Industrial hemp has been grown in Australia for centuries and was only made illegal with the introduction of the marijuana drug laws of the 20th century.
Hemp was grown in New South Wales, near Sydney in the 1840s and around Tasmania under broad acre farming for ship rigging and the medicinal (drug form) as used by Queen Victoria.
In more recent times the states allowed growing of industrial hemp under license for trials only. Tasmania began in 1995. In 1999 Victoria introduced the first legislation permitting the commercial production of hemp. In 2002 Queensland allowed the production of commercial industrial hemp, Western Australia following shortly after with New South Wales leaving it until 2009.
In the years that followed commercial production of industrial hemp it was identified that the larger markets which were required to ensure commercial viability would require hemp processing plants. These factories would separate the fibre and hurd through a method of decortication and cost millions of dollars to create.
A number of promises of smaller, portable ‘in-field’ decorticators where promised, but never eventuated. And therefore the markets for hemp came and went as growers and processors dealt with this quandary.
Today the main markets for industrial hemp are seed for oil. This highly nutritious oil is used in hemp foods and hemp bodycare products. Hemp foods are still illegal in all of Australia and New Zealand, however the sale of hemp oil for ‘non-human consumption’ is allowed.
The market for the fibre is in the whole stalk being used for a garden mulch and the basis of a building product.
At this time there are three likely processing plants planned for Australia that will open up hemp to the many other markets available to it.
Growing hemp in Australia and New Zealand has a further ‘complication’ in that the varieties of hemp grown vary with the difference in latitudes. In Tasmania the European & Canadian varieties are viable, where in the tropics and sub-tropics of Northern Australia other new varieties have been bred specifically to improve yields.