Dr Keith Bolton sees the production of industrial hemp as a potential boon for Australian farmers wanting to get out of the cotton or sugar cane industry. He said hemp can be commercially viable on land lots as small as five hectares if the plant is used not only for its fibre, but also as a food source.
He said hemp seed contains no THC at all (the component in cannabis which creates a high) and can be used to make hemp milk, hemp tofu and hemp ice cream. The plant also has a high yield, with two tonnes of seed produced per hectare.
Humans have been eating hemp for at least 8000 years or longer, he said. The seed is a very high quality protein and hemp seed oil is very high in omega oils, often referred to as the good oils. Its a very balanced, complete food and just about anything which is made out of soya bean can also be made out of hemp seed.
Dr Bolton who is the managing director of Ecotechnology Australia is frustrated that the NSW government still wont allow commercial licenses for farmers, although hes hopeful they will be introduced next year.
The bummer is that NSW is way behind most other states in legislation allowing commerical hemp production, he said. We need leaders with back bone. The fact is no self-respecting dope consumer would consider using industrial hemp because of its negligible concentration of THC and its high proportion of seeds.
Dr Bolton said Tasmania had allowed commercial production of hemp since 1998 and Queensland had issued licenses for several years now.
Its embarrassing, he said. Queensland is meant to be more conservative than us. NSW is getting left behind.
Dr Bolton is currently in the final stages of his sixth industrial hemp trial, (the first was in 2001) with only a few plants still remaining in the ground at a secret location somewhere on the North Coast.
NSW Health stipulates that the location must be kept secret, he said. Although I must admit some of my crop trials were the best known secret locations on the North Coast. At one stage we had helicopters of tourists flying over (an earlier) two hectare crop trial near Bangalow.
Dr Bolton said he originally became interested in hemp when he was looking at ways of re-using sewage effluent to avoid dumping it into rivers.
Hemp loves its water and nutrients, which is basically what effluent is, he said. Its a way of turning waste water into a resource water.
Dr Bolton said the main focus of this years trial was to look at using hemp seed as a food source which made hemp a lot more viable for farmers with smaller properties.
The big difference between hemp and traditional fibre plants like cotton, is that the fibre is produced from the stem rather than the flower, which means it can be grown in a lot more marginal conditions, he said.
Hemp is also very resistant to insect attack and grows so fast it out competes weeds.
During all my crops I have never applied herbicides or pesticides or any agricultural chemicals, he said.
Dr Bolton said he was not advocating setting up a hemp clothing industry in Australia as it would require a billion dollar investment in infrastructure. Meanwhile China and Eastern Europe had already cornered the market.
They can produce it more cheaply and efficiently than we could, he said. So as an investment possibility I wouldnt be recommending it.
However he did see a niche market for the production of hemp masonry.
You can mix hemp with other products such as lime and get a cement-like product which is lighter and has far superior insulation properties than conventional building materials, he said. Furthermore a hemp brick contains about 25 per cent carbon which can help mitigate the greenhouse effect.
Dr Bolton said a hemp stem was about 50 per cent carbon and so by taking that carbon from the stem and locking it up into a long term building material it would be a prime candidate for the burgeoning carbon credit industry.
Its going to become a multi trillon dollar industry as the greenhouse effect becomes a more pressing issue, he said. Anything you can make out of masonry, you can make out of hemp. And theres a big market for things like concrete Buddhas and bird baths. It could be the dawning of new industry.
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