Mara Seeds general manager and Soya Bean farmer, Stuart Larsson, of Mallanganee, looks over his crops, uncertain of this year crop after recent rains . Photo Jerad Williams / The Northern Star
Mara Seeds general manager and Soya Bean farmer, Stuart Larsson, of Mallanganee, looks over his crops, uncertain of this year crop after recent rains . Photo Jerad Williams / The Northern Star Jerad Williams

For food... not fibre

LISMORE hemp advocate Andrew Kavasilas has been growing hemp in trial blocks since 1999, first on the Liverpool Plains and lately on the upper Clarence.

And he is working towards the creation of a farming system in which hemp grown for its oil-rich seed can fit into rotation with soy and wheat.

"We are working on developing varieties of hemp that suit existing machinery, headers and seed planters," Mr Kavasilas said.

Unlike hemp grown for fibre, which is hard on gear, hemp grown for feed is smaller in stature, about 1.2m tall, and can be harvested like soy.

With a 90-day turnaround and low inputs, and a global market worth more than a billion dollars - $500m to Canada alone - the future prospects for hemp as a food crop are good indeed.

While the plants require nitrogen and some phosphorous, their demands are not great, although their roots don't do well in heavy clay soil and the plants fail in waterlogged conditions.

Neither do they like it too dry, although a friable soil works best.

And when it comes to pests there are plenty - bugs, rodents, even cockatoos.

"If the cockies find your crop you've got 24 hours," Mr Kavasilas said.

However these setbacks are common to many food crops.

The difference with hemp is that it has massive market potential because the oil produced from the hemp seed has a beautiful balance of omega 3, 6 and 9.

The oil lends itself nicely as a milk substitute, like soy, and the by-product left over after oil extraction is an excellent animal feed.

Stuart Larsson, who is growing Mr Kavasilas's trial plots near Mallanganee, said the key to keeping insect pests at bay was to keep plant and soil nutrition at optimum levels.

"Insects only attack when the plant's starch levels are too low," he said.

"If you have exhausted the major elements in the soil you need to put them back."

Mr Kavasilas has spent years lobbying government to give hemp farming the go-ahead, and in 2008 there was a partial win with NSW supporting the Hemp Act, which allows its cultivation for fibre but not for food, because THC levels even below 1% may interfere with police roadside saliva testing.

"In Australia you can grow it but you can't eat it," he said.



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