Question: We know very few facts about hemp farming - and I'm wondering if you might have answer to a few of our questions, and perhaps provide some more information.
The sorts of questions that we know only a very little about are:
We know that it's perhaps a little fertiliser-hungry, nitrogen etc, but the yield is high, taking a few months to harvestable maturity. We know that it can grow on relatively low water, around 200 mm for a crop?. We don't know how sustainable it is. Is it necessary to clear and carve out massive chunks of land?
Is it necessary to cycle hemp crops with some other crop, to replenish soil minerals?
What are the practical geographical limitations for hemp in Australia? i.e. climate, soil types etc.
Assuming a healthy crop, What is the expected yield per ha? per annum?
Once the hemp is grown, do contractors harvest it? where does the hemp go after harvest?
What kind of hemp-farming community already exists in Australia?
Is there significant animosity/competition from cotton or other textile crops/stock?
Is there any cooperation with some scientific bodies to attempt to optimise Australian hemp yields?
Perhaps my biggest question is this: it seems from the literature that hemp is certainly viable, and easier to produce useful quantities than is, for example, cotton. Given this, what is the most significant opposition to it's proliferation in Australia?
Answer: In collaboration with Southern Cross University, Byron Shire Council and other organisations, I have cultivated hemp as a mop-crop for effluent reuse as an alternative to effluent disposal into waterways, and to establish a hemp germplasm collection.
Hemp does like its water and nutrients. However most of the nutrients are sequestered in the leaf material of fibre crops. Returning leaf back to the soil returns much of the nutrient used by the crop. Seed crops are more nutrient-hungry, and intensive hemp cropping will certainly require the input of depleted nutrients. Hemp responds very well to rotation farming, for example alternately cropping with a legume / green manure crop. Hemp, like any crop, can be grown according to sustainable or unsustainable farming techniques, however hemp certainly lends itself to the sustainable approach. During the 7 years that I have grown hemp, I have never experienced any significant insect damage. In contrast, a kenaf plantation that I grew directly adjacent to a hemp plantation was almost completely defoliated by Monoleptus beetle, while the 2ha hemp plantation sustained less than 5% leaf loss. No herbicides are required if hemp is planted in a recently cultivated paddock because hemp outcompetes weeds. However early weed competition can dampen the growth of less vigorous varieties, or sparsely planted seed crops.
A good fibre crop will yield around 12 t of stem per hectare and a good seed crop will yield around 2 t/ha. The hemp industry is at an early stage, and processing and manufacturing industries will need to be created before commercial hemp farming can occur. This process is already happening with several companies existing with various processing mills. Quite a few "hemp nodes" exist, including established companies and cooperatives. The most significant opposition to the proliferation of hemp in Australia used to be the lack of commercial hemp legislation in some states. However this is changing, and I do not see any serious impediments to the establishment of a viable Australian hemp industry.
The main challenges are
a.. to maintain harmony within a new and rapidly establishing industry
b.. develop new hemp varieties and establish reliable seed source
c.. establish processing and manufacturing industries
d.. managing the early stages of rapidly changing supply and demand
Tasmania has been a major player in the Australian hemp industry, starting with Patsy and Fritz Harmsen. A fair bit of seed for food is produced in Tasmania. Ironically, it's exported because Australia is one of the few remaining countries whose leaders don't allow Australians to eat hemp seed, which is one of the most nutritional foods available.
Even more ironically, our leaders have allowed Australian food industries to continue using food additives e.g. preservatives and colourings that are well known to adversely and sometimes seriously affect humans (especially children!!) even when they are banned in most other countries. And the corporations that produce these chemicals that cause serious behaviour and physiological issues in our children also produce the drugs that alleviate their symptoms.
Certainly working in the hemp industry - which has been effectively quashed during the last 70 years of prohibition - has caused me to ponder upon some of the anomalies that we are faced with on a daily basis. It has also caused me to consider that the quality of leadership during this time has been absolutely appalling. Working in the hemp industry is a positive way of challenging some of these very harmful paradigms, and I applaud those leaders who have allowed us to now grow hemp in NSW.
Dr Keith Bolton
Founding Director, Ecotechnology Australia.