Webinar examines potential of hemp for UK farmers

Sector Lead Martin Squire attended Agri-TechE’s From Farmer to Pharma webinar in May where the potential for hemp to become a viable part of an arable rotation was presented.

With more than £300m being spent by UK consumers on CBD (Cannabidiol) products in 2019 and with projected sales expected to grow to £1bn in 2024 industrial hemp Cannabis sativa is attracting attention from farmers looking for an alternative break crop to replace oilseed rape. However, CBD production is just one of the many uses for industrial hemp. The potential of this versatile crop was discussed at the Agri-TechE conference ‘From Farmer to Pharma – and Beyond‘ on 12th May in partnership with Hanway Associates.

UK farmers are beginning to include hemp in their rotation as a carbon neutral alternative to oilseed rape, but access to trialling this ‘wonder crop’ is not easy and only around 800 hectares of hemp are currently being farmed in the UK.

The barriers to entry for farmers and growers include the need for a licence to grow the crop and the associated restrictions on planting. The shortage of specialist equipment, particularly for harvesting and processing, also points to the need for equipment sharing co-operatives to aid progress.

The UK government is being lobbied with a request for 1% THC (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) to be allowed in farmed hemp and an approved national list of cultivars, but this will require reform of the current legislation concerning hemp cultivation. Meanwhile in Europe the EU parliament is being lobbied to move to allow farming of hemp with up to 0.3% THC (currently 0.2%) while still qualifying for the Direct Payments scheme.

Hemp has potential to replace some of the lost UK Oil Seed Rape area at a neutral or even negative cost in carbon emissions, and the route to market has more opportunities than CBD products alone. Fibre production for textiles, paper and building materials are potential opportunities for this versatile crop, but much depends on legislation.

If you are interested in working with CHAP to explore crop diversification, please email us using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.