Cian Walsh, a transition year student at St. Brogan’s College, Kilbrogan, Bandon, Co. Cork, has been announced as the winner of the Teagasc award at this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE).

Walsh’s project looked at the social, economic and environmental benefits and drawbacks of growing hemp and to determine if it can promote sustainable farming in Ireland.

He surveyed farmers to determine knowledge surrounding hemp. He found that there was a great interest in the crop, but that only 36% of those surveyed would consider growing it.

Walsh explains: “This was a figure I set out to change. I hosted a hemp information meeting on Zoom with the farmers surveyed, which included a presentation on hemp research in Ireland by Barry Caslin, Teagasc’s energy and rural development specialist.

At the end of the conference, I resurveyed the farmers and found a significant increase in interest in growing the crop (from 36% to 64%) if there were hemp processing facilities near to their home farm.

“The benefits of growing hemp are endless, farmers are willing to make the change – but it is government investment in the industry that will be needed in order to grow Ireland’s ‘hempire’.”

A variety of Cannabis sativa, hemp is often confused with marijuana; and, although it contains the same active ingredient, the concentration is much lower in hemp.

Hemp was one of the first plants in the world to be spun into useable fibre and has since been used for many other purposes.

Walsh says: “100% of the hemp crop can be processed into many different eco-friendly products; some examples include hempcrete, hemp insulation and hemp bioplastic.”

‘An excellent break crop’

Commending Walsh, Barry Caslin of Teagasc said:

“There has been a huge interest from farmers and industry representatives in developing a hemp industry in Ireland. Many farmers are seeking land use alternatives, especially in light of the lack of income from the drystock sector.

Hemp is an excellent break crop bringing other benefits to crop rotation, including higher yields in following wheat crops.

Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle, also congratulated Walsh on his award and commended all the students who took part in this year’s virtual event.

The Teagasc award is presented to the project that “best demonstrates a thorough understanding of the science of agricultural or food production, or the use of science to improve technologies available to agricultural or food production”.