There’s a lot of research going on around Australia to discover new hemp varieties which are best suited to our climate, soils and latitudes. We’re still learning how to grow the best yielding crops from a plant which is largely undomesticated.
Comparing New Hemp Varieties
The Industrial Hemp Variety Trials (IHVT) are a number of farming trial sites spread from Tasmania to the Kimberley. Typically 6 different hemp varieties are grown side-by-side, sometimes with different planting dates to see how they perform. Results are measured for hemp fibre and seed yields, but also seed quality in terms of food processing. These trials are important because a hemp variety growing well in South Australia may not do so well in Queensland. This is due to climate variations, but also latitude and day-length. Hemp varieties are being sourced from France, Canada, China, Poland and other countries.
Hemp Needs to Catch Up.
Growing a hemp crop is easy, but to grow hemp with a good yield comes down to knowledge and experience. They say it takes anyone three hemp seasons to grow a good crop, and there’s some truth in that. If you look after hemp it will look after you, and if you neglect it hemp will disappoint you. It’s all about giving it good soil preparation, good fertility, the right moisture levels and planting at the right time.
Hemp variety development over the last 50 years has been stagnant. Remember that commercial hemp production has not happened since the early 1970’s when it was effectively outlawed worldwide. Other mainstream crops such as wheat, barley, corn, cotton and canola have seen constant improvement with economic pressures, while hemp has been waiting in the wings. In Australia there’s been progress over the last 10 years but we’ve got a long way to go. The Industrial Hemp Variety Trials are an important step towards regaining lost time.
Hemp is a Wild Plant.
If you walk through a good hemp crop, you will see lots of variation. Tall plants, short plants, plants with lots of seed, plants with none. Compare this to a wheat crop where every plant is identical. Hemp can be difficult to harvest when the plants are so different, and it also reduces yield potential. As we gradually tame the wild side of hemp with more trials, research and development it will start to catch up with it’s advanced crop cousins.
Hemp and GMO’s
This is a touchy but important subject. I’m glad to say that all hemp grown in Australia is GMO free, and I’m quite sure it will stay that way. I personally don’t know of any GMO hemp being grown worldwide. Firstly, hemp is a health food so GMO hemp won’t get any traction in the marketplace. Secondly, hemp requires very little (if any) herbicide to grow successfully, so why make hemp immune to certain herbicides by genetically modifying it? Thirdly, hemp is a long way from being a mainstream crop, so its off the radar of the multinational chemical giants. And finally, the world’s population is becoming more conscious of the harm caused by ag chemicals to people and the environment. Hemp is genetically adept to be a clean and sustainable food and fibre source already, without modification.
Good Country Hemp Crops.
We have passed our three year learning phase, and yes, our third year hemp crop was a huge success. Now on our fourth year we’re still learning how to grow hemp. This won’t change. To date we have commercially trialed six varieties of hemp from France, Canada and Australia. Better hemp is becoming available to Australian farmers every season, mainly from overseas. Importing hemp seed has it’s challenges, even without Covid. Quarantine regulations exist but also draconian laws regarding narcotics, even though industrial hemp cannot be considered to be a drug . I guess the hemp industry is moving faster than the old laws are changing.