The Ord irrigation region has produced a variety of crops in its 45-year history, but few have attracted as much interest from passers-by, and the occasional police officer, as current trials of Chinese hemp. Reaching 2m, the industrial crop was planted in June by Perth-based Hemp Resources to test its performance in the tropical region.
Though similar in appearance to illegal cannabis crops, industrial hemp’s drug-like qualities ended there, managing director Kim Hough said. Under State legislation, licences are required to grow industrial hemp which may not exceed 0.35 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis. THC levels in illegal hemp plants are generally above 10 per cent. Hemp Resources got permission last year from the State Government to import 70 million hemp seeds from China and has begun trials in Kununurra and the South-West.
Mr Hough said the growth of the southern Chinese variety, known as Yunma Four, on a Department of Agriculture and Food site had been impressive. The crop was due to be cut and the seed harvested in about two weeks. Depending on final results, more widespread plantings are planned in the region next year.
Mr Hough said export potential for the crop was huge with uses ranging from paper, to clothing, particle board and biodegradable plastics. Industrial hemp grain and oil is considered a valuable nutritional food source in China but laws in Australia prevent the consumption of hemp, something Hemp Resources is lobbying to overturn.
Chinese professor and agricultural scientist Yang Ming, who visited the site this week, described the tropical East Kimberley conditions as ideal for fast crop growth. Industrial hemp crops are controlled under State legislation, with police and specially appointed inspectors able to enter and inspect properties, examine seed, plants or crops and remove them for testing.
Source: The West Australian, 2008-09-08.