Thursday, 14 November 2013

Questions (24)

Thomas Pringle


24. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department has examined the possible uses of hemp grown here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48352/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Hemp fibre and seed are used to produce a wide range of commodities including food and beverage products, fibreboard, insulation, paper, composites, textiles, carpets, animal bedding and feed, cosmetics, body-care products, soaps, paints, fuels, and medicines.

The growing of hemp requires a licence from the Irish Medicines Board (under the auspices of Department of Health).

Hemp grown for fibre production is frequently referred to as “industrial” hemp, in order to differentiate it from the plants used for drug production. Industrial hemp has been selectively bred for several decades in order to lower, to almost negligible amounts, the narcotic compound Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In the European Union (EU), the cultivation of hemp (Cannabis genus) is restricted to varieties having a content of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) lower than 0.2 %. Varieties of non-psychoactive hemp are also grown for seed production. The seeds have mainly been used for bird feed, but increasingly are used to produce hemp oil and as a cooking ingredient.

Of the estimated 6000 tonnes per year hemp seeds produced in the EU, 95% is sold for animal feed, mainly as bird feed.

Although hemp seed provides additional and high value income, it can delay harvest and lead to deterioration in fibre quality. But both options present challenges if the best of both seed and fibre yields are to be achieved. Waiting for seeds to be produced and ripen, delays harvest and increases the risk of losses to the weather.

Cannabis sativa is an annual spring crop which can yield up to and exceeding 12.5 tonnes/ha of whole stems. It has modest fertiliser requirements and it is possible to grow the crop without the use of herbicides, insecticides or fungicides.

Hemp has been the subject of three different periods of research by Teagasc. Teagasc findings have noted that yields can vary considerably between seasons. Production is highly dependent on weather conditions at sowing and at harvest and it is particularly vulnerable to wet weather. The crop is sensitive to frost, does not tolerate waterlogging or soils with low Ph.

The density and height of a mature hemp crop can cause problems when cutting and baling hemp with existing farm machines. Hemp has few pest and disease problems, although weed competition in early establishment can lower yields.