Hemp and cannabis potential in the Baltic states
The use of hemp products in different areas worldwide is increasing rapidly, new niches are emerging, so Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia also have prospects for both cannabis cultivation and use. This requires regulatory changes, both within the European Union and at local level.
The Baltic climatic conditions are favorable, and the soil is clean, and thus there is a great potential for hemp cultivation in the region. It would be necessary to invest in cultivation and recasting.
Hemp traditions and industry
Hemp culture has long traditions in the Baltic, preserved local breeds, accessible areas, farmers accruing experience and knowledge in working with this culture. As further steps Baltic hemp producers see improvement of cooperation and new investments.
The Baltic hemp producers point out that the public should be presented with the possible widespread use of this valuable culture in medicine, the food industry and health care. Societies need to be educated that the development of the cannabis sector does not necessarily mean that cannabis will be allowed to be used for entertainment purposes.
The use of cannabis in medicine is also a new topic, there is no real practice in these countries, so physicians should educate patients and other stakeholders.
As the European hemp industry grows and the legislative approach becomes more favorable in an increasing number of Member States of the European Union, the expansion of the sector seems almost inevitable. “The market is ready for growth: I believe the market will expand significantly in the next two to five years,” predicts Stephen J Wyatt, chief executive of the Estonian company Hemp Futures. “The environment is very clean; the water is good; the soil is organic. We’re lucky we don’t have a lot of local pests, which means we don’t use pesticides at all in hemp cultivation,” delights St.Wyatt.
Some companies, who started growing hemp about 15-20 years ago, remember that back then there were difficulties in finding aid for processing hemp fiber, so many companies focused on seed cultivation.
Other techniques are needed for processing plant fiber, which in the Baltic countries currently is in limited quantities.
Estonia is one of Europe’s largest producers of hemp and exports about 90% of hemp grown in the form of hemp seed oil. Estonia’s volumes are about 2,500 hectares a year, according to data from 2019. Over the last ten years, Estonia, thanks to the increase in knowledge and contacts, increased volumes to 3,000 hectares per year from a couple of 100 hectares.
Latvia is one of few countries of the European Union where hemp can be grown for any industrial use, but flowers for human consumption should not be processed until now, according to Guntis Vilnitis, Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Association for Industrial Hemp.
One of advantages of Latvia is its traditionally strong knowledge of growing hemp, as well as some well-preserved varieties of hemp seed.
Hemp sector is developed enough so investments into a serious processing site should be made in the nearest future.
In Latvia, hemp cultivation is currently taking place in areas of 1000 hectares, and mostly it is grown for fiber, seeds and nuts separately or for mixed use (horticulture, nuts, leaves, flowers).
Lithuania has approximately 250 larger and smaller hemp farms. Lithuania plans to have 5500 hectares of organically grown hemp in 2021. Some Lithuanian agriculture experts estimate that the capacity of the Baltic market could reach up to 50 000 hectares per year.
The Lithuanian parliament has recently supported a package of law amendments which clearly indicate the intention to authorize the production and sale of products from all parts of the hemp plant. While specific regulatory rules will be developed over the next year, full legalization of industrial cannabis could contribute to the creation of a market of €100 million, according to the supporters of the law amendments.
The amendments would give farmers and hemp processors much more security when planning investments and would point out to consumers what cannabis products are legally available. “We are one of the largest growers of industrial hemp in the EU. We will now be able not only to export raw materials but also to produce hemp products and create added value for jobs in Lithuania,” said Member of Parliament Mykolas Majauskas.
The amendments complement the law governing hemp cultivation. It would legalize the production and sale of products derived from certified varieties of industrial hemp not exceeding 0.2% THC if plants are on the field. Under the current legislation, only foods containing or derived from hemp seed are legal in addition to those coming from hemp straw.
Challenges to be tackled
At present, the vulnerable domestic market is also a problem throughout Europe: Canada’s oil is traded in the Czech Republic, Asia leads fiber to Europe at a lower price. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia see great opportunities in the development of hemp products and in the full cycle of processing this crop. The production cost of European products is relatively high, hemp protein and shelled seed are more expensive than nuts,
so good marketing is needed to boost local hemp products on the market.
Baltic countries are looking forward to new investments, that would allow for more extensive processing of hemp in medicine, food industry, textiles, cosmetic industry, and other sectors.