South Australian growers have access to a new crop with mind-blowing possibilities – industrial hemp.
From last month, changes to legislation have enabled farmers to apply for a licence to cultivate it for food and fibre.
These hemp varieties have been specifically bred to contain less than 1 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive substance in cannabis – therefore posing no public health risk.
A burgeoning market for hemp stems, leaves and crushed seeds in building materials, cosmetics and clothing has evolved, and the recent approval of hemp for human consumption has widened its potential.
SARDI-PIRSA are conducting two irrigated trials at the Kybybolite and Loxton Research Centres to assess the grain quality and yields of five varieties. They also hope to determine the optimal time of sowing between late October and mid-January.
SARDI research scientist Mark Skewes says the varieties, sourced from 20 lines within Australia, were selected through nutritional screening at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.
The university will also assess the nutritional value of the harvested seed in the trial and the CSIRO will analyse the fibre in the stems.
Mr Skewes says early-sown crops are showing promise.
“All of the existing information we have has come from growing it in other areas so it is important to do it here under our conditions,” he said.
“Some of the varieties are day-length sensitive so we are looking at when is the best time to get the plants in the ground and some good growth before flowering in the new year.”
PIRSA grains account manager Dave Lewis is excited about the “very versatile” hemp’s potential as a food.
“It is one of the highest sources of omega-three in plant seeds along with linseed and high in complex carbohydrates,” he said.
He said it was difficult to put a figure on potential returns to growers but estimated it could be worth about $1000 a tonne.
“I have seen low THC hemp grain retailing for $35 for a 500g bag – it is very early days and really depends where the food market goes,” he said
Mr Lewis says the number of licences available to SA growers is “open ended” but licencees must meet a range of conditions, including passing a police check and planting a minimum of one hectare of the crop.
“We have had some interest in applying for licences but obviously we are not going to see people commit until they have all the information, including markets for the hemp and on growing the crop,” he said.
“Licencing approvals can take 65 to 70 days but PIRSA will try to ensure the licence turnaround is as quick as possible.”
Potential fit under SE pivot irrigation
SA MAY be able to find a niche as a seed producer supplying developed hemp growing states such as NSW, according to Elders Naracoorte agronomist Adam Hancock.
He sees strong potential for industrial hemp where South East growers are looking for an irrigated crop alternative to pasture seeds, such as lucerne and white clovers, under their pivots.
It could also be a spring/summer sowing option on paddocks that have been waterlogged during winter.
“We have safflower but the market for that fills up quickly,” he said.
He says consumers are increasingly looking for “green foods”.
“It doesn’t appear to require a lot of water compared with many other crops we are growing and less insect issues,” he said.
- More details at pir.sa.gov.au/primary_industry/industrial_hemp