Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hemp Nation

When Captain Cook first explored the south coast of Australia, more than 230 years ago, he envisioned the rolling meadows north of Newcastle covered with hemp plantations.

More than 60 years after large scale hemp plantations were abandoned at the end of World War 2, hemp is set to return to New South Wales farms on an industrial scale. And there's billions to be made, and new manufacturing industries to be spawned.

Better late than never :

The NSW Government has turned over a new leaf after decades of opposing commercial cannabis, revealing plans for a new scheme to grow the plant on an industrial scale.

It will introduce legislation in weeks to allow farms to grow hemp, the fibres and oil of which can be used in food and clothes, biofuels and skin-care products.

The state's first legal hemp crop has been approved by police and will contain only tiny amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound that some people smoke for recreation. It will be planted later this year, with farmers no longer needing their licences to be approved by the NSW Health Department.

"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," said the Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, who will oversee the licences for the new crop.

"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."

Trials in the state's west had yielded 10 to 12 tonnes of dry stem per hectare, which was similar to yields reported from crops in other states and in Europe, Mr Macdonald said.

Some farming groups cautiously welcomed the move, although the National Farmers Federation said it was not aware of large numbers of farmers clamouring to grow hemp.

"If it meets all the safety and health requirements, then farmers should have the option of growing whatever crops that best fits their business," Ben Fargher, the federation's chief executive officer, said. "There are farmers who look for innovative specialist crops, and this may fit that category."

Only a tiny slice of what hemp can be used for :
  • As a cloth, hemp is softer, warmer, and more water resistant than cotton, and commands much higher prices. The original Levi Jeans were made from hemp.
  • The majority of the world's books were printed on hemp paper until the 20th Century. Banknotes are still printed on hemp paper.
  • Hemp can produce from two to four times as much fibre per hectare as woodchipping.
  • A hemp paper industry is labour intensive rather than being capital intensive like woodchip. This means more jobs. Woodchips sell for $60/ton. Hemp pulp sells for $400 per ton for low grade pulp, and up to $1500 for organosolv, the highest grade.
  • 200,000 hectares of hemp could replace Australia's woodchip exports industry - (the woodchip industry) is subsidised by the taxpayers to the rate of $300 million.
  • Cannabis hemp makes the strongest particle board with far greater durability than any woodchip source.
Hemp seed is also one of the most nutritious food sources in the world. Hemp seed is stuffed full of Omega-3 and protein. Absurdly, you can legally buy hemp seed to feed to your pets in New South Wales, but it's illegal to buy it for your own consumption.

Hemp oil also makes for one hell of a biofuel, without causing corn and sugar shortages, and hemp can also be used to brew up some damn fine beer.

South Australia, Queensland and Victoria are also expected to follow New South Wales' lead and unveil their plans for their own new hemp industries in the coming months.