Major hemp initiative in Australia abandoned as government fails to provide funding

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A multi-million dollar initiative to expand Australian hemp fields to 100,000 hectares in ten years has been abandoned.

The project to study, promote and develop the hemp sector, which had a funding goal of AU$200 million (U.S. $130 million), had attracted AU$50 million (U.S. $32.5 million) in pledges, but failed to receive a grant in the latest round of awards from the government’s Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program.

The ten-year initiative was envisioned to embrace the entire hemp supply chain, policymakers, local and national bodies, and end users. It spanned production, uses of hemp for health and building materials, and issues related to the industry’s long-term success, such as regulation and policy, public perception, and the environment.

Australia’s national hemp crop is currently estimated at 2,000-3,000 hectares (5,000-7,500 acres).

‘Can’t compete’

Lauchlan Grout, vice president of the Australian Hemp Council, pointed to several factors holding hemp back Down Under.

“Although there are markets for food and fiber, they’re heavily dominated by imported products. Growers in Australia can’t compete,” Grout told ABC News.

“Consistency and price have hindered larger [retailers] really taking it on board and pushing hard with it,” he added, suggesting that complex licensing, costly logistics, and a lack of processing infrastructure have also hampered the industry. All of those factors depressed farmer investment in the sector, and allowed imports to corner the Australian market, Grout said.

Gavin Ash from the Institute for Life Sciences and the Environment at consortium member the University of Southern Queensland, said the competition for grants was fierce.

Ash said the hemp industry has “enormous potential” in Australia due to its land, climate and farming resources, but major funding from the government is required to capitalize on national and export markets. Ash said he will no longer be involved in hemp initiatives.

‘Chicken and egg’

Queensland farmer David Richardson, who planted 50 hectares of hemp at his fruit and vegetable growing operation, told ABC that hemp can fit into crop rotations. However, “we’ve got a chicken and egg situation. There are big companies out there that are wanting that huge volume, [but] they won’t actually jump into the industry until that huge volume is available.”

In addition to the University of Southern Queensland, other partners in the consortium formed to pursue the funding included Southern Cross University, the University of Western Sydney, Deakin University, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, and companies from Canada, Fiji, India, and Europe.

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