The area of land growing hemp in Ireland dropped by more than 50% from 2019 to 2021, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has heard.
The committee convened this week where testimony was given from representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and Teagasc regarding the development of a viable hemp industry in Ireland.
In his opening statement, senior inspector at the DAFM, Michael Moloney gave an overview of the the area of hemp – an eligible crop under the Basic Payment Scheme – is grown in Ireland over a seven-year period from 2015 to 2021, inclusive.
He first listed the many uses of hemp, in such industries as: construction; marine construction; car manufacturing; paper; food; animal bedding; clothing; drinks; health; pharmaceutical; bio-fuel; and cosmetics. Hemp oil (from seeds) are used in health supplements, personal care, cooking and also in industrial use like linseed oil in paints.
Commenting on the change in area, the senior inspector said:
“While the area sown between 2016 and 2019 increased considerably, 2020 saw a 52% decrease in area sown from 2019.”
And, DAFM data shows that there has been a further decline in area declared in 2021.
The data supplied by the DAFM shows the low base from which hemp is growing here, peaking in 2019 at just 314 hectares (ha), especially when compared to the main spring crop, barley.
However, despite the low number of hectares, the 2019 represents a significant jump from just 17ha in 2015.
But, in 2020 and 2021, the numbers of hectares sown dropped to 164ha and 153ha, respectively.
The peak in 2019, the senior inspector said, was likely due to the low beef prices at that time and the quest for diversification undertaken by some farmers.
However, the interest in hemp dwindled in the two subsequent years, likely due to the returns that farmers were receiving – or not.
He explained that the above hemp figures are compared to spring-barley figures because any tillage farmer considering diversification into hemp would do the same.
“Any potential new crop would have to be comparable to spring barley,” he said.
But there is interest in hemp, as a crop, and the EU Commission recently hosted a public meeting on the production of hemp and market opportunities.
While this meeting was to be focussed on fibre crops, much of the discussion centred around food.
“While many positives were put forward in terms of the future potential of the sector, many similar problems exist in other European countries as are present in Ireland including, for instance, access to processing facilities.
“Currently Ireland does not have fibre-processing facilities which are required to be in close proximity to hemp growers. Any development in relation to a processing facility must be industry-led,” he said.
Hemp is governed by the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2017. Current legislation in Ireland does not allow for the growing of hemp unless a specific license has been granted by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) which operates under the auspices of the Department of Health.
In terms of areas internationally, in 2016 over 100,000ha of hemp were sown globally, in:
- China – 45,000ha;
- Canada – 31,000ha;
- the US – 5,000ha;
- Europe – 33,000ha.
The global area sown in 2019 increased to approximately 275,000ha in China with 67,000ha; Canada with 44,000ha; the US with 59,000ha; Europe with 58,000ha – 18,000ha of which were sown in France; Russia with 10,000ha; and others with 37,000ha.
Of note is a drop in area sown in the US from 59,000ha in 2019 to 20,000ha in 2020.