Industrial hemp, as distinct from the mind-altering variety, is widely used throughout the world and much of Australia, but until now NSW farmers have not been permitted to grow the potentially lucrative crop.
“We currently grow organic herbs and vegies,” Mr Riley said. “We have been waiting for the opportunity to grow industrial hemp for quite a while.”
“It’s going to fit in the summer rotation pretty well.”
Mr Riley, vice-president of the Northern Rivers Hemp Inc, is one of about 20 farmers who intend to immediately apply for a licence.
Northern Rivers Regional Development Board executive director Katrina Luckie welcomed the new licensing system as ‘beneficial to the region’.
As well as being widely regarded as a ‘green sustainable’ plant, hemp also has the additional advantage of being quick to grow, allowing farmers to earn more revenue throughout the year.
Hemp has many uses, including clothing, food, building products, such as masonry and bricks, insulation – and even memory enhancing seed oil that has the same effect as fish oil.
Keith Bolton, who conducted a trial of industrial hemp at Southern Cross University, said people had historically used hemp as a major food source, but were forced to stop once the plant was criminalised.
“Australia and New Zealand are the only advanced country that don’t permit hemp food products, but I think the food laws will be reviewed shortly and we will soon see hemp seed products in the supermarket,’’ he said.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian McDonald, who described hemp as ‘potentially lucrative’, said a licensing scheme was being designed to prevent industrial hemp being used to camouflage an illegal crop of cannabis with high levels of the chemical THC.
Dr Bolton, who is holding an information session for potential growers on Saturday in Lismore, believes it will be financially advantageous for farmers to grow the crop.
“This is a brilliant region to grow it because you need a high rainfall environment,” he said.
As demand for hemp increases, there is speculation that water-starved cotton growers will increasingly look to hemp as the intensity of droughts increase, Dr Bolton said.