Powering the Italian hemp model

rachele-invernizziRachele Invernizzi, President, SouthHemp, Italy

Italian processor SouthHemp is gradually filling up capacity at its new decortication plant in Crispiano-Taranto in southern Italy and in the process helping to incubate new hemp businesses.

“There are many young farmers involved and new food-processing plants for seeds are coming online,” Rachele Invernizzi, SouthHemp’s founder and president said of the 9-region area that’s the focus of her company’s operations at the moment. In total, SouthHemp’s reach embraces some 120 farms. While the factory has an ultimate capacity to process 500 ha., current production is at about 300 ha. in the factory, which recently ended its second full year of operation, Rachele said.

Wide range of products

That production of various hemp-based supplies goes to such firms as bio-plastics maker Kanesis of Sicily, and Canapa Cruda, a specialty paper supplier in central Italy’s Fabriano Marche region. Animal litter, mulch and five sizes of totally dedusted hemp shives also come out of the SouthHemp plant.

Public Service

While helping to build up the local hemp economy, SouthHemp is also active in public service, most recently having organized a hemp field inside a nearby prison where the operation is being used to train prisoners nearing their parole dates. They will gain skills in making hand-made paper, weaving with hemp fiber and baking bread from hemp seeds.

“The director loved the idea and gave us about 3,000 sq. m. where we’ve already sown for seeds and fiber,” Rachele said.

SouthHemp, which also is a certified seed vendor, spends a lot of time with its farmers, whom Rachele sees as the heart of her business. After supporting them during planting season, her firm helps organize a schedule of meetings, conventions and conferences that also attract agronomists, industry associations, landowners and other potential end users to share knowledge, expertise and resources.

“We talk about agriculture, agricultural techniques and everything needed to get them to conduct agricultural tests with hemp. We also talk about current markets for end-use, and possible opportunities based on those markets,” Rachele said.

Supporting Research

Meanwhile, SouthHemp is also actively involved in hemp research with ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, in Brindisi, and is studying fitoremediation with Crea Energy, also from Brindisi.

“There’s a great thrill in being in a market at the very beginning of an era. Everything needs to be done, and that’s just fantastic,” Rachele said. “The potential of south Italy both for agricultural production and for innovation is there, so establishing hemp markets is a key first challenge.”

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