Building a hemp industry: Duo educating farmers
LAUCHLAN Grout and Harrisson Lee broke into the industrial hemp industry when they realised there wasn't a market for it in Australia.
They started their business Hemp Farms Australia in 2013, before hemp was legalised for human consumption in Australia. Since then the human consumption of hemp has been legalised.
"We realised there wasn't anyone growing commercial scale hemp at the time. There wasn't such thing as a commodity hemp grower's industry or market,” said Lauchlan
"Our goal was to reverse the stigma involved with industrial hemp as a it was obviously too closely related to cannabis.
"Everyone thought hemp was cannabis at the time. We always new human consumption would be legalised we just didn't know when.”
The human consumption of hemp at the moment includes hemp bread, beverages, supplements, vitamins and proteins. These are all made from the seed or grain of the plant which can also be used to make essential oils and cosmetics.
The stem of the plant is used for fibre in many different products including paper, clothing, housing, and even cars.
"There was a big opportunity that we saw to not shine on its own, but to replace sub-par ingredients and components in current products,” Mr Grout said.
"Paper and plastic is one of the biggest markets I feel hemp could replace. They're one of the biggest waste issues and hemp fibre is a sustainable alternative.
"It takes 40 years to grow a pine tree. 0.2ha of hemp you can get the same amount of paper as a hectare of pine trees, and it only takes 100 days to produce.”
Mr Grout said the fibre market is the long term vision.
"We can't cope with hemp fibre in Australia at the moment because we've been brought up with cotton and cotton gins.
"Cotton gins can't take hemp fibre because they can't weave it.
"The big question is about who is going to pay for all these hemp gins to be built?”
Mr Grout said they grow commercial crops throughout Queensland and New South Wales, including a number of crops throughout the Maranoa region.
"We had to get an industrial hemp license, source land, source the right people for the job, and then learning, we were learning every step of the way,” he said.
"It all comes down to the variety, but you determine what you're planting is and what the outcome of the crop if going to be, whether is, for fibre, grain or dual purpose.
"It's a 90-110 day crop. You use conventional seeds and you irrigated and you harvest with a conventional header.
"It is technically a weed so it can almost grow in anything. It does need water and does need to be managed and maintained just like you do every other crop.”
The leaf of the crop is the part that cannot be harvested under the growing license as it contains the highest amount of THC. Industrial hemp varieties have low THC levels.
"The leaf becomes part of our organic matter cycle. Due to our growers license we can't do anything we can't do anything with it,” Mr Grout said.
"So we strip all the grain off with a conventional header.
"Then we're left with the fiber. We either winrow, and bail it or it becomes part of our organic matter as well.”
Mr Grout said the only way to build the industry is to get more people growing.
"We now offer Aussie growers opportunities to farm with us. Our goal is to educate farmers on this new commodity” he said.
"We've got growers in northern Queensland, central Queensland and northern New South Wales that are trialling our varieties and showing some success.
"We have cotton growers who are switching to hemp. We have chickpea and mungbean growers who are including hemp into their rotations.
"There are a lot less inputs per hectare to swap from cotton to hemp.
"You'd have one fifth the cost growing hemp than you would in growing cotton.
"There's considerably less water needed to grow hemp than there is to grow cotton.
"And hemp is naturally a weed, so as soon as you get some soil coverage from the plant, there is no way any other weeds are going to compete with it, because it is a weed itself.”
Mr Grout said he had no farming background before getting into the commercial hemp industry.
"I really just decided to get into an emerging market. I had a dream that I didn't want to spend my life building someone else's dream, when I had a dream of building industrial hemp industry in Australia and promoting the benefits,” he said.
"It was kind of just stepping out into the dark and hoping someone turned the light on.
"And if no one turned the light on we'd turn it on ourselves.”
Mr Grout has also started Australia's first hemp pet food product called Therabis.
"We're Australia's first approved hemp pet food supplement product,” he said.
"It's just for dogs at the moment but our core formula targets 75 per cent of all ailments with cats and dogs.
"We use Australian hemp and NZ green lipped mussel. We combine hemp protein from the grain.
"The idea with that was to create a natural and organic options for people's pets.”