Hemp proves it’s here to stay

TASMANIA’S Midlands region is the leading producer of hemp seed in the southern hemisphere and the current challenges and future prospects for the fledgling industry were bought to the fore at a field day at Epping Forest last Friday.

Organised by AgriFutures in conjunction with the Tasmanian Hemp Association, the event attracted agriculture students, growers, government representatives, processors and people in associated industries. It was a chance for farmers interested in growing the crop to inspect a field trial site.

Hemp varietal trials are currently in the ground in every state and the Northern Territory. Some of the latest hemp products were on show, from hemp beer and clothing to oil, food products and construction materials with experts in research and development on hand.

Property owner and event host Ben Tait and growers Chris Bayles from Cressy and Tim Schmidt from Deloraine were all happy to talk about their journeys in the developing industry.

Mr Schmidt, who is also the Australian Hemp Council president and former THA president and secretary, said the future of hemp production relied on educating the farming and wider community and busting persistent myths about the crop. Perhaps the biggest myth is that industrial hemp contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which has psychoactive effects. In reality, industrial hemp has been bred to have no narcotic or psychoactive effect.

For growers, the misinformation includes hemp having low fertiliser and water requirements when a certain amount is required for optimum productivity. Another myth is that hemp does not have any pest and disease issues, when it is susceptible to several insect pests and a number of diseases.

“Once people have a true understanding of what is involved in growing it and the potential of the hemp industry and its products, there will be a surge in demand and the current oversupply will readjust,” Mr Schmidt said.

About 50ha of farmland produced hemp in Tasmania this season, compared to 400ha last year and 1400ha two years ago. The drop-off was due to an oversupply caused by the farmers themselves, who exceeded expectation in how much they could produce and a miscalculation by a big corporate in how much it needed.

“Tasmania is recognised as the national leader in hemp production and with 500,000 hemp products already on the market the potential is enormous – but it’s been a fibre industry in Australia for 20 years now and the investment market, expertise and technology just hasn’t come together as it should,” Mr Schmidt said.

“When those three things are in sync we can start playing catch-up. “Twenty years ago Canada legalised hemp production and it’s now a $1 billion industry and they dominate the world market – we could have been there,” Mr Schmidt said.

Also recognising a bright future and making the most of an opportunity is X-Hemp, a Cressy-based business employing local women to collect and convert the grain stubble left from the hemp seed harvest – which is usually being burned off as waste – into saleable products. X-Hemp sells hemp hurd for building materials, mulch for landscaping, bast for speciality paper production and outputs for other uses such as animal bedding.

X-Hemp founder Andi Lucas said that everyone who attended the field day walked away with a little more knowledge and lot more positivity.

“The experience of our farmers coupled with a clear understanding of customer and market needs, means the Midlands region will continue to be a leader in the future local hemp industry,” she said.

Australian Greens Tasmanian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson was at the field day chatting to local growers. He has been an advocate of the industry for nearly a decade, regularly asking questions in Senate estimation committee meetings around why the governments have not been investing more.

“I’ve always seen it (the hemp industry) as having massive potential and the issue the Greens have raised is why isn’t the government putting any money into helping the fledgling industry when you see the cotton industry, for example, getting hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies,” Senator Whish-Wilson said.