Growing hemp could be good for Donegal farmers

DONEGAL farmers have a golden opportunity to become major players in the production of medicinal cannabis.
Industrial hemp can be legally grown in Ireland under licence from the Department of Health for a range of uses, including for fibre, food and feed. The industry has been slow to take off due largely to a lack of processing infrastructure.
There has been an increase of hemp farming licenses and it is estimated that there are up to 100 people growing the crop.
With CBD (Cannabidiol oil, the plant extract from hemp which is meant to help with mental health issues as well as autism, heart problems, skin problems) and seed products increasing in popularity, farmers in Donegal are looking at how they can unlock the potential of hemp growing.
Barry Caslin is a Teagasc Energy and Rural Development Specialist. He outlined some of the values and uses of hemp at this month’s meeting of the Donegal County Council Agriculture Committee.
Members heard that hemp can be grown successfully in Ireland, with high stem yields of adequate material.
While there is a 70-acre hemp farm operating in North Leitrim and others producing hemp oil in Tipperary and Wicklow there are no farmers growing the crop in Donegal.
Members heard that there is a lot of potential with the crop. Hemp by-products can be used for everything from building materials to food supplements. While it grows well in Ireland, we lack the infrastructure to take full advantage of the plant’s potential for farm incomes and job creation.
Industrial hemp is much the same as cannabis, but without the narcotic effects. The active ingredient – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – does not exceed 0.2 per cent in industrial plants.
There is currently no legal exemption in Ireland for any amount of THC, causing a barrier for the processing of hemp in Ireland.
However, the EU is looking at labelling CBD as a “novel food”, the name it gives to products without a history of consumption.
Cllr Ian McGarvey, said: “At the end of the day it all boils down to facts and figures and if the farmer can make a viable income. There’s a lot of very enterprising farmers in Donegal but they need to know more about hemp before going into full production.”
Martin McCullagh, Teagasc, said that farmers had been contacting them in recent years about moving into the niche market.
“Farmers have to make sure that they have an end user when setting up in business. It needs to be well researched and planned,” he said.
Anne Marie Conlon, Head of Economic Development, Donegal County Council, suggested it might be worthwhile to host an event for farmers who may be interested in hemp farming.
Agreeing, Eve-Anne McCarron, Business Advisor, Local Enterprise Office, Donegal, said they would bring together the various different agencies.
“Teasasc say it is a viable crop that we can grow in Ireland but we now need to bring farmers and processors together in a working group to see if it is something worth pursuing to get a better return for our farmers,” she said.
Cllr Liam Blaney, Chair, Agriculture Committee, said there was a ‘good lot’ of work to be done yet before there was hemp growing in fields across Donegal.
“There’s an opportunity here for farmers to diversify into something else and I think we should keep it on the agenda,” Cllr Blaney said.

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