A BILL to legalise the growing of industrial hemp in SA has been introduced into parliament and will be voted on next year.
An international hemp consultant, a textile industries representative and Greens MLC Tammy Franks, who tabled the bill in parliament, believe the product has a future in the state.
Industrial hemp can be grown in all other mainland states and Ms Franks says SA is missing out on a lucrative opportunity, with demand for industrial hemp and hemp products increasing worldwide.
“There is already export markets and there are also local manufacturers who would like to source the raw materials in SA rather than importing them,” Ms Franks said.
The bill includes tight restrictions on who would be able to grow the product and only allows for 0.5 per cent of tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – which is 1pc less than that allowed in some other states.
Textile & Composite Industries chief executive officer Charles Kovess said there was no doubt SA had “vast areas suitable for growing hemp”. He said it would be possible to grow two industrial hemp crops a year in SA, but water would be a major viability factor.
“If there is no rain, then the water requirement is 2 megalitres a hectare to 3ML/ha per crop,” he said.
Mr Kovess said there was potential for farmers to earn $1500-$2000/ha from growing industrial hemp.
“Our view is that hemp is one of the best broadacre crops that a farmer can grow to generate sustainable, environmentally-clean farming profits,” he said.
International hemp consultant John Muir said industrial hemp could fit within a farming enterprise as a dryland summer crop, with frost tolerance as a seedling and at flowering allowing it to be sown in spring and harvested in late autumn.
Mr Muir said the crop could improve soil health and microbial activity but there had been some issues harvesting it for fibre.
At Mumbannar, Vic, 40 kilometres east of Mount Gambier, farmer Hamish Henke encountered those harvesting difficulties during an industrial hemp trial in the 2014-15 summer.
Mr Henke said the 16ha crop didn’t need pesticides and grew extremely well in sandy soils, although it required high nitrogen input and 3.5ML/ha of water.
“It was 3.5 metres to 4m high, like a jungle, but was hard to harvest,” he said.
“It wrapped and binded around everything, but we harvested a bit of seed off it.”
Mr Henke said the first trial was not cost-effective but he would consider growing it again, albeit on a smaller scale.
THE state government and opposition have yet to indicate whether they will support a bill to legalise industrial hemp, but appear open to the idea.
Manufacturing and Innovation Minister Kyam Maher said the government would consider the hemp legislation and decide whether it was the “best way forward for the industry and the state”.
“We welcome the potential of an industrial hemp sector as part of SA’s growing biomedical, agribusiness and advanced manufacturing industries,” he said.
“As such, we have created a cross government and industry roundtable to identify any barriers and coordinate our approach to potential opportunities which exist for our agriculture and manufacturing sectors.”
Mr Maher said the government would hold discussions with the industry roundtable next year.
“We are happy to examine any proposal that has the potential for industry development and jobs in the state,” he said.
Opposition agriculture spokesperson David Ridgway said it was ultimately up to farmers to say whether they wanted to grow industrial hemp, citing producer advocacy as the reason why he pursued poppy legislation.
“I’m not necessarily opposed to it and every other state can do it, but I’ve not had any producers come to me and say ‘we want to grow industrial hemp’,” he said.
Mr Ridgway said the Liberals would consider the bill and form a position before parliament returned next year.
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