Up to 80,000 rural jobs could be created if suitable farm enterprises opted to diversify into hemp production, a Teagasc specialist has stated.
Speaking on FarmLand, Barry Caslin Teagasc specialist in energy and rural development urged the Government to embrace the crop’s potential as global demand for its components “escalates at a rapid rate”.
His views were backed by business woman Leah Fletcher, the co-founder of deDanú Limited, a company that manufactures and processes hemp in the midlands.
Caslin outlines that Teagasc has been involved in research into hemp – a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant grown specifically for industrial uses – since the 1960s.
The crop is legally allowed to be grown in Ireland; however, growers must obtain a licence from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) in order to grow it.
“There are different components to hemp that can be produced from a farmer’s perspective,” said Caslin.
“There are cannabinoids that can be used to produce CBD oils; there’s an extraction process there to extract the oil from the leaf or from the seed.
“You can also produce seed and that seed can be crushed to produce hemp oil which is high in omega 3,6 and 9 – a very healthy oil,” he said.
Generally speaking, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), hemp oil obtained by cold-pressing the seeds or other parts of the hemp plant does not require EU authorisation.
If, however, the CBD / hemp oil is subjected to certain forms of extraction or purification techniques, then a “novel food authorisation” may be required from the EU, as there may be an accompanying increase in undesirable constituents, the FSAI states on its website.
They are typically marketed as food supplements (or dietary supplements) in liquid or capsule form.
Hempcrete and BMWs
Caslin also outlines other products that can be produced from the crop.
“You can also produce the fibre and it can be used for everything from insulation material to biocomposites – even biodegradable plastics.
[There are] about 50,000 different products that can be produced from hemp to generate income for farmers in rural areas.
Currently, an estimated 370ha have been licensed by the HPRA to grow hemp this year.
“The figures are increasing every year. Most of it is being used mainly for seed production and crushing the seed to create this omega 3,6 and 9, the healthy oil – but that is going to change in the future.
“There will be opportunities for the extraction of CBD from the seed and also from the leaf, so we are going to see other opportunities,” said Caslin.
However, he stresses that processing facilities and other infrastructures are needed to reach such ambitions – particularly on the fibre side to separate out the shivs (a renewable organic raw material), the hurds (the woody inner portion of the hemp stalk) and the dust – which produce high-value material for insulation or biocomposites.
Even the likes of BMW and all the big car manufacturers, they are already looking for hemp material to use in the panels and dashes of their cars.
“It can also be used to produce a hempcrete, where you mix lime with the shivs and you produce a hempcrete that can be used in the building and construction industry at a much lower carbon footprint than you would have using concrete,” he said.
Fletcher, who is currently contracting nine farmers in the midlands to grow hemp, points towards the global market.
“With conversations hot about circular economies, bio economies, the environment, hemp really offers an awful lot of solutions.
It’s a great plant for sequestering carbon, there are numerous end uses and there are countries all over the world coming on line pushing hemp.
“But there is an awful lot more needed in terms of Government support,” she said.
Depending on the end use and what markets are available, Fletcher said a farmer could generate from €1,500 to €4,000/ac for the top part of the plant alone.
“That’s basically just the top part of the plant – the leaf, the flower, the seed – that’s pretty good in comparison to some of the other options that are out there,” she said.
The hemp crop is set around April or May and it grows rapidly.
Caslin continues: “There is no need for any pesticides or herbicides or fungicides with the crop because it gets ahead of any weeds very, very quickly- it is a very vigorous type of crop.”
Tall varieties can grow from 12-14ft in height; while smaller varieties grow up to 6ft.
“The taller varieties are mostly associated with fibre production – it would yield anywhere from 10t to 12t of dry matter per hectare per year.
“It’s an annual crop so it’s only set once and it’s harvested around September,” said Caslin.
A combine harvester is used to harvest the seed; but for the fibre varieties different types of machinery are needed.
Caslin believes the reason farmers are reluctant to diversify into the space current is “fear of failure“.
“A lot of people don’t want to engage in a new area; but there is an awful lot of people inquiring about the option of growing hemp on a contract basis for potential processors here in Ireland.
“Farmers are looking for land-use alternatives – 16% of the land use in Ireland is controlled by 40,000 farmers that have a standard output of less than €8,000 per year. Within the Teagasc National Farm Survey about a third of those farms are not viable.
“So, there are a lot of farmers within Ireland that are genuinely looking for land-use alternatives, but supports are going to be needed to get the infrastructure in place.
“The momentum is there certainly – especially with younger farmers and people that have inherited a farm of land looking at what can they do with that land to turn a shilling for themselves and their families to stay in rural areas.
“That is the biggest challenge that we have at the moment; how do we encourage young people to stay in a rural area? This is something new and novel and this is an opportunity.
There is a global demand for various products produced from hemp; it can tick so many boxes in terms of the construction industry, and greenhouse gas abatement.
“So, with a little bit more initiative, and more supports to develop the sector, I think we will see a massive increase in this area.”
He says job creation potential is “massive”.
“There is potential for 80,000 jobs in the short term from hemp in various areas – whether that is on the fibre side or the seed side.
“The opportunities will emerge very, very quickly because the global demand is escalating at a rapid scale,” he said.
For more on hemp production and its potential in Ireland tune into FarmLand Season 3 Episode 2 below: