Published: 3 Aug 2020
Industrial hemp is presenting new opportunities for Tasmanian farmers due to growing consumer demand for nutritious hemp seed – and research by a University of Tasmania honours student is helping the industry prosper.
Tasmania currently produces over two thirds of Australia’s industrial hemp seed and many in the industry are eager for new research to help streamline production and support the sector’s sustainable and profitable growth.
Fourth year University of Tasmania student, Hannah Cummins, is investigating the use of growth regulators on industrial hemp seed crops as part of her Bachelor of Agricultural Science Honours project.
“Industrial hemp is a relatively new industry and has gained momentum over the last couple of years. It’s seen as a health food, so if that took off there could be potential for the industry to grow more in Tasmania and other states,” Miss Cummins said.
Industrial hemp fibre is usually sourced for its durability, however in Tasmania most industrial hemp is grown for seed, making the unwanted fibre a bi product which Miss Cummins says causes issues during and after harvest.
“Industrial hemp can grow really tall and ropey, so there is a lot of waste that can also cause damage to the machinery at harvest time as it wraps around everything. If we can shorten the plant, we will have less of the fibrous stem bi product left afterwards,” she said.
Miss Cummins’ project supervisor at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), Sue Hinton said the project was developed in collaboration with industry.
“Hannah’s project was developed with the industrial hemp industry who are supportive of the work she is doing. Hannah consulted with the Tasmanian Industrial Hemp Association and Southern Farming Systems at the start of the project,” Ms Hinton said.
“The timing of Hannah’s project is important as there is an increased demand for industrial hemp seed as places are now able to use the industrial hemp seed for food products. It’s also starting to get a bit more favour with growers as they’re solving some of the challenges with growing the crop, meaning the returns are becoming a little bit more reliable.”
President of the Tasmanian Industrial Hemp Association, Tim Schmidt, says there is a desperate need for industrial hemp research in Tasmania to help improve crop viability for growers.
“There is so much untapped potential in this crop, particularly in Tasmania. Hannah’s work on the growth regulators is answering one of the many questions in relation to the industrial hemp plant growth and management in Tasmania,” Mr Schmidt said.
“The residue that remains in the paddocks is a concern for growers as there’s a cost associated with removing it. It is also quite difficult to work with and can be destructive on machinery.
“The other aspect of the growth regulator is that it creates a consistency in the crop height, which is also important to get a better collection of the seed. It also means there is less seed waste and more efficiency when harvesting.”
According to Mr Schmidt, Tasmania’s temperate climate offers the perfect growing environment to produce premium industrial hemp seed for domestic and export markets.
“Tasmania consistently produces a top-quality industrial hemp product because we don’t get the extreme conditions that can challenge production on the mainland,” he said.
“Through the Association supporting research with TIA, we are presenting a profile to the growers of industry development and are making steps towards new learnings that will create a great foundation for future growth in the industry.”
Miss Cummins’ Honours project is supported by TP Jones (Nutrien Ag Solutions), Tasmanian Industrial Hemp Association, Southern Farming Systems and the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. Midlands Seed also contributed to the project.
TIA is a joint venture between the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.