In recent years, interest in the Industrial Hemp industry has been increasing. A push from the State Government through the Industrial Hemp Grants Scheme (IHGS) in 2019 and more recently a DPIRD announcement of a collaborative research project examining the potential for Industrial Hemp to be used as sheep feed, are supporting the industry to move forward. . This DPIRD project could be a game changer, as current restrictions on grazing the crop is one of the barriers to wider uptake by farmers. (https://www.farmweekly.com.au/story/6663765/research-looks-at-hemp-for-sheep-feed/)
The WA Hemp Growers Co-op Ltd ( www.hempgro.com.au ) received funding through the IHGS to research the most suitable hemp varieties for different regions in Western Australia. Early findings seem to indicate some varieties are dependent on temperatures for seed set, while others may be more influenced by day length. Full trial results will be available soon through the DPIRD website and should give WA farmers more confidence in their growing decisions.
Last year, Moora farmer Daniel Gardiner took part in these trials. His sites were planted in September and Daniel was impressed to see germination by the middle of October on 2ml of rain (see photo). Unfortunately the lack of any spring rainfall resulted in the crop not proceeding beyond emergence. . Daniel is keen to see how this year’s trials go, with planting planned for July, August and September, and the trial incorporating a greater number of seed varieties.
Bolgart farmer Mandy Walker had more success, with all of her trial plots achieving seed set, unfortunately budworm destroyed the budding plants there was no harvest. There is still a long way to go in establishing a dryland hemp industry, but trials such as these are a great step in the right direction.
A key issue for the fledgling industry is having enough product supply to make the processing viable. Other IHGS projects have focussed on developing markets for industrial hemp products and investment into hemp processing facilities, including a mobile processing unit. This multi-pronged approach will help to support the long term profitability, sustainability and growth of the industry.
Hemp is currently grown for the seeds and/or its high-cellulose fibres. The oils from the seeds can be used in both the food and cosmetics industries. The fibre is an ideal building material and it also could be used to replace plastics in some settings. Recent supply chain issues highlighted by COVID-19 have highlighted another potential market – fully biodegradable takeaway food containers.
The WA Hemp Growers Co-op Ltd are looking for growers willing to trial hemp and are particularly keen to work with any Geraldton or Dongara-based farmers willing to experiment with an irrigated crop. Growers do not need to be members of the co-operative, however, Executive Officer of the group, Gail Stubber says that it does provide a number of benefits to growers including access to a greater variety and cheaper seed, the backup of knowledgeable growers and support to ensure regulatory compliance, plus access to processing facilities and markets.