A current supply crunch on hemp hurd in Europe, while a temporary inconvenience, signals a major shift forward for the hemp building sector and can advance the development of much-needed processing facilities.
“This is something we have or should have been expecting for a while, as the potential for expansion in the construction sector was always on the cards,” veteran hemp builder Steve Allin, founder and director of the Ireland-based International Hemp Building Association, said of the surge in demand for hemp construction materials.
With most business plans requiring the identification of a potential market to prove the viability of hemp production, the current strong demand will help those advocating for fiber production facilities to be built, Allin suggested.
“For the longer term this is good news as it justifies establishing hemp processing facilities in many regions where there is currently interest in doing so,” Allin said.
Hard to find
While prices for hemp hurd in Europe currently range from roughly €200-€450 per ton ($230-$515/t), supplies are hard to find at any price, George Popov, COO & Head of Sales Trading at London-based hemp commodities trader Canxchange, told HempToday
Calling the current demand for hurd in Europe “explosive,” Popov said one-off buyers are finding it difficult to source the material.
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“It’s hard to find spot buys,” Popov said, because stocks are often pledged to companies that have long-running business relationships and long-term contracts with processors.
On the top end, selling at roughly €450 per ton, is the highest quality hurd for construction and animal bedding, turned out primarily by big French and Dutch producers. Popov said some French suppliers can deliver one to two trucks per month on a spot basis but such sales are dependent on availability.
Longer delivery times
“The demand for hurd is quite high and we’re seeing longer delivery times,” confirmed Belgian natural builder Wolf Jordan, who sells hurd and special additives for hempcrete construction along with natural paints and oils.
Another source told HempToday that orders out of France are backed up for 90 days. Those supplies come mostly from big producers such as Eurochanvre, CAVAC, Agro Chanvre and La Chanvrière.
Dutch fiber processor HempFlax reported as far back as November that it was running its factories continuously as the company announced a project to expand production capacity at its main location in Oude Pekela, Netherlands.
HempFlax turns out hurd and fiber for hemp construction, and hurd for plant and animal bedding. The company also produces highly-refined “bast” or “technical” fibers for hemp-based plastics and other advanced applications.
Demand for bast fibers
Popov said demand for those fibers is also strong at some grades. Bast fibers are refined to different grades for products such as insulation, biocomposites and textiles. Because of the complexity of the overall bast fiber sector, pricing, supply and demand are more difficult to assess, Popov said, noting textile grade fibers can be found in the €1,200/ton range.
While some French processors have high grades of bast fibers available on a spot purchase basis, many of those producers also have long-term contracts under which their output is already reserved through next season, making one-off buys possible only if standing orders are canceled, Popov said.
Buyers are finding bast fibers in Lithuania and Russia, according to Popov, where there is some availability, but should check the grades closely, he suggested.
Shipments going abroad
Other sources told anecdotal stories of major shipments going abroad, contributing to the squeeze on supplies in Europe. In one case, an Indian textile producer is reported to be sourcing large quantities of high-quality bast fibers from European producers.
U.S. buyers are reportedly importing European hurd for animal bedding and hemp construction as the overall fiber processing infrastructure for the American market continues to be built out.
Allin put the European supply crunch in a broader perspective: “It is also reflective of the wider situation globally with resource supplies in everything from fuel to food, timber to tea, suffering from scarcity due to both the pandemic and the dawning realization that the growth model is creaking as various limits are reached,” he said.