Growing finola hemp - 'cannabis sativa' - could
help Britain's farmers achieve fresh 'highs' - but
purely in terms of the income earned from break crops!
The crop offers excellent financial returns because the oil and fibre
it produces are in great demand. Yet it is simple and quick to grow, requiring
comparatively few inputs and is harvested conventionally by combine, says
Clifford Spencer, Chairman of The Springdale Group:
“We have excellent markets for the seed and the plant. The seeds
are crushed to produce oils for various food and neutraceutical uses,
while the seed husks are used in animal feeds. The plant's fibre
is one of the longest and strongest natural bast fibres which is used
in everything from fashion textiles to a replacement for fibre-glass,
which it outperforms on several levels”.
While it resembles the plant that produces the narcotic drug, it cannot
be used for that purpose, although the similarity presents British farmers
with a significant market, he says: “The United States' Drug
Enforcement Agency bans American farmers from growing the crop, which
gives us the opportunity to supply a huge market”.
A typical crop will produce 1.5 tonnes/hectare of seed and a similar
quantity of straw. The seed is worth £350/tonne and the straw £70/t,
producing total output of some £630/ha. Growing costs (seed, fertiliser
and sprays) account for £176/ha, leaving a gross margin - without
any subsidy or area aid - of £464/ha.
While the crop was not eligible for subsidies under the former CAP, this
is not an issue under the newly reformed Single Farm Payment system.
Hemp grows in most soils, preferring loamy types, with seed rates of
about 25kg/ha. Sowing is between mid April and mid May, and reaches maturity
in 130 days, so it can be harvested any time between mid August and mid/late
It only requires 60kgs - 100kgs/acre of nitrogen, which is normally
applied in the seedbed. Organic farmers can grow it following peas or
clover, which produce the equivalent of 60kgsN/ha. It does not respond
to phosphate and potash if soil indices for both are 2 or above.
Because it is so fast growing - reaching 1.5m tall inside 130 days
- the crop generally resists both pests and diseases well and quickly
shades out competing weeds. However, the seed is a target for vertebrate
pests, so pigeons and crows may have to be controlled and scarers used
Being a spring sown crop, it also enables farmers to leave stubbles over-winter,
which may help them accrue valuable Cross Compliance points.
“Despite being a old plant - hemp has been grown for 4,500
years - it is a crop with a real future and with real potential.
We expect many British farmers to consider growing it as they reconsider
their options, as it fits easily into existing rotations and offers real
commercial opportunities”, says Clifford.