Interview with Michael Warren

Face2Face
Michael Warren
Michael Warren
CEO
Earth Alive Clean Technologies Inc
Earth Alive Clean Technologies Inc

Hemp is also good for crop rotation practices. Could you elaborate? What crops can usually be rotated with hemp? This would of course vary from one region to another, isn't it? Does this also depend on seasons?

Crop rotation is very important for farmers to ensure that the soil remains healthy and productive. Rotating crops can break the cycles of weeds, diseases and insect pests, it can help mobilise nutrients in the soil and build organic matter. Hemp is uniquely beneficial to farmers who include it in their rotations; its vigorous growth smothers weeds and its deep roots can "scavenge" for nutrients that have leached to depths, impossible for many other crops. Nutrients that hemp pulls up from the deeper layers of soil are subsequently released closer to the surface and remain in the soil as the leftover plant material decomposes after harvest. Earth Alive's microbial biofertilisers colonise the root zone and follow the roots deep into the soil, bringing heightened biological activity into those deeper layers and thereby ensuring that the hemp roots are scavenging as efficiently as possible.

How does hemp compare with cotton in terms of water requirements? And also with other similar crops?

Because mainstream farmers are only now adopting hemp, agronomic knowledge for production is still in its infancy. We know, however, that hemp has been accepted as a popular dryland fibre crop, which means it grows well without irrigation. Researchers calculated hemp's "water footprint" (the amount of water required to produce a kilogram of dry fibre) as approximately 2,700 litres per kilogram of fibre. Some research demonstrates that hemp benefits from irrigation, which means that the crop will gain from improved soil moisture when grown in dryer climates. Cotton, on the other hand, is a water-intensive crop. Its "water footprint" has been calculated at approximately 9,000 litres per kilogram of fibre-triple that of hemp. Over half of the global area of cotton is irrigated, accounting for over two-thirds of the world's total cotton production. Unfortunately, the need for irrigation is highest in exactly those regions where rainfall is limited and water is scarce.

Hemp is also being projected as a fibre crop that is highly regenerative for farm soils. Could you elaborate? How have you been tracking this (in terms of crop performance)? What are the technologies that you are offering? How expensive is it?

As I mentioned previously, hemp's extensive root system brings carbon and organic matter back into the soil-something that can be very important for heavily farmed or degraded soils. Incorporating biological tools can also boost soil health, no matter what crop is being grown. For example, banana growers in the Dominican Republic were told that their plantation was finished and needed to be replanted. However, the application of Earth Alive's Soil Activator (a biofertiliser) enabled them to continue harvesting bananas from their aging plants. Earth Alive wants to help bring those same soil benefits to fibre crops like cotton, hemp, and others.

And what about hemp seed and oil production? How much area of land needs to be under cultivation, so that the yields of the fibre, seed and oil are viable? Does this make sense for farmers with small land holdings?Or, does hemp make sense only for big farmers?

Hemp is also a useful crop for small landholders. While the highest quality fibre is produced from hemp grown specifically for that end, it is possible to harvest industrial hemp fibre from a crop that also produces marketable seed, allowing farmers to generate multiple revenue streams from a single crop. It may even become possible for farmers to generate three income streams from one crop as evolving regulatory frameworks make the extraction of cannabidiol (CBD) oil from the crop biomass legal as well. The profitability of this crop will ultimately be determined by local infrastructure for transporting and/or processing the fibre, seed, and other value-added crop outputs. In the Canadian hemp fibre market, high transportation costs make it necessary for processors to be located within close proximity to supply. In some cases, there is an insufficient number of growers in a particular region to justify the operation of a hemp fibre processor, thereby limiting growers to market only the grain from their crops.

How does the initiative work? How do you work with farmers/ producers? How does the fibre move on to the fabric stage and so on? More importantly, how are you promoting hemp to textile companies/brands/retailers?Are you in touch with governments too?

The research initiative functions on a volunteer basis, we invite farmers to contact us in order to participate in the trials. We provide participants with the products for the research, along with all of the technical support necessary for the application. We also ensure adequate control of the trials and proper data collection throughout the growing season. Currently, several growers from different parts of the world have signed up to participate in this initiative. We believe that it is important to involve the growers in the trials; they know their crops best and will be able to observe the results. We teach participants about our Soil First Platform, the importance of biology in the soil and the meaningful benefits of using biofertilisers over pesticides on their land. With regard to the promotion of hemp, our focus is on the soil; we want producers to see firsthand the benefits of healthy, highly biological activity in the soil. As such, farmers are able to reap the economic benefits of achieving increased yields in a sustainable fashion, as well as being better able to manage and tend for their soil.
How does the initiative work? How do you work with farmers/ producers? How does the fibre move on to the fabric stage and so on? More importantly, how are you promoting hemp to textile companies/brands/retailers?Are you in touch with governments too?

One reason why synthetic fibres edged out cotton was the price factor. The future of hemp too would be considerably linked to the price factor. So, how does hemp compare with cotton and synthetics? For instance, how much would a hemp t-shirt cost comparatively?

It is important to first state that the end price of any garment (product) has little to do with the cost of its raw materials. As such, even though hemp may be more expensive to produce than cotton at the present time, it should not be considered the main determinant of end product price. Additionally, hemp production costs should decrease with increasing demand and supply. The same phenomenon occurred when organic cotton farming was launched in the 1990s; the lack of organic cotton farmers and organic-certified processing facilities made it much costlier to produce organic cotton compared to crops grown under modern cultivation practices. Since then, increasing demand has sparked a rise in organic cotton farming and infrastructure, and the increase in overall supply has resulted in a decrease in the price of organic cotton. We believe, however, that there is a plethora of hidden transaction costs that come with conventional fibre crop cultivation, such as water consumption, soil degradation, high-volume chemical use, water toxification, environmental destruction, health risks, etc. As such, we are more concerned with the preservation of soil, which is deteriorating at alarming rates. Accordingly, our objective is to create a better agricultural environment for farmers and a cleaner ecosystem for generations to come.
Published on: 11/09/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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