Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Hemp firm eyes Geelong for major expansion of growing industry
By Shane Fowles
D-DAY for the future of Australia’s edible hemp industry looms next week, with rising confidence that it will finally get approval.
One company is already preparing for hemp to explode, and has begun investing in a first-of-its-kind processing facility and ‘hemp hub’ in Geelong.
SHANE FOWLES reports.
HEMP has legally been allowed to grow in Victoria for almost 20 years.
But a lack of political will to relax medical and consumption laws has provided two decades of false dawns and frustrating knock-backs to those in the fledgling industry.
There are barely a dozen registered growers, including several in the state’s south-west, sowing a combined area less than 400 hectares.
By any comparison, they are minnows on the global scale.
Canada effectively began growing at the same time, and its 40,000ha were a $100 million operation in 2015.
Revenues are expected to top $10 billion in the US by 2019, while China is the world’s largest producer and exporter.
However, there is widespread optimism about the potential for a legal change this month to trigger a revolution in the Victorian industry.
Federal and state health ministers will meet on April 28, where they will consider lifting a national ban on the sale of the seed or any part of the hemp plant as food.
“The general consensus is that it will be passed,” Australian Primary Hemp’s sales director Skye Patterson said.
“It’s inevitable that (the industry) is going to explode, like it has on every other continent globally.”
The Derrinallum-based firm was founded last year by four Western District farmers, who have all accessed education in Geelong.
They have developed their own Australian hemp products and are now in the process of harvesting their first hemp seed crop.
Growing the hemp proved to be the easy part.
“We encountered real issues in terms of finding a source to have our grain processed here in Victoria, ready for sale to the consumer,” Miss Patterson said.
The harvest will be sent to a Victorian pressing facility, where the hemp oil will be cold pressed. The pressing by-product will then be processed at a mill in Melbourne, to create the powder that serves as a high-fibre protein supplement.
Neither of the sites are set up to specifically process hemp, which has put the Derrinallum quartet on the path to constructing their own processing facilities in Geelong.
“What we aim to become is a kind of hemp hub — the ‘go to’ for growers and retailers alike,” Miss Patterson said.
The company has had its own hemp seed dehulling machines specifically designed and built in Switzerland, which are due to arrive in July.
“We are looking at a facility that will create jobs ... we want to support local business and local farmers,” she said.
With a licence to triple its growing capacity, Australian Primary Hemp is also in talks with other Western District farmers to host crops and meet the anticipated market demand.
The company was among 50 attendees to an industry forum held in Geelong in February, which was aimed at encouraging the growth of the hemp industry locally in Geelong.
Organised by Regional Development Victoria, the forum found that the state had the climate, production, processing and research capability to realise the expected growth in the industry.
CSIRO Manufacturing project leader Stuart Gordon said Geelong had the potential to be the state’s lead production and processing city.
“There is a large engineering capacity in Geelong to support that industry,” Dr Gordon said, while referencing its proximity to existing growers, necessary logistics and research expertise.
Agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand has backed allowing hemp to be sold as food.
That proposal will be considered by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which next meets on April 28.
Hemp Foods Australia, which has been operational since 1999, expects the proposal to be approved and for hemp to be sold as food in Australia by November.
“We expect full production for the Australian food industry to begin in 2017,” CEO Paul Benhaim said, while stating that some sections of the industry remain doubtful.
“COAG has denied similar proposals in the past despite logical advice. However, this time there is more research as to the difference between hemp and (marijuana).”
WHAT IS HEMP?
— Industrial hemp is a cannabis plant species.
— Hemp seeds and oil are used widely in other countries, including the USA, Canada, China and across Europe.
— Hemp seeds contain protein, vitamins, minerals and polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids.
— Hemp contains either no or minute levels of THC, the cannabinoid associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana.
— Hemp is currently used in Australia and New Zealand as a source of fibre for clothing and building products.