“I see hemp as a crop with a great future – with multiple uses in a market that needs developing,” explains John Barrett, Director of Sentry Limited, and speaker at the Agri-TechE event “From Farmer to Pharma”.
Hemp fibres offer alternative in rotation
John recently begun cultivating Cannabis sativa for hemp fibres. Having begun with a 20-hectare plot, he plans to plant a further 200 hectares next year.
“We have been looking for an alternative in order to widen our rotation away from traditional crops,” John explains. “I see hemp as a light land crop, however we are planning on trying some on heavier soils this year. It has great rooting properties which means it has resilience, but does not like compaction.”
Hemp is a distinct strain of Cannabis sativa that is grown specifically for industrial use including biodegradable plastics, textiles and biofuel. Although the same species as plants grown for cannabis, hemp has lower concentrations of the psychoactive component THC which is a controlled substance. It also has potentially higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD) used as a treatment for epilepsy and other conditions. This has created a legal ambiguity for the crop.
It has proven difficult to gain licences and currently in the UK (but not in parts of Europe) the leaves and buds which contain CBD must be ‘destroyed beyond recovery’ by the farmer.
Dr Belinda Clarke of the membership organisation Agri-TechE has seen increasing interest in the use of Cannabis sativa, “The potential for this crop remains largely untapped across Europe; the regulatory environment needs to catch up with the pace of innovation around breeding, processing and husbandry – there is considerable appetite to include it in the rotation, for example, which could be a significant additional benefit.”
John agrees: “Regulations around hemp growth have made the process difficult and our efforts to secure a government license have been far from straightforward.”
Additionally, he explains careful consideration is needed on the investment required for specialist machinery to harvest the crop, to understand where and how it will be processed, and to identify end markets.
“We have settled on a multi-crop combine, which is a large capital investment and requires a lot of skill just to drive!”
But despite all the challenges, John has high hopes for the crop:
“If this project goes well, Sentry will absolutely consider rolling this crop out across a wider area. We are working with Britannia Bud and we hope to drop the model into other parts of the country where it will grow well.”
From Farmer to Pharma
‘From Farmer to Pharma’ will see growers, legal experts and industry members from the UK and internationally, discuss the uses and market for industrial hemp, the licencing process and the potential for medicinal uses.
The event will run from 9:50 am to 4:30 pm on Wednesday 12th May, and is in partnership with Hanway Associates, a leading strategic consultancy specialising in the cannabis sector.
To view the event programme and a full list of speakers, visit the event page.