A $1.6 million (AU$2.5 million) research project in Australia will seek to identify hemp varieties that can perform well in the country’s climates, and explore other aspects of the hemp value chain.
“The focus areas include securing a steady supply of well-characterized varieties, developing value-add processing methods, investigating the safe and beneficial use of hemp products in livestock and animal feed and generating information and tools for growers to understand the sustainability credentials of industrial hemp,” said Tobias Kretzschmar, lead researcher for the project based at Southern Cross University.
AgriFutures, an agency that supports research and development with a focus on new and emerging industries and rural communities, is providing funding for the Australian Industrial Hemp Program of Research (AIHPR). The initiative is to involve a range of other research organizations and hemp stakeholders who will address the industry’s barriers to growth.
Nine trial sites
Development of the AIHPR was guided by the Australian Industrial Hemp Strategic RD&E Plan and developed in close consultation with industrial hemp growers, processors, agronomists and researchers. A range of hemp varieties has already been planted in nine locations under AgriFutures’ national hemp trials.
Olivia Reynolds, Senior Manager in AgriFutures Australia Emerging Industries Program, said hemp has enormous potential to boost Australia’s agricultural productivity.
“The Australian industrial hemp industry is in its infancy but is rapidly growing, and the timing is perfect to plan and implement a pathway for growth,” Reynolds said.
Hemp fields across all of Australia totaled just less than 2,000 hectares in 2021-2022, with income pegged at AU$6 million (US$4.8 million; €4.4 million), according to AgriFutures.
Supporting rural areas
Reynolds’ emerging industries program is a research and development initiative that supports development in rural areas. The program has a wide agricultural portfolio, but also a specific mandate to develop new varieties of industrial hemp that are suited to Australian growing conditions, and to advance new technologies, market development and training.
The Australian government has said industrial hemp has the potential to be a valuable tool in the fight against climate change across Australia, where farming contributes roughly 13% of CO2 emissions. Australia has set a goal to reduce overall emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Australia has a carbon credit scheme for agriculture, the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), a government-backed scheme that provides financial incentives for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon storage.
Also providing funding for the AIHPR research are: Southern Cross University, the Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Charles Sturt University, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, the Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Macquarie University, South Australian Research and Development Institute, Murdoch University, Sage Consulting, University of Melbourne, Integrated Veterinary Rehabilitation, Vasse Valley Hemp Farm and Daniel Weinstock Consulting Services.
Southern Cross University, the AIHPR host institution, has more than 15 years experience in industrial hemp research.