One of Bercier’s hemp crops. The plants you see in the picture are all female, since the males are removed early on in the season. (Photo: Cedrik Bertrand)

Marc Bercier on the benefits of hemp, responsible farming and the future

Marc Bercier represents the third generation to farm the 3,000 acres of his family’s farmland.

Over his 30 years farming this land, Bercier has amassed many awards and quite the reputation, being a strong voice for responsible farming – Bercier being one to always think about the future. And not just his, but the future of our planet and of every living thing on it.

It all began as a dairy farm, but things have changed much over the past decades. Being a lover of growing things, Bercier’s farm is now known for various harvests including wheat, corn and hemp and, their specialty, seed cleaning.

Throughout the farm’s evolution, one thing has remained constant: Bercier’s operation isn’t scared to take risks and is thus a pioneer in many fronts.

Decades ago, Bercier was one of the first in the area to grow soy. Being a man very much interested in plant genetics, he soon launched a new company with partners called Pro SEEDS, unaware at the time that the endeavour would take a turn that set the groundwork for his operations today.

“I built Pro SEEDS with seven others farmers with the goal of exploring and developing plant genetics for soy, which we didn’t hear much about at the time. Then, approximately 15 years ago, Monsanto appeared. I sold my shares because I didn’t want to do any more business than I already did with them. We still use some of their products, but these people deal in transgenic plants and convince farmers that it’s more lucrative. It isn’t.”

Bercier considers himself an agro-environmentalist. These days, more and more of his crops are organic and responsible farming is something he firmly believes in and his operations reflect it more and more each day.

“I’m very aware of everything that’s going on in my fields. A lot of farmers and people in the industry don’t like some of the things I say, but the truth is simple: we’re completely destroying our environment. We’ve done some good things, some bad, but nowadays, no one seems to be doing a thing to help with climate change. Personally, I try to work; to farm not just for me but for future generations.”

Out of these frustrations and good intentions came Bercier’s mission, framed and hung proudly in his offices, stating “honesty, integrity, respect and transparency” as core values, the purpose being to “improve life through plant genetics”.

Bercier and family take this very seriously and also apply it. From this, a love of hemp was born.

Hemp for the future

“A lot of farmers a making short-term cash without worrying about the environment. One of the reasons why I grow hemp is for crop rotation; to avoid monoculture. Hemp is a bit like rye and buckwheat. That’s the second reason – it’s easier to grow organically, without chemicals,” said Bercier.

Hemp is protected from fast-growing weeds because it, itself, grows incredibly fast. According to Bercier, in July, hemp can grow at a rate of six inches per day.

“That’s why I’m a farmer. It’s a beautiful thing, watching a strong plant grow this fast!,” added Bercier.

Out of his respect and admiration for the plant, Bercier created UniSeeds Inc., a professional seed business that develops and distributes high-quality industrial hemp seed.

“I have people, family that will take over for me here at the farm. This company is another continuity, with young people I’ve invested in to help me out with my vision.”

In this vision, hemp is a star product that can be used for… pretty much anything!

A denim bag made with 70% hemp, straight from Bercier’s fields. The bag was assembled in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. (Photo: Cedrik Bertrand)

In addition to being a great way to fix the monoculture issue, hemp can be used to create food (including alternatives to meat and dairy products), flour, oil for cooking, fuel, paint or cosmetics, beer and animal feed.

Moreover, hemp fibre is so strong it can be used to create fabric, insulation, carpeting and cordage. Hemp hurds, or “shiv”, have already started being used in construction, a type of mortar being made out of the material. Finally, hemp hurds can be cleanly converted into gasoline.

These are but a few examples of what a plant that grows within a few months can be transformed into. Every part of hemp can be made into something useful.

It’s no understatement. Currently, on the market, a product called hempcrete (as in concrete), a highly efficient form in insulation created out of mixing the woody core of the plant with a binding agent, usually lime, which reacts appropriately with the plant’s high silica content.

Hemp hurds, or “shiv” – the key ingredient when making hempcrete. You’ll find this inside the stem of the plant. (Photo: Cedrik Bertrand)

Hempcrete is breathable, naturally regulating humidity, naturally fire, mould and pest resistant and has zero carbon emissions. In other words, any home or building can be insulated with hempcrete.

“One of the first hempcrete houses of the area was built recently, in Wendover, by Benoit Chartrand. I’m very happy about that,” said Bercier.

Bercier and his industry partners have a lot to be excited about. Anyone who follows this topic can expect to see great things coming from the world of hemp in the next few years.

Building a natural habitat

The sign marking the entrance to the natural habitat found on Bercier’s land. Built by ALUS, syngenta, Bercier and others, this natural habitat took a few years to form and is now a natural place of beauty home to many beautiful creatures. (Photo: Cedrik Bertrand)

Bercier has been busy in the past years. In addition to his farm, UniSeeds, conferences and travelling, he (along with key partners) endeavoured to built a natural habitat for plants and wildlife throughout parts of his land.

The habitat houses many plants. While thorns may not be everyone’s cup of tea, these true monarchs seem to enjoy their flowers just fine. (Photo: Cedrik Bertrand)

This award-winning initiative aims at building a safe and prosperous haven for pollinators, birds and other animals by transforming what was once an unused piece of land into a small natural paradise.

Anyone wishing to visit the habitat and learn more about the living organisms that inhabit it should contact the landowners at 613 524-2981.

Along the habitat is a creek. The water found there is periodically tested to make sure it is safe for wildlife. (Photo: Cedrik Bertrand)

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