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Stackyard News Apr 05
       

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    Hemp to help farmers hit new highs!
01/04/05

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 September.

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 as necessary.

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.

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