Industrial hemp industry

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Extract from Hansard — Tuesday, 18 September 2018



HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [10.00 pm]: Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to go to the iHemposium in Bunbury for the industrial hemp industry. There was maximum capacity for 120 people and it was a sellout. Unfortunately, no other members of Parliament were there, but it was a very good day.

It was exciting to see the number of people interested in this fledgling industry. It was put on by iHemp Australia and iHemp WA, which is the industrial hemp group. HempGro, the growers group, was also there. It was founded earlier this year. This group looks at the agronomy and seed development. It was formed to address the need for more information, more infrastructure development and more investment in the industry and, basically, industry-wide collaboration.

We passed legislation not all that long ago that allows hemp seed to contain up to one per cent tetrahydrocannabinol and the hemp industry has been delighted with that change. It has made it much easier for people in the industry to grow the seed and the plants, which they can then sell to the food industry.

It is interesting to note that only 68 hectares were grown last year. HempGro members were surveyed—so far, only 28 of the 70 or so hemp growers in WA are members of HempGro, but that will grow—and already they are planning to plant 160 hectares next year.

It is an industry that we will see expand quite significantly over the next few years. We should be aware of it and be ready for it.

Many of HempGro’s members are aiming to plant 100 hectares in the not-too-distant future. What growers are looking for from government is support for the industry and assurance that we invest in the research that needs to be done so that we can find out what we can best use the plant for.

They also want to avoid onerous regulations if possible. Currently, they have to jump through significant registration hoops and hurdles. I and the growers understand the reason for that, but they would like them not to be unnecessarily restrictive. Government could try assisting start-ups in not only the growing industry but also the processing and marketing of the different products, and encouraging co-investment.

I should comment that Cannabis sativa hemp — the plant we are talking about—has many different cultivars. One of those we know of is marijuana with THC, the psychoactive component. THC also has some medicinal properties, but that is not what we are talking about today.

We are looking at the cannabidiol—CBD—in the cannabis that we know as hemp. The health benefits of that are quite significant. The group talked about a number of these. Cannabidiol is not psychoactive but it is anti-seizure and anti-inflammatory; it reduces anxiety, relieves insomnia and relieves pain.

There are also terpenes in the seed. Terpenes are organic compounds that are found in plants and they often have a strong odour. The terpenes provide anti-depressant and anti-cancer properties, elevate mood, relieve stress and can be anti-fungal and antibacterial. It is a fledgling industry.

For 50 years there has been no research in this area. We should be looking to see what sort of research other countries are doing and find out what other uses there are for this plant, because, as I said, the plant has many cultivars. A grower can grow the one that is necessary for the desired effect, whether it is being grown for the bast and the hurd fibre or for seed for food.

I should mention that a Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development officer was at the event. I was really pleased to see him there. He was interested and he was there to support the industry and to take an interest in what is happening because this is part of our future and we should support the industry.

As I said, there are many different cultivars. They all like sunlight, and in Australia there is plenty of sunlight—that is a definite tick. They also like water. We do not have so much of that, but it is interesting to note that it is being grown in dryland plantings. We are producing 12 tonnes per hectare in the dryland areas, which is comparable with what happens in other countries. With irrigation, up to 22 tonnes per hectare can be produced. That would be an excellent outcome.

As I said, we do not have a lot of information on this and we are slowly developing it; we have a lot of time to make up for all the time we have not been growing it. We need to find out what are its responses to rain and its effects on the growth of plants around it. One farmer at the symposium said that he has planted it in between rows of avocado trees to see its effect. It immediately knocked out all the kikuyu grass, so the kikuyu is not competing with the avocado trees.

A lot of interesting things are happening with this plant. When we were debating the legislation, I think we talked about all the industrial uses of hemp. A prefeasibility study has just been completed showing some of the things that we need to look into. Stripping the bast from the hurd is quite an intense process, but it needs to be done so that we can use it in products such as clothing, housing materials and things like that. We should keep an eye on what other countries are doing.

Most people are deciding whether to grow one or the other for either fibre or food, but some can be grown for both to get double the production from it. An interesting thing I noted is that because we are so far behind and importing seed from France at the moment, we need to develop the seed that is specific for our conditions here.

About one-third of the seed that is grown in WA will be just seed for planting. In addition, extra businesses will be created such as in machinery supplies for harvesting, planting, processing and packaging, as well as in transport and retail. All sorts of businesses will flow from this industry.

I heard also that the hurd can be used to make railway sleepers, which might solve the question of whether we use jarrah or concrete for sleepers because maybe we can use just hemp. So many different things are being done and the structural capacity of the railway sleepers will be tested by the end of this year.

I find the seeds are the important part because of the benefits they can provide for our health. I have tried hemp in pork sausages and in beef sausages and roasted as a food seasoning or made into dukkah. We can make wheat-free bread because we can make bread out of hemp.

The one thing I want to talk about is hemp milk because tomorrow at afternoon tea, I will offer it to everyone to taste to see what people think of it. It is dairy free and nut free and it is delicious.

Members might want to try to get used to it because of all the health benefits they will get from it.

Hemp milk contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, as well as all 10 essential amino acids, and 250 millilitres has 46 per cent of the recommended calcium intake. There is no cholesterol but four grams of digestible protein in that 250-millilitre glass. It also contains potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin D, magnesium, iron and zinc. It has everything; people will not need to take supplements any more. I hope that tomorrow members will join me in trying some of the hemp milk.

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