Testing a pioneering organic silica product

Bill MacDonald, coordinator and professor of NC’s Commercial Cannabis Production (CCP) program, and Greg Marsh, president at Northern Hemp Specialists, inside the CannaBunker at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake. (Photo credit: Niagara College Canada)
Little research has been done to understand biostimulant properties of silicon being used in plant production

Researchers oversaw and analyzed the growth of cannabis plants grown in soil amended with silica and a standard growing mix

Better understanding of silicon use could support greater yields for growers and added profitability while supporting success for a Canadian greenhouse-related technology business

Northern Hemp Specialists is aiming to “greatly advance” the cannabis and hemp industries with its silica-based organic product. Once the growing trial by Niagara College cannabis students is complete, the Huntsville-based start-up is hoping to show significant improvements in nutrient uptake by the plants.

The post-graduate students from the Cannabis Production Science 2 class have been involved in an extensive growing study in the College’s cannabunker and greenhouse this past semester for the industry partner. The course-based applied research project is managed by Research & Innovation’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC), and funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence through its College Voucher for Technology Adoption program.

Greg Marsh, president at Northern Hemp Specialists, says his organic silica-based biostimulant also acts as a pesticide for the cannabis and hemp plants, to increase pest resistance.

The class has been overseeing and analyzing the growth of cannabis plants, amended with the silica-based product against control plants. During the trial, researchers have assessed the nutrient composition of the cannabis plants by taking leaf samples of the most recently matured leaf (MRML) at two-week intervals. This gives an indication of the nutrient uptake of the plants in the different treatments.

The cannabis plants have been harvested, and the flower buds will be appropriately dried, and sent for analysis of the cannabinoid and terpenoid content for treatment comparison.

Marsh checked in on the growing trial results this month at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake,and reports a growth improvement to the treated plants to date, compared to the control plants.

“We are hoping the trial will prove that we can increase the absorption rates of silica in cannabis and hemp plants from three percent to 60 percent,” explains Marsh, adding that his pioneering approach – which has been five years in development – should strengthen plants, enabling higher yields of both flowers and leaves, reduces transplant shock and is more pest resistant and efficient through the added strength created in the root zone.

“A 15 percent increase in yields can translate into millions of dollars of extra revenue for growers and producers,” he predicts.

“One of the most important benefits of using our process is that it’s 100 percent organic,” says Marsh. “We have this product that’s two-in-one; when it spreads over the soil, not only does it stop pests from coming through the soil, it also stops them from going from plant to plant on the ground.”

Update as of May 12, 2021: Northern Hemp Specialists now have licensed producers buying their product and have launched their own website. They are getting market-ready for the United States and working with Health Canada and USDA, and are looking to export the product in the next year. The groundwork laid in the Niagara College project has enabled Northern Hemp Specialists to expand its products successfully.

This project is funded in part by Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) through their College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program and in part  by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

(Project #NC111)