Hemp is one of the hottest topics in Australia’s agricultural sector. It is also one of the most widely misunderstood. The crop is grown in all six of Australia’s states, and with global demand on the increase, it is becoming increasingly important to farmers across the country.
With the confusion surrounding hemp, cannabis, CBD and marijuana, it is no surprise that hemp can be seen as a controversial product. Here, we answer some of the most common hemp-related questions, including what it is, who grows it and for what purposes.
What is hemp?
Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant, which is why it has the edgy reputation. However, it has, by definition, only negligible levels of THC. This is the cannabinoid that has a psychoactive effect. In other words, hemp is not a narcotic and if someone decided to try smoking it, it would not get them high any more than if they smoked oats or grain.
So what is it used for?
Hemp has a huge variety of uses. While there is only negligible THC, it is rich in another cannabinoid, CBD, which seems to be taking the complementary medicine world by storm at the moment. People buy CBD seeds from health stores and online sellers as a protein booster, while CBD oil is used to treat everything from stress to arthritis.
But before anyone knew anything about CBD, hemp was being farmed for its fibre. In fact, hemp seeds arrived in Australia with the first colonists to make materials for ropes and sails. Finally, the husk from hemp is used in insulation products, paper making and as animal bedding.
Can anyone farm hemp?
Only licensed commercial growers are permitted to cultivate hemp, and licenses are issued by the State Government. This is because the Australian government classifies hemp as cannabis under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, despite the fact that it does not have narcotic properties.
The State Government must also approve specific growing locations and licensed growers agree to routine inspections and monitoring by government personnel. The reason for all this is to make sure hemp is being grown for approved purposes and to prevent the general public from coming into contact with it.
How is hemp farmed?
Significant acreage is now devoted to hemp all across Australia. The crop thrives in tropical and subtropical climates, favouring temperatures in the range of 15–27°C. It also likes moderate humidity, and is typically grown during summer months.
Farmers sew hemp seeds using the conventional disc drills you see in action for most crops. When growing for fibre, the crop is ready for harvesting after around 70-90 days. Seed harvesting takes place around four to six weeks later.
Is hemp a valuable crop?
Back in 2011/12, Australia’s hemp market was worth around AU$300,000. It is forecast to hit AU$3 million by 2023. Little wonder that farmers are keen to obtain and hold on to their grower’s licenses and that investors are watching Australia’s growing band of hemp-based startups with keen interest.