Bringing the application deadline for industrial hemp licenses forward by just a few weeks could encourage more farmers to grow this so-called ‘super crop’ in Scotland, say industry experts.
Hemp has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 140 per cent and 540 per cent compared to oilseed rape and sugar beet respectively when grown for biofuel. It smothers weeds, doesn’t suffer many diseases, and its oil might even have the potential to fight cancer.
A new podcast by Scotland’s Rural College’s Rural Policy Centre, looks at why so few farmers are currently growing hemp in Scotland.
In ‘Hemp: the super crop’, three experts highlight the environmental benefits and practicalities of growing hemp, the legislative hurdles growers need to overcome, and the potential pitfalls involved – everything from a lack of infrastructure to hesitant consumers and a complex legislative process which isn’t quite fit-for-purpose.
Mark Bowsher-Gibbs, Principal Consultant at SAC Consulting – part of SRUC, says: “There is a Home Office licensing requirement to enable farmers to grow industrial hemp in the UK.
“It comes under the control drugs licensing requirements and the timescales in place slightly conflict with farmers’ requirements to plant in late spring, early summer.
“Applications have to be made by February for approval to go forward to an application stage for a licence, and those are usually considered throughout March and April. There have been some instances where the licence hasn’t been issued in time for the crop to be planted.
“It would be good to bring that forward prior to Christmas so we can get these licensing certificates in place.”
The podcast also features SRUC alumna Anna Mitchell, of Castleton Farm, who grows hemp and sells hemp oil products from her farm shop in Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire, and Professor Vijay Kumar Thakur, who heads up SRUC’s Biorefining and Advanced Materials Research Centre.
Anna says: “The legislation is complicated, so that’s obviously a barrier to people starting to grow the crop. At the moment, there’s definitely a bit of a niche market for the products we’re able to produce from it. We need to get the products more mainstream so people can see there is going to be a market for their crops.
“There is a huge potential for this crop in Scotland. It has got great health and environmental benefits and we’re just at the start of a very long journey to get a market established for these products.”
Professor Thakur is building a network of hemp growers and other stakeholders in Scotland in order to maximise the benefits of hemp.
He says: “People have been growing hemp for thousands of years, mainly using the hemp fibre for rope, textile and paper but the seeds are also very important, and if it is to be commercially viable then we need to explore each and every component of hemp.
“The oil, which is extracted from the seeds, can have huge medicinal value. It can be used for biomedical applications and it has some promising biotic molecules that even have potential application in the cancer field. So, hemp truly is a super crop and has huge potential in a number of fields of research.
“With the current challenges we are facing in terms of material resources, pollution and growing of crops, there is an urgent need for more realistic bio-based alternatives.”