Hemp in Australia

The Tasmanian Hemp Company

In the beginning
      "What happens to those beautiful native forests in Tasmania?" was the question posed in a Dutch living-room in 1988 when we were sharing photographs and experiences.  After explaining that a good proportion ended up as woodchips for Japan which we then bought back as paper, a friend said that he had seen something on Dutch TV about hemp for paper.   I was brought up as a logger's daughter in Tasmania, and began to feel very angry with myself for not having seen beyond trees for paper.
        So began our long search to track down this curious phenomenon.  Our lives are now totally dominated by hemp, despite the warnings of a visiting Dutch Hemp Project leader not to let it do so.
        Frits' niece helped us to locate the Dutch university students researching hemp and our knowledge (and Frits' translation skills) began to improve dramatically.  Since then, we have visited the Dutch Hemp Project's pulp researchers and the research farm and hosted two of the top researchers for a whirlwind tour here in 1993.

The Tasmanian hemp story
      Our achievements, apart from notoriety and positive public education throughout Australia, include three annual licensed trials of low-THC hemp supervised by the University of Tasmania.   Frits harvested our 1994 trial between a morning rehearsal and evening orchestral concert with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra at the end of March.  Our bureaucrats are nervous about the venture, but have not yet put a stop to our endeavours, although they suggest that we should walk before we run.  In our opininon we have walked for too long: the world can't wait for sensible solutions and our campaign has broadened from hemp for paper to hemp for just about everything!  Tasmanian farmers are most interested and the general public is supportive.  The only abusive phone call we ever had was from an elderly ex-employee of one of Australia's pulp and paper manufacturers who claimed the Dutch were "decadent"!
        We set up the Tasmanian Hemp Company to help our negotiations with government and business.  We had already founded the Hemp for Paper Consortium Incorporated, a small non-profit community association aiming to spread information on the agricultural, industrial and environmental benefits of a hemp industry.   I began by submitting a plan to the Tasmanian Government in February 1991 for an environmentally sound pulp mill based on hemp.  This was in answer to a call for expressons of interest in a Northern Tasmanian Pulp and Paper Mill.  Frits' translations of Dutch research as well as information gathering since 1988 provided the basis for the submission.
        The later establishment of the company was seen as a practical example of promoting an industrial approach to hemp, a lead which the consortium had hoped would be taken up by business people in Tasmania.  This did not happen, however, mainly through lack of government interest.  Considering the enormous obstacles placed in the way of the Hemp for Paper Consortium Incorporated when lobbying for licences to grow hemp, it is little wonder that others have not wanted to venture in.
        Our company is the first importer of hemp fabric to Tasmania.  We are sewing this into clothes which we sell, to promote products that could be produced from fibre grown here.  Our biggest step will be achieving a commercial licence to grow hemp here in Tasmania, for which we began negotiations with the Tasmanian government officials recently.
        It is interesting to note that our licence applications now need to go through the Poppy Advisory Board of Tasmania.  Tasmania is the only Australian state which grows opium poppies.  The poppy officials are nervous of Tasmania's "clean" image being ruined by the media painting Tasmania as the drug state of Australia, were we also to grow hemp.  They insist that the low THC content of our crop will not get in the way of a good story.

Our objectives
      Long-term: to develop hemp as a new crop and a sustainable industry which will help overcome Australia's problems of soil degradation, pollution from agricultural chemicals, and controversy over the use of native forests.
        a)  to provide organically grown hemp for export to existing markets,
        b)  to set up separating machinery in Tasmania as a first step to down-streaming, so that companies in Tasmania interested in either the bast or core fibre can be supplied (e.g. to replace expensive, imported Kraft pulp; to provide horse bedding),
        c)  to set up a small integrated pulp/paper/textile/fluff mill in Tasmania.

        Patsy & Frits Harmsen, Directors, Tasmanian Hemp Company, 430 Tinderbox Road, Tinderbox, 7054 Tasmania, Australia.

Tasmanian trials

        During the 1992/93 growing season, the University of Tasmania at Hobart, carried out field trials together with the Tasmanian Hemp Company to investigate the production potential of fibre hemp in Tasmania.
        The dioecious Hungarian cultivar Kompolti was sown in a replicated field experiment at a rate of 50 kg/ha of seed.  Sowing dates were November 2, 16 and 30 and the experimental plots were harvested about 4 months later.
        All crops emerged rapidly within a week of sowing, and full ground cover was reached soon.  Weeds were effectively smothered, so no extra control methods were required.  No significant pest or disease damage was observed.
        Irrespective of sowing time, plants started to form inflorescences in the middle of January, which slowed down vegetative growth in favour of reproductive development.  Yields were 8.0, 8.4 and 6.1 ton/ha of stem dry matter.  Delta-9-THC content was measured in young leaves and female inflorescences several times during the growing season, and it was always well below the legal limit of 0.3 %.
        If better adapted (i.e. later flowering) varieties were used, yields of 10 to 12 ton/ha of stem dry matter could probably be obtained in Tasmania.

        Wolfgang Spielmeyer, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.

Australia, Eucalypts and Hemp

        In many countries around the world, the impact of decades of neglect and thoughtless exploitation of the natural environment is beginning to show.  Australia is one such country.  Despite much rhetoric to the contrary, it remains that our country continues to suffer severe degradation of the land, air and water due to thoughtless agricultural, forest and water management policies.
        Australia enjoyed unparalleled prosperity for decades, based on the production of wool and wheat.  The agricultural base has broadened to include sugar cane, many fruits and cotton for domestic consumption and export.  The fragile soils of the Australian continent were not suitable for chemical methods of farming, neither were they able to withstand the impact of imported domestic cattle and sheep.  Intensive herbicide and pesticide dependent cultivation methods lead to high costs and decreasing returns.
        One of the most profound problems has been that of water management.  Even though Australia has lush tropical rain forests in the north-east, it is the driest continent on earth.  Large scale damming of rivers and sinking bores for irrigation have led to severe salination due to evaporation, concentrating trace amounts of salt present in artesian water.  This has been compounded by clearing of tree cover.  The most shameful aspect of policy here is to allow the clear-felling of old growth forest to be chipped for Kraft paper.
        The roots of Eucalyptus trees reach deep into the subsoil to extract water.  After clearing of trees, the water table rises, bringing buried salt to the surface.  In some parts of the inland river system thousands of hectares have been permanently lost to a smothering layer of salt.   Excess phosphates from chemical fertilizers have entered the waterways. With flow rates seriously reduced by irrigation, the protective flushing effect is lost and there have been several outbreaks of toxic blue green algae.
        Fortunately, there have been small improvements.  Forward thinking people have formed a "land care" organization to plant trees and practice more sustainable farming.  There is a growing movement in Australia to introduce fibre hemp for the production of fabric and paper, as well as developing a ligno-cellulosic ethanol fuel industry.  Despite recent developments in Europe and England, where fibre hemp cultivation under licence is in progress, little cultivation is taking place.  The legislative power to regulate hemp is held by each state government.  Modest progress has been made in Tasmania by the "Hemp for Paper" Consortium.  In New South Wales, the most populous state with the most suitable agricultural land and climate, there has been a complete refusal by the authorities to allow fibre hemp trials, despite the support of Universities, agricultural firms and farmers.  Economic projections have indicated that hemp will be a highly profitable crop, provided we can convince the government to follow the United Nations policy on fibre hemp and permit industrial scale trials.

        Andrew Katelaris, Bio-logical Products, 3 Luton Place, St. Ives 2076, Sydney, Australia.