High hopes for hemp in Australia

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In Australia, expanding government acceptance and Chinese demand is giving hemp growers a boost, but infrastructure and new seed varieties are still required before the industry can truly flourish.

The federal government has recently approved hemp seeds and medicinal marijuana. China’s voracious appetite for hemp—which it uses in everything from mattresses to shipping pallets—is also boosting sentiment.

Colin Steddy, director of the Hemp Corporation, says China is going to plant a million acres of hemp this year.  “China is also buying out of Bangladesh and Africa and they cannot get enough,” he tells ABCC News.

While interest is growing in the versatile material, Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance president and Hunter Valley grower Bob Doyle says there is little processing capacity in Australia.

Hemp growers still need to develop markets for bast, the outer fiber of hemp, and also need access to different varietals. Northern Rivers Hemp Association president and New South Wales hemp breeder Andrew Kavasilas has been working on breeding varieties that yield a lot of seeds but can be easily harvested with machinery. He has also developed new varieties for use in fiber production and for generating seeds for human consumption.

Despite these hurdles, Kavasilas expects the hemp seed market in Australia to reach $1 billion by 2027. “When you look to the Canadians, they went from zero in 2002 to about half a billion dollars in 2014,” he said. “Here in Australia, I think within 10 years I’d hope that we’d be doing a billion dollars in hemp seed food both domestically and overseas.”