WA hemp growers poised for record harvest

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
Forest Grove hemp farmer Stephen Thomas with a crop ready for harvest.
Camera IconForest Grove hemp farmer Stephen Thomas with a crop ready for harvest. Credit: Mogens Johansen

The State’s hemp farmers are harvesting their biggest haul yet — and for the first time seeds will be commercially processed in WA instead of being sent east.

Hemp Processors WA — established by local businessmen Steve Thomas and Peter Munachen — is about to finish harvesting its 15ha crop at Margaret River, while almost another 480ha, mostly in the South West, will be harvested by about 30 other licensed growers this month.

At the same time, providing a major shot in the arm for the industry, Hemp Processors WA has imported the State’s first large scale, commercial processing machinery that can sort and de-hull seeds, making them suitable for a wide range of food.

To be housed in Margaret River, the new processing equipment can be used by other hemp growers, who until now have either manually de-hulled smaller amounts of seeds, which is very labour intensive, or paid hefty freight costs to transport them to the Eastern States.

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Newly formed WA Hemp Growers Co-operative executive officer Gail Stubber said most seeds from this year’s hemp harvest would be sold to the Perth health food market.

She said the availability of hemp processing equipment was a big leap forward for the WA industry, making packaging for the edible market easier, and helping drive further growth.

Hemp seeds.
Camera IconHemp seeds. Credit: Mogens Johansen

The hemp industry received a major boost in late 2017 when changes to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Code permitted the sale of food products derived from hemp seed with a hallucinogenic THC content of up to one per cent.

That led the number of active licensed growers to increase from 19 in 2017 to 32 in 2018, planting 492ha, up from 68ha a year earlier.

That is expected to balloon again for 2019 plantings, with many more growers applying for licences to plant the highly versatile crop.

Mr Thomas and Mr Munachen planted 15ha of hemp this year, but plan next year to increase that to 500ha to 1000ha through land lease arrangements at Darkan, Boyup Brook and Kojonup.

“The hemp industry is on the precipice of disrupting many well-established industries, which makes us feel confident about investing further in the industry,” Mr Thomas said.

There are at least 50,000 uses for hemp, including health foods and biodegradable plastics, fabrics for clothing, paper products, vinyls, carpets and floor coverings.

By 2030, Lego wants to replace the plastic used in the 60 billion blocks it produces each year with hemp.

Mr Thomas said Hemp Processors WA also planned to purchase a state-of-the-art hemp decorticator, which turns the plant’s stem into fibre, enabling the company to become a full service, field-to-factory industrial hemp company.

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