Imported & Australian Grown Hemp
What is Hemp?
Let’s get one thing straight: hemp is not marijuana. Marijuana is not hemp. The modern scientific name for marijuana is Cannabis. They each have their own separate uses and benefits.
One of the first differences of how you should distinguish between hemp and cannabis (marijuana) is the fact that cannabis is used for recreational or medicinal purposes for psychoactive (“high”) or non-psychoactive effects and benefits depending on the cannabinoid content. However, with hemp, you can’t get “high” from it at all. Instead, hemp has been known for its nutrition, industrial and environmental uses and benefits throughout history.
Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops known to man. It has been used for paper, textiles, and cordage for thousands of years. In fact, the Columbia History of the World states that the oldest relic of human industry is a scrap of hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 BC. So what exactly is hemp and how is it different from the psychoactive form of cannabis that is consumed medicinally and recreationally? Let’s dive into some Hemp 101 in this section so you can better understand this versatile material and why we are involved with it in Australia.
Put simply, there are many different varieties of the cannabis plant. Hemp — also called industrial hemp — refers to the non-psychoactive (less than 1% THC) varieties of Cannabis sativa L. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, but are genetically distinct and are further distinguished by use, chemical makeup, and cultivation methods.
What can Hemp do?
Hemp can be grown as a renewable source for raw materials that can be incorporated into thousands of products. Its seeds and flowers are used in health foods, organic body care, and other nutraceuticals. The fibres and stalks are used in hemp clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuel, plastic composites, and more.
Last year, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated the total retail value of all hemp products sold in the U.S. at $620 million. Sadly, all of the raw hemp materials were imported from other countries, similar to Australia. Hemp is an attractive rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil providing valuable nutrients for ongoing crops of any time. Hemp requires much less water to grow — and no pesticides — so it is much more environmentally friendly than traditional crops.
Hemp can do a lot, but it can’t get users “high” because hemp varieties contain virtually zero tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which the body processes faster than it can be inhaled via smoke. Trying to use hemp to obtain any kind of “high” will only put the user in bed with a migraine!
Hemp is one of the strongest, most durable, natural soft-fibers on this planet. Because of this, hemp has a wide variety of uses. Hemp can be used for paper, fuel, oils, medicine, clothing, housing, plastic, rope, and importantly for Australia, food. In fact, many of these uses of hemp have been practiced throughout our history for over thousands of years. Because the history of cannabis is an extremely lengthy one, it is not necessary to list every piece of hemp’s usage throughout our history. However, an interesting fact for this document is that hemp was even considered legal tender (money), as people were able to pay their taxes with hemp for over 200 years in America. Hemp was so valuable that farmers were sometimes fined or even jailed for not growing hemp and cannabis in both America and England. Unfortunately, it is a completely different story today. Having said that Hop2it has developed a non cash payment system based on “food banking” to underwrite the value of its “trade exchange” (crypto-currency). Hemp and cannabis are a part of that project in China, US and soon Australia.
Hemp Industrial Use and Specifications
- On an annual basis, 1 acre of hemp will produce as much fibre as 2 to 3 acres of cotton. Hemp fibre is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long as cotton, and will not mildew.
- The quality of hemp paper is superior to tree-based paper. Hemp paper will last hundreds of years without degrading, can be recycled many more times than tree-based paper, and requires less toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process than does paper made from trees.
- Hemp can be used to produce fibreboard that is stronger and lighter than wood. Substituting hemp fibreboard for timber would further reduce the need to cut down our forests.
- Hemp can be used to produce strong, durable and environmentally-friendly plastic substitutes. Thousands of products made from petroleum-based plastics can be produced from hemp-based composites.
- It takes years for trees to grow until they can be harvested for paper or wood, but hemp is ready for harvesting only 120 days after it is planted. Hemp can grow on most land suitable for farming, while forests and tree farms require large tracts of land available in few locations. Harvesting hemp rather than trees would also eliminate erosion due to logging, thereby reducing topsoil loss and water pollution caused by soil runoff.
- Hemp seeds contain a protein that is more nutritious and more economical to produce than soybean protein. Hemp seeds are not intoxicating. Hemp seed protein can be used to produce virtually any product made from soybean: tofu, veggie burgers, butter, cheese, salad oils, ice cream, milk, etc. Hemp seed can also be ground into a nutritious flour that can be used to produce baked goods such as pasta, cookies, and breads.
- Hemp seed oil can be used to produce non-toxic diesel fuel, paint, varnish, detergent, ink and lubricating oil. Because hemp seeds account for up to half the weight of a mature hemp plant, hemp seed is a viable source for these products.
- Just as corn can be converted into clean-burning ethanol fuel, so can hemp. Because hemp produces more biomass than any plant species (including corn) that can be grown in a wide range of climates and locations, hemp has great potential to become a major source of ethanol fuel.
Some estimate that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products in nine sub-markets:
- food/nutrition/ beverages;
- construction materials; and
- personal care.
For construction materials, such as hempcrete (a mixture of hemp hurds and lime products), hemp is used as a lightweight insulating material. Hemp has also been promoted as a potential biodiesel feedstock, although some suggest that competing demands for other products might make it too costly to use as a feedstock.
These types of commercial uses are widely documented in a range of feasibility and marketing studies conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and various land grant universities and state agencies. Australia has entered this market and has started issuing permits via the Department of Agriculture for the cultivation of hemp for industrial use and only recently, food, which can be grown in Queensland and other States.
Industrial Hemp produces one of the most, if not the most industrially versatile and durable fibre known to humans. One hectare of Industrial Hemp grown for fibre, produces between 10 – 15 tonnes of biomass in a growth cycle of three to four months.
Industrial Hemp is bred from certified low THC varieties of hemp which have grown for thousands of years throughout Europe and Asia. Its closest botanical relative is hops. While hemp food crops have only recently been approved for human consumption in Australia, in most Australian states (with the exception of South Australian and the Northern Territory) licensed farmers can grow registered fibre varieties for seed, industrial use and now food.
While Industrial Hemp needs a well prepared seed bed and adequate subsoil moisture, or irrigation for the first 6 weeks and produces optimal yields when it is irrigated, hemp fibre crops can be grown with less water than Lucerne and produce a huge biomass. It is a very hardy crop and was identified early in the establishment of the colony as a suitable crop for Australian farmers.
When planted at appropriate densities for fibre production (between 40 – 65 Kg seed per ha dependent on the variety), Hemp does not require the use of herbicides as the fast forming canopy excludes sunlight allowing the crop to outcompete emerging weeds.