A farming property in Keith has become home to one of South Australia’s first industrial hemp crops after the state government finally became approved the plant in November last year.
Not to be confused with the closely related Marijuana plant, hemp has a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) of less than 0.3% – meaning one could roll it up, smoke it all day long and feel absolutely no psychoactive effect.
While hemp can be used for clothing and building purposes, Tatiara’s industrial hemp crops will be processed and sold to health food stores and supermarkets around Australia as raw hulled seed, cold pressed oil and included in cereals and muesli.
Tatiara optimum for hemp production
Mick Andersen from Good Country Hemp told the Chronicle the Tatiara was an ideal region to be grow hemp due to supreme soil conditions, irrigation facilities and suitable growers.
“Hemp has a lot of parallels to lucerne, so if you can grow lucerne successfully you should be able to grow hemp successfully too,” he said.
“And they say the Tatiara is the lucerne capital of Australia!”
Mr Andersen said he has six hemp growers currently contracted in South Australia, with three located in the Tatiara.
“We are currently establishing a hemp processing plant in Bordertown’s industrial estate that will be fully developed by April in time for harvest,” he said. “We have agreed to buy all hemp seed produced by the contracted growers for a fixed price prior to planting"
“We will process cold pressed hemp oil, hulled hemp seed, protein meal and hemp flour.”
South Australia late on the band wagon
South Australia is the last state in Australia to have passed legislation on hemp growing, processing and consumption.
“Victoria and Tasmania have been doing this for over 10 years – we are a bit late to the game,” Mr Andersen said.
“It’s an emerging industry here and I think it’s really exciting.
“Hemp food is very healthy, extremely high in protein and provides essential fatty acids such as omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9.”
Industrial hemp crop rotations fit in well with other farming operations in the area and also come with numerous agricultural benefits for farmers.
“The plant has a lot of biomass and it returns a lot of that biomass back into the soil and boosts soil carbon, microbes and is good for crop rotation going forward,” Mr Andersen said.
“Industrial Hemp doesn’t need a lot of chemical input, it’s a very vigorous plant and it’s relatively easy to grow but it does need irrigation. Sowing and harvesting can be done with conventional machinery.”
Mr Andersen said Good Country Hemp would provide local growers with as much support and knowledge as possible in order to harvest a successful yield. He said he had also imported parent seed varieties from France.
“Our growers have never grown hemp before and they are looking at us for the knowledge,” he said.
“Things like chemical use, fertilising input, sowing dates and harvesting methods are all things taken care of.
“We need to make sure our farmers are profiting and get a good yield and give them as much agronomy support as we can give them.”
Sharing expert knowledge
Mr Andersen said he had appointed longterm Keith agronomist James De Barro to become the ‘go-to-guy’ for the district’s hemp crop production.
“We had a hemp consultant come down from Queensland who’s been dealing with hemp for over ten years but he can’t come down from Queensland every time we need support so we asked James if he wanted to become our local expert and he said yes.”
Mr De Barro told the Chronicle he had been working in the local area for over thirty years, working with many crops, but particularly lucerne seed production.
“I’ve veiled myself to assist and I’m picking it up as I go and the reality is I don’t think it will be a complicated crop to grow to be perfectly honest,” he said.
“It will be challenged by all the same weeds as lucerne seed production in the region and we will just adapt to it.”
Mr De Barro said due to some social stigma, the knowledge base on industrial hemp in Australia was slim.
“It’s been grown interstate for a number of years but it’s a very silent production,” Mr De Barro said.
“Producers are a bit coy about sharing information because there is a bit of a stigma based around growing it.
“It’s just a normal summer grown crop and it’s a really good opportunity for irrigator producers here to get diversity in their production base.”
Future growing opportunities
Mr Andersen said there would be plenty of opportunity for other growers in the region to become involved with industrial hemp crop production.
“We hope to triple our production in the second year and expand further from there. The demand for hemp food products is growing at 20% per year.
“We are looking for more local farmers to grow hemp to keep up with the growing demand and will be having an open field day soon.”