A project seeking to increase industrial hemp production and processing in the UK has received government financial backing.
Led by researchers at the University of York and Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC), the HEMP-30 initiative will plot a pathway to boosting the amount of industrial hemp cultivated in the UK from a current 800 hectares* to 80,000 hectares.
This 100-fold increase would make industrial hemp a major crop in the UK.
The initial stage of the project has been awarded £200,000 from the UK government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, which aims to accelerate commercialisation of innovative clean energy technologies and processes.
But hemp offers so much more than just being a feedstock for biofuel production.
“Hemp has major untapped potential as a versatile low carbon raw material that can be used across a range of industries,” said BDC Director Dr Joe Ross. “It offers environmental benefits as a fast-growing ‘break’ crop that improves soil health and is very efficient at capturing carbon.”
Among its myriad applications, hemp can be used in bioplastics and a wide range of building materials.
As part of the overall project, York University researchers will be using their expertise in molecular plant breeding technology to accelerate enhancing traits of hemp plants to meet requirements of developing markets.
The University will also disseminate information on hemp farming and processing best practice and detail how expanded hemp breeding, farming, processing and production could be established in the UK.
The UK’s hemp sector currently exists in a very challenging regulatory environment – hence the low number of hectares currently being cultivated.
Regulations are particularly tight around using UK hemp for cannabidiol (CBD), which is a lucrative market. So tight in fact, UK farmers cannot access the local CBD market – they are confined to food and fibre applications. Meanwhile, CBD is readily accessible across the country in the form of imported products.
The situation has led a UK hemp cooperative to encourage farmers to grow crops outside regulations – to “overgrow the regime“.
* We’ve seen a higher estimate of 2,000 hectares. Whether it’s 800 or 2,000, it’s still a very small area under cultivation.