Sowing the Seeds for Hemp’s Future


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“The age of hemp is here – or at least returning to its rightful place as one of the most useful plants known to man.

But it’s not the much-maligned, recreational variety of hemp or cannabis which Nimbin is world famous for, but the high-fibre industrial hemp ( low in the psycho-active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC ) which many farmers in NSW have been waiting years to be allowed to grow.

That time has now come, with the state government last week announcing it would introduce a new licensing scheme for the commercial growing of hemp, bringing NSW into line with other Australian states now developing an industrial hemp industry.

The fast-growing and durable hemp had, until the 1930s, been used for thousands of years for rope-making, paper production including bank notes, food, building materials, sail cloth and myriad other uses.

It is very environmentally friendly as hemp crops do not require herbicides or pesticides.

The announcement has been welcomed by two pioneers of Australian hemp production, Dr Keith Bolton, director of Ecotechnology Australia ( EA ) and Klara Marosszeky, director of Morrowby Futures.  This year, they again operated a trial hemp plot for research, on a rural property in the Lismore area.

EA, which designs and constructs on-site sewage treatment systems using wetland technology, helped establish the successful ‘mop-crop’ technology ( irrigating crops with effluent ), also using hemp, at the West Byron Sewage Treatment Plant.

Dr Bolton, an environmental engineer, is passionate about industrial hemp and re-establishing it as one of the most useful plants known to man, especially with the ever-increasing threat of global warming and the large-scale clearing of land and forests around the world contributing to it.

In fact, hemp is seen by many as a natural replacement for timber as a building material and paper made from wood pulp – both damaging to the environment.

“This is the news we’ve been waiting for – the industrial hemp industry is now set to go ballistic and the first farmers to get in will make big bucks,” Dr Bolton, a former Southern Cross University researcher, told The Echo.  “Around two to three farmers a day have been contacting me wanting to know more about growing hemp, saying ‘I want to get into it, my granddad used to grow it for rope’.”

“Our main aim this year is to multiply the very precious small amount of seed available in Australia for industrial hemp to cater for the rapidly growing hemp industry,” he said.  “Previously you could only get a licence to grow it for scientific research purposes and not for commercial use.  This decision reverses that so now farmers can consider not just research but will be able to grow and sell hemp they produce.

Dr Bolton said hemp-processing infrastructure now needed to be established.  For example, Klara is developing hemp masonry ( see The Echo, March 6 ) and hemp needs to be chopped or hammer-milled to a specific grade to turn it into hemp product such as masonry, paper, or chipboard.

“Hundreds of homes in Europe are built from hemp masonry, which is much more environmentally friendly than cement products.  It locks up carbon retained in masonry, it’s half the weight and it doesn’t require kiln baking,” Dr Bolton said.  “In fact the first big industry likely to emerge here is hemp-masonry products, so you can literally ‘grow your own house’.”

Dr Bolton said Australia was “behind the eight ball” in regard to hemp legislation and is one of the few countries where hemp food is still prohibited.

“It is one of the best quality foods on the planet.  I’m serious, anything that can be made out of soya bean can be made from hemp such as hemp tofu, hemp sprouts, hemp bread, ice cream, flour and even pop-hemp.  In China instead of pop-corn at the movie theatres you get pop-hemp,” Dr Bolton said.  “The great thing about it is it contains highly digestible proteins, an abundant source of omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids ( the good oils ) in perfect ratio and that’s the key…”

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