More awareness of hemp foods and their nutritional value are needed to help South Australia’s budding industry blossom, growers and processors say.

Key points:

  • Hemp producers say the industry needs support to develop markets
  • SA has issued 19 cultivation licences and two processing licences for industrial hemp
  • An ecovillage builder says demand for hempcrete as a building material is rising

Farmers across the state are expecting to their biggest yield yet after the cultivation of the crop was legalised in 2017.

But some doubt the the state government’s prediction that the industry’s farm gate value would reach $3 million within five years without more support for market development and consumer education.

“We need more awareness about the actual product itself, whether it be hemp oil, hemp flour, the hemp seed, on a consumer level,” south-east grower Steven Moulton said.

“Just to be able to build the industry, we need to get it in shopping bags in Australia, basically.

A man standing under an irrigator in a hemp paddock.

Steven Moulton says there was little knowledge about growing hemp to begin with.(Supplied: Steven Moulton)

‘Limited market’

Hemp foods sold in Australia contain no or very low levels of THC (the psychoactive substance found in marijuana) and their nutritional values are well documented.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand notes hemp seeds contain protein, vitamins, minerals and polyunsaturated fatty acids including Omega-3 fatty acids, but do not have the therapeutic effects of other cannabis extracts.

Seed processor Mick Anderson turns the farmed product into a variety of edible products, including cold-pressed hemp seed oil, hulled hemp seed, protein powder and hemp flour.

The problem, he said, was getting people to buy them.

“We have a limited market at this stage,” Mr Anderson said.

A pair of hands throwing hemp seeds up in the air.

Hemp seed is turned into various edible products, including hemp flour, hemp milk and hemp protein powder.(Supplied: Good Country Hemp)

Mr Anderson said much had been learned over the past three years.

“When we started out we had to go to farmers and ask if they were willing to grow the crop — no one knew anything about it,” he said.

“Farmers are naturally quite conservative, so they wanted to see how the neighbours was going first before they committed.

“We had quite a big task to sell it to them.

A hand in a hemp crop.

Most farmers in Australia grow industrial hemp for the seed.(Supplied: Good Country Hemp)

Slow but steady

The industry has grown from 10 cultivation licenses and two processing licenses issued in 2018 to 19 cultivation licenses in 2020/21.

Mark Skewes from the South Australian Research and Development Institute said some farmers were reluctant to grow hemp because it was new to the the state and it came with its own challenges.

“It’s different to the crops that people have been growing,” he said.

“It’s not a legume, it’s not a vegetable, it’s not a cereal — its something different and it does have its own little quirks.”

Various hemp products.

Industrial hemp can be processed and used in a range of products.(ABC News: Loukas Founten)

But for early adopters like Mr Moulten the leap of faith has paid off.

“It’s an ongoing learning process, starting off not knowing a thing about growing industrial hemp,” he said.

“But we aren’t afraid to give things a go and at this stage it is looking pretty positive.

A man reaches into a large bucket filled with a mixture of chipped hemp bark.

Hempcrete is a mixture of hemp hurds, lime and water.(Laurissa Smith)

Looking ahead

Ecovillage builder Graeme Parsons said interest in hempcrete – noted for its insulative and fire-proof properties, was growing rapidly.

But availability was an issue, he said, because the product still had to be imported into the country.

He believed interest in the was growing because of hempcrete’s insulation and fire-proof properties.

Hempcrete is made from the inner part of the hemp stalk, the hurd, mixed with lime and water and resembles mortar once it’s dry.

A grey-haired man  in a red shirt with grey hair sitting on a chair.

Graeme Parsons says hemp used as a building material is becoming more popular in Australia.(ABC News)

Mr Parsons said there was little knowledge about how to work with the product, though a handful of dwellings had been built with the material in Australia.

“It is very much a new building material with respect to Australia, although it has been used in Europe – in particular France and England – for the last 30 or 40 years,” he said.

A man holds a blowtorch flame to a panel of building material.

Hempcrete is known for its non-combustible properties.(ABC News: Tim Lee)

SA seed breeders, however, have focused on maximising crops for food production.

Those plants don not easily transfer to also producing industrial hemp for building materials.

“In theory it would be possible,” Mr parsons said.

“So you look for low, multi-branching varieties that would make it easier to the harvest the seeds with fairly conventional equipment.”

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