A NEW research project being led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) will examine the potential for hemp as a feed source for sheep.
The project is being backed by the State government and run in collaboration with ChemCentre WA and Charles Sturt University, with the idea of the research project being to test the nutritional value of hemp as a summer grazing option.
The research aims to enhance understanding of the potential transfer of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to meat products, to determine if hemp can be safely used as a feed source for food producing animals.
Meat products supplied for human consumption in WA are not permitted to contain detectable levels of THC, with similar restrictions affecting the use of hemp as a feed across Australia and some other countries.
DPIRD director of livestock research and innovation Bruce Mullan said there was always going to be residue leftover from a hemp crop, so it's logical for livestock sheep and possibly cattle to use up that material.
"The research will look at the nutritional value as there is not a lot known about that based on our reviews," Dr Mullan said.
"We have to look into whether or not the THC, which is the compound of most interest, gets stored in meat as that's the main point of concern for us.
"We also have to ask if it does get stored, what is the excretion rate and what is the concentration in the diet that would be sufficient to cause what is stored to be of concern."
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the hemp industry was growing fast in WA, with hemp licences doubling over the past two years.
"There are more than 70 commercial crops and seven hemp research plot trials this season, using 22 hemp varieties," Ms MacTiernan said.
"Research, such as the new livestock trials, is vital to help fill information gaps and give growers, processors and innovators the knowledge to take this industry to the next level."
As part of the trial, a small WA feed mill will make diets with varying concentrations of hemp in them.
Those diets will be sent to the Eastern States and used by Charles Sturt University which has the laboratory facilities suitable for holding individual sheep.
Dr Mullan said the feeding work would begin around mid-year, with preliminary results expected by Christmas.
"There will likely be some approvals we need to go through and we may need to do some supplementary trials to validate the results, so it could still be a few years off," Dr Mullan said.
"One experiment is not going to get us all the answers we need as it's a crop we haven't dealt with before for livestock."