The Natural Fiber hemp fiber processing plant in the Kėdainiai FEZ is now operating for its second season. Having invested more than 8.2 million euro into construction of a modern factory in 2019, the company has been exporting 90% of its production. Although the pandemic this year has slowed the company‘s growth, a stable increase in sales is still expected.
It is for good reason that the Kėdainiai Free Economic Zone was chosen as the site for construction of a hemp fiber processing plant. The speed with which operations could begin, the all-round assistance of FEZ managers and close cooperation with the Kėdainiai District Municipality encouraged the company‘s leadership team to take the decision to build the plant in the Kėdainiai FEZ. The company received a building permit in April 2018, and operations officially began a year later. It is the largest hemp fiber processor in the Baltic region, providing the complete cycle of cultivation and processing for hemp fiber. The plant is located on a 2.5-hectare site, and the plant‘s area is 7,000 square metres.
The production process at the plant is entirely automated. The processing equipment was designed and manufactured in Belgium.
The company‘s objective is to make hemp fiber one of the most-used natural fibers in the 21st century sustainability-driven textile and fashion industries. While the company‘s CEO recognises that hemp fiber will not completely replace cotton in the near future, it will nevertheless take an ever-increasing share of the market.
Sustainability is especially important in today‘s business world, so Natural Fiber concentrates on no-waste production. Hemp stalks are processed into especially high-quality fiber for textiles. The process of hemp cultivation is especially important for production of textile hemp fiber, and for this reason the company cultivates only hemp grown specifically for fiber production. Shives, dust and pellets can be used in other branches of industry, for example, construction, bedding for domestic animals, and heating.
The company can ensure the highest-quality hemp fiber free of harmful contaminants, because the company controls the entire process, from the selection and preparation of seeds, growing and harvesting (using specialised cutting equipment), to retting and processing.
Hemp fiber is a branch of agriculture, which, like flax, has long been cultivated in Lithuania. Hemp enriches the soil, and as it prevents the growth of weeds, is well-suited to crop rotation. These are important characteristics for ecological farmers. In Lithuania, cultivation of hemp fiber became more widespread around 2011. At that time, the area under cultivation was quite small and amounted to a bit more than 50 hectares. Recently, more than 4,000 hectares has been allocated to cultivating hemp. Lithuania has especially favourable climate conditions for growing hemp; worldwide, the most important suppliers are China, Canada and France.
Last year, the Natural Fiber company purchased 4 combines and specialised cutting machines for hemp stalk processing. Lithuanian manufacturers were responsible for designing and producing the equipment. The maximum capacity of the plant is 30,000 tons per year, and it is possible to produce about 10,000 tons of hemp fiber from the processed raw material. With steady expansion, production capacity would reach about 25,000-30,000 tons per year.
As the company‘s CEO says, a portion of the processed fiber is sold to other companies, making hemp yarn. The company also buys the service of making hemp yarn. Further down the chain of production, there is production of towels, robes and so on. Companies operating in the hemp fiber processing industry are still experimenting, because the industry is a relatively new one. On the other hand, Natural Fiber has already found reliable partners not only in Lithuania itself, but also abroad.
The company is convinced that hemp fiber, thanks to its many advantages and environmental friendliness, will in the near future be in even greater demand as a raw material for textiles, over time replacing other, much less environmentally-friendly fibers. For Lithuania and textiles producers in Lithuania, this is a strategically important step, leading to a stronger position in the world market. At present, Natural Fiber exports 90 per cent of its processed hemp fiber to EU members and Asian countries.