Future of hemp industry looks hazy

30 Nov, 2005 08:45 PM
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WA farmers could lose the benefits of a billion-dollar hemp industry because of bureaucratic red tape.

Despite parliamentary approval of the Industrial Hemp Act in March last year, a company planning to open hemp fibre paper mills in WA cannot secure an industrial hemp licence.

Hemp Resources director Kim Hough said the company was tiring of the licence process and considering moving operations to the eastern states.

He said WA was being denied an enormous agricultural opportunity despite the company's expertise, available technology and first-class management.

"This could be such a lucrative and environmentally friendly opportunity for WA's broadacre farmers," Mr Hough said.

"Hemp crops are natural, can assist with salinity and improve soil condition.

"We would love to take on the old Darkan tannery site for our mill and plantations so we could use the crops to clean up the soil.

"As a legume, hemp has properties that absorb contaminants and heavy metals from soil; it is safe because the end product (paper) is not being consumed.

"Hemp can be used in the cropping rotation in paddocks that previously had to be rested.

"We have statistics showing cereal crops will yield 15pc more when grown in a paddock where hemp was cropped previously."

Mr Hough said rural areas needed cottage industries like hemp to help their communities survive.

"But every time we get close to doing something the goal posts get shifted," he said.

"We are negotiating projects at 15 other sites over the globe which is an indication of the respect our company has elsewhere."

Mr Hough said Agriculture Department hemp registrar Mark Holland had written to him, stating he had received advice that Mr Hough's minor, cannabis-related convictions made him an unsuitable applicant for a licence.

Mr Hough said the decision makers should be focused on the benefits of the hemp projects to farmers and the state, rather than minor cannabis matters dealt with years ago.

Narembeen mixed grains grower Colin Steddy said the agronomic benefits of hemp were outstanding.

"We have all the experts like Rolf Derpsch telling us to keep the soil covered and with hemp we can," Mr Steddy said.

"Hemp can be used as a break crop in the rotation, it doesn't need chemicals and it grows so quick it out-competes everything.

"Being a legume it creates and more importantly leaves a huge amount of biomass in the soil.

"And the paper quality of hemp fibre paper is superior to that of woodchip paper."

Mr Steddy said hemp was a golden opportunity for WA farmers and industry.

Mr Holland said he was unable to comment on Hemp Resources' application because it was still under consideration.

But Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said the State Government would support the development of a viable industrial hemp industry in WA.

"The hemp licence process is robust and rigorous," Mr Chance said.

"In this particular case I understand the registrar is awaiting a report from police on the applicants, as is permitted under the Act.

"I also understand the registrar has asked for more information from the applicants regarding the means available to undertake the business, before he makes a decision."

Mr Hough said he had been asked for more information. But he said Hemp Resources' private intellectual property was not necessary for the registrar to make a decision.

An Agriculture Department spokesperson said the information the registrar had requested related to the company's financial capabilities to carry out their projects.

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