‘Good will’ across Europe good sign for hemp

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INTERVIEW: Pierre Amadieu

Hemp Consultant and Developer – France

Pierre Amadieu is a hemp consultant and developer. He has worked in local hemp economic development projects, designed and built small-scale hemp decorticating lines, and created a mobile decorticator. In addition to project management, he is a hemp growing and harvesting trainer, and is experienced in organic methods for hemp farming. He is also an initiator of the global campaign Initiative Chanvre, an effort to popularize and develop localized hemp value chains the world over.

HempToday: What do you think are the key challenges to popularising hemp around Europe — among the public, among building trades professionals, and farmers?
Pierre Amadieu: The price, the price, and the price. Hemp house owners would pay a lower price if tax policies were in place that gave incentives for insulation made of renewable materials, for example. Setting fair building regulations for competition between renewable and traditional materials also affects the price of building. These regulations are generally unfair now.

For farmers, they need to see the potential that they can charge good prices for their hemp yields. This can happen when they turn themselves into entrepreneurs and work with other entrepreneurs setting up locally organised growing and processing operations. It’s also important that they reach out to the agriculture community.

Then, there’s the price — investment costs — associated with knowhow, methods and the equipment needed to launch a flourishing local hemp business. This is where the entrepreneurial spirit must play a role.

In fact hemp won’t get popular from the top down. I see it becoming mainstream through many, many distributed local projects and businesses in which close partners can work toward profits, yes, but also towards the environmental and social benefits.

HT: How would you summarize the hemp growing and building industries in France at present? What do you see as the most interesting initiatives?
PA: Hemp crops are on a gentle growth trend in France, as is the use of hemp in building. Neither got the boom in development they were expected to get before the 2008 financial crisis because worries about the environment and renewable solutions took a back seat to broader economic concerns. And we should remember that the building industry is still suffering from investment fears.

It’s important to note that in the last 10 years, two different models of hemp businesses developed: farmer-oriented localized initiatives, and industrial-scale hemp operations. These industrial processors met more difficulties at startup because of the huge challenges to getting competitive at scale. But the local projects start gently and safely, thanks to their low investment needs.

France has a background of 50 years of industrial hemp growing, and 40 years of experimentation and R&D in the field of building. Different entrepreneurs are developing blocks and prefab materials. Those things are set, and will help the French hemp building industry rise as real estate in general gets going again. But we still need more favorable building regulations and tax policies that incentivize and promote the development of distributed hemp businesses.

HT: What’s the potential for such localised hemp growing and processing networks to contribute to rural development across all of Europe?
PA: It’s not that easy to scale up to 28 countries. There are big differences from one country to another regarding agriculture and building. Still, when people see shared interests and are given the incentives and the tools to create something, nothing is impossible.

So why not forecast a market share of 10% for renewable building materials, excluding wood, with hemp as a leading material? In 10 years? What a huge market it could be. And what a huge reduction of CO2!

There is good will all across Europe among farmers, entrepreneurs and builders who want to use hemp for its wide range of qualities. I know from experience that it’s hard in a competitive world to launch such a business from nothing. But there is a lot of activity out there and many dedicated people putting businesses and projects together.

For example, I’m working with some friends, experienced hemp stakeholders, on a collaborative and distributed open-source project that will guide entrepreneurial efforts to set up local hemp operations and get flourishing quickly. This project is called “Initiative Chanvre” (The Hemp Initiative) and we’ll be putting out some more news soon.

But generally with hemp across Europe, the industries will either be developed around distributed local networks or industrial operators. I see the real potential — for business and for the shift from a fossil-based to a renewable world — in distributed networks as opposed to large-scale operations.

HT: How do you see the hemp bio-composite and hemp food markets shaping up? What do you expect to grow among bio-composites, food, construction materials, oil, seeds, etc? In France, and in Europe generally?
PA: Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibres in the world, and easy to grow, but most of processing plants in Europe are destroying its quality. So without a dedicated process to decorticate hemp we’ll never get the highest added value from our fibers, such as they do from flax, for example. As long as the hemp industry sells in bulk, we’ll play a supporting role in fabrics and biocomposite reinforcements. There is and there will be a market for such low-quality fibres but it is a low margin market.

Food is really interesting, and it’s quite easy to get into for farmers who are organized; however, this is mainly a market for certified organic products. Hundreds of tons are imported from China, so there is actually a great opportunity to produce hemp seeds for food, but it’s always necessary first to establish preliminary business relationships, set specifications and try to forecast sales.

For feed, as a conventional crop (not organic) there is also an interesting market, especially for birds. I think there are about 6,000 tons imported from China each year for this purpose.

To get a reliable value chain where all the actors have good incentives — especially farmers — it is absolutely necessary to get fair added value from each byproduct of hemp: shivs, fibres, seeds. Even the dust from decortication should be exploited.

In my opinion, fibres and shivs for insulation and building, and seeds for food, oil and cosmetics look to be the more reliable and cash-producing markets for a local business in the early stages. Animal bedding and mulching are mainstream outlets for shivs, for example.

Biocomposite products like mats and compounds are generally dedicated to the automotive industry and therefore more industrial in scale. But this business may also eventually be destined for a more distributed market structure.

My analysis here is basically true of France and Europe. However there are lot of regional specific features that determine the particular type of hemp industry that may succeed in any given place. We’ve got different regions like Europe’s auto industry basin; and then there are local considerations like weather, consumer attitudes to food and health products. And local taxes and regulations may dictate development choices and business models. Anyway, each local project shouldn’t be based on “what are my markets?” but “who are my clients?”

HT: How did you first get interested in industrial hemp?
PA: I was raised on a farm in southwest France. Once when I was about 10 years old, I found in my Grandma’s attic a bag full of very, very long hemp fibres that were more than 70 years old. What a surprise, what a great discovery! For me, it was a magic moment.

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