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Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture
Telephone: 07 3369 5925
Facsimile: 07 3368 1255
Industrial hemp is finally undergoing trials throughout Australia, but unfortunately, to date, these trials have not been conducted in an appropriate manner.
With a little research one finds that hemp is a summer crop, is daylength sensitive, requires sufficient water for good growth and has thousands of cultivars adapted to most regions of the world.
During the last four years, Australian industrial hemp trials have been limited to varieties derived directly from Europe that are adapted to long summer days and regular rainfall.
Not surprisingly, results from trials in Australia have been disappointing, especially as you move further north towards the equator.
Only those trials conducted in Tasmania, have managed to reach growth performances similar to those found in Europe, but the costs for irrigating during their dry summers are making this crop economically unattractive.
Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture was the first to highlight this potential problem five years ago. The company has since worked successfully towards getting industrial hemp cultivars suited to Australian conditions.
The company has also identified northern Australia as being best suited to production of this crop on a broad-acre scale, due to the predominance of summer rainfall in these regions.
It is also unfortunate that the public tends to view industrial hemp primarily as a raw material for textiles.
In Europe this has been the case, but in Australia it is the industrial uses of the fibre that will give this crop its true value.
A fibre must meet quite specific quality parameters.
This is especially true with its fineness, if it is to be acceptable to the textile industry.
In Europe, hemp fibre becomes more coarse with any change in the climate, whether it is fluctuations in either temperature or water supply, making it unsuitable for textile spinning.
Given Australia's unpredictable climate, it is unlikely that we will be able to produce high quality textile grade fibres until suitable varieties are developed.
The future for hemp fibre actually lies in its use for making superior building and structural products.
Europe has begun commercialising some novel hemp-based products.
However, it is Australia and New Zealand that are leading the way.
For example, hemp fibre is being used as a fibreglass replacement to produce an exceptional structural material for use in buildings and even bridges! The company requires at least 10,000 tonnes per year of fibre for a pilot run, and requests are already being received from major construction firms overseas.
Another company is working on developing a biodegradable mop-up material made from hemp fibre impregnated with oil-eating bacteria. This product is targeted at small industrial workshops with a view to expanding into large industrial operations.
A range of other companies is seriously exploring the potential for incorporating this natural organic fibre into their products for environmental reasons.
Unlike synthetics, hemp fibre is renewable and will eventually breakdown.
More importantly though, it has a number of attractive characteristics including being the longest and strongest natural fibre known to man.
Growing the crop is analogous to growing forage sorghum, requiring the same equipment and seedbed preparation.
Industrial hemp is grown a high plant densities to ensure long straight stems and with good crop establishment, does not require herbicides or insecticides.
Reports from hemp growing regions around the world suggest that a crop of hemp reconditions the soil, suppresses weeds and even boosts the yield of successive wheat crops.
There is also the likely benefit of providing a break in the build up of various insects when rotated with cotton.
There is a range of harvesting options available, which depend on where the fibre is to be sent to and used for, and how much value-adding is feasible on-farm.
While there is a growing demand for industrial hemp fibre world wide and it is relatively easy to grow, it should be noted that this crop is still in its trial phase in Australia, and is not yet part of a commercial production system.
The current state of play
Today every State in Australia has legislation in place that allows for industrial hemp trials under licence.
Victoria has just introduced legislation permitting commercial production of the crop, but has yet to streamline the transportation of raw material from farm to end-user.
Queensland has the most realistic legislation in place for trialling industrial hemp that takes into account the need to transport material off the farm.
Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture has commenced a tropical/sub-tropical industrial hemp breeding program and have already found cultivars that are expected to double the yields of currently available European varieties.
For more information on this industry, its agronomic requirements and markets, contact Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture.
Any claims made by authors in the Australian New Crops Newsletter are presented by the Editors in good faith. Readers would be wise to critically examine the circumstances associated with any claims to determine the applicability of such claims to their specific set of circumstances. This material can be reproduced, with the provision that the source and the author (or editors, if applicable) are acknowledged and the use is for information or educational purposes. Contact with the original author is probably wise since the material may require updating or amendment if used in other publications. Material sourced from the Australian New Crops Newsletter cannot be used out of context or for commercial purposes not related to its original purpose in the newsletter
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, 4345; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:email@example.com
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originally created by:GK; latest update 6 June 1999 by: RF