Friday, April 18, 2008

Australia: Sowing The Seeds For Hemp's Future

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.

"Hemp seed has been eaten by humans for millenia and hemp has been used by humans for at least 10,000 years with archaeological evidence of its cultivation.

"But for the last 70 years humans have tried to eradicate the genus cannabis from the face of the planet, and not just by prohibition - but I believe this will be just a blip in history as we have good leadership allowing us to establish a positive relationship with this remarkable plant."

Dr Bolton encouraged farmers wanting to grow hemp to stay closely tuned to NSW DPI ( Department of Primary Industries ), which should soon be releasing all the necessary information for farmers such as cultivation techniques and applying for licenses.

"We envisage the industry here on the north coast to be developed by co-operatives of farmers who work together to produce seed products, including seed for further production, and I see the north coast producing fibre for the housing industry," he said.

In announcing impending changes to state laws to smooth the way for commercial hemp growing, NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said "environmentally-friendly hemp could soon be used in everything from dog food to biofuel".

"Industrial hemp fibre produced here in NSW could pave the way for the establishment of a new viable industry that creates and sells textiles, cloth and building products made from locally-grown industrial hemp," Mr Macdonald said.

"Hemp seed oil can also be used as a base for skin care products and paints - there is growing support from the agricultural sector for the development of such a new industry this is a direct result of the environmentally-friendly nature of industrial hemp and a perceived interest for hemp products in the market."

Industrial hemp was low in THC compared to other varieties and could not be used as a drug, he said.

"Those seeking to run trials for industrial hemp will no longer have to seek approval from the Department of Health once the new measures were in place," he said. "Irrigation trial yields from Yamba and the state's central west are now reporting 10 to 12 tonnes of dry stem per hectare... which are competitive with those reported in northern Europe and Tasmania.

Ms Marosszeky said that hopefully the minister would include provision for a hemp-food industry in the Industrial Hemp Bill.

"Just as low-THC or industrial hemp fibre is an incredibly versatile resource with many applications, low-THC hemp seed can be made into a wide variety of food products. It is a highly nutritious food source for which there is already an extensive global demand," she said. "There is a precedent for this provision in the WA Industrial Hemp Bill introduced in 2003. It does not give WA farmers the right yet to sell hemp foods they produce in Australia but it pre-empts the moment when the Australian Food Authority will authorise this.

Researchers in Australia have developed a wide variety of hemp food products and there is no doubt with the emerging world food crisis that hemp will move into the spotlight.

"Unfortunately information in Australia about hemp markets has largely been kept behind closed doors. Food Standards Australia New Zealand released a fact sheet in 2001 as a result of pressure from potential Australian hemp food producers and consumers wanting access to the nutritional benefits of hemp foods.

"Food authority ANZFA established maximum limits of THC for hemp seed and hemp-seed oil, such that even a high consumer of hemp-based foods cannot exceed the safe level of intake of THC.

"The American domestic market for hemp-based food products in 2004 was over $12 million. The retail health care market, including lotions and oils, is estimated to sell over $30 million worth of hemp products in the United States annually. To give you some idea of the expansion of this industry, Canada's production of hemp increased from 4,000 acres in 2002 to over 24,000 acres in 2005," Ms Marosszeky said.

For information packages, contact Sandra Maybury at the DPI office in Wagga on 6938 1999.

MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom

Newshawk: Support the BC3:
Votes: 0
Pubdate: Thu, 17 Apr 2008
Source: Northern River Echo, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2008 TAOW P/L
Author: Luis Feliu
Bookmark: (Hemp - Outside U.S.)

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