef, pure vitamins and nutrients that can go into your body and heal you.
Would you say that you have found something that works, not only from a personal perspective, but also an entrepreneurial aspect?
What I’m finding as a farmer every day, is that there’s been a big shift towards the organic side of things. So, we’re changing our beef to being organic, hemp-fed, just like it was .
We’ve reduced the amount of chemicals that we’re putting into the cattle. We don’t use steroids, and as a result the calves are born healthier, their milk is better, everything about the animal is 100% better. In the industry itself, we’re pioneering the way forward. We are self-sustainable, and we are self-owned.
Seeing as self-susainability is your goal, have you noticed a change in the agricultural industry towards being self-sustaining? Do you see yourselves bringing some form of tangible change to the agricultural industry?
We’ve employed an extra 39 people from our local community, and now they’re learning a new profession. This allows us to go bigger and better as we grow. We’re going to have a team that has no knowledge of the seed, to what it is today. Because we are self-sustaining on this farm, we’re able to feed our workers lunch every day. They’re happy, they’re fed, and they love their jobs.
What would be your vision for Canna Fields, and what is the end goal?
Canna Fields sits on a 1500-hectare property, and we are predominantly maize and sorghum growers. We also have about 400 head of cattle. So, where we see the gap and the vision being is in bringing an organic, hemp-fed beef product to the market. The cattle have a reduced number of hormones and chemicals put into them, as well as a general healthier ability to fight off diseases like foot and mouth disease. Our vision going forward is creating a meat market for hemp-fed beef.
What strain of hemp do you use, and how did you plant it?
We have planted 14 hectares of Cherry Bubble Gum hemp, which has a CBD content of +-8%, which is great for the animals. It also has a lot of fiber, making it very versatile.
In the area that we are in, we experience high wind loads, due to the flat terrain. As a result, we wanted to space our plants a lot closer than what is not conventionally done. This way of planting works best for us as they help each other survive the wind.
Is there any other reason, apart from the area that you are in, for doing it the way you have?
Dustin and Kevin:
We have moved towards commercial hemp farming where we cannot just go hand plant two to three hectares. We are planting 14 hectares at one time with the correct tractors and implements. We need to be precise and on point with everything to get a correct result. We have done a lot of companion planting to combat pests and we have planted in a manner to protect our crop from weather, every area or region will have its own hurdles to cross it just comes down to your knowledge as a farmer and knowing what conditions you can expect relating to the climate and weather. Accordingly, to our region we have done everything correctly to the global agricultural standard.
What gives you guys the edge, or benefits from the way you decided to plant?
Dustin and Kevin:
I think it comes down to your natural environment, what weather patterns are happening in the area. We’re in quite a large, flat area, where we do experience a lot of wind. So instead of planting one plant that we know could be blown over quite easily, we plant 3 or 4, knowing that they are going to be like a Christmas tree that can support each other.
They’re thick trees, one little tree alone can produce 3-4 kilograms of hemp. Our seeded probability is great, if you look at the ratio of male to female plants. They would be F1’s, meaning that next season, when we plant in this area again, they’ll have been adjusted to the environment.
Our goal is to use the hemp as high-quality cattle feed. What we’ve done is be able to have some of that 8% CBD and the cannabinoids and put it into the feeding of the cattle. We’ll also have seeds for the next grow, so that we know we can constantly maintain the cbd percentages.
We could take the CBD and press it to make a distillate or isolate, or even check the quality of our fibre for textile use, but that’s not our goal here. We want to show that by feeding this hemp to the cattle, there are benefits, such as better marbling of the meat, higher quality milk and that the livestock start to get healthier.
That’s what sets us apart, that we’re creating an organic type of beef. The cattle back before Jesus was alive were eating hemp. We’re going that kind of route, back to basics. Ideally, we want to be able to set the standard for large scale hemp farming in the country, as well as Africa for that matter.
Do you guys think we have any unique genetics in this country?
Kevin and Dustin:
I think we have a lot of good genetics in this country. It’s such a hard one because people don’t want to give up their genetics. There are good strains out there.
Have I seen them? No, I haven’t. Yes, there are landraces in South Africa., Yes, there are great strains. Where are they? Probably in the Eastern Cape. Who’s got them? The traditional healers and the rural farmers.
They’ve been growing hemp for many years, and it’s industrial hemp, hemp that grows to 3 to 4 or even 5 metres tall. But they don’t want to give up their seeds or strains, for a good reason. It’s understandable, because once they give it up someone’s going to breed it and then they’re never going to see their seed again. As such, they’re not open to sharing their seeds, but if the opportunity was there, we would love to partner with them.
A good way to integrate those local strains from the local communities that might have a landrace strain that hasn’t been commercially used, is to do pilot projects. By them supplying the commercial farms with their genetics, they’d receive financial remuneration. They can enhance their agronomic practises on a spiritual and cultural level, and all the while we’re unlocking landrace strains that maybe have a high lignocellulosic property compared to other international strains. We’d also be planting them in the exact microclimate that they need to get those optimal, industrial qualities that you need, in terms of biofuel and textiles. It’s about unlocking and creating communication that is translatable, because a lot of the time there are language barriers between certain conversations, and you must go through third parties. I think communication linkages and establishing a hemp ecosystem in South Africa is what’s going unlock the full potential.
That’s an awesome perspective, thank you very much for that.