NewsMail - - FRONT PAGE - Crys­tal Jones

YOU can al­most en­tirely build a house out of it, drink it as milk or beer and even eat it as an ice cream.

Hemp may just be one of the most di­verse crops around and it could be set to change the face of agri­cul­ture in the Bund­aberg re­gion.

Plant-breeder for the Bund­aberg-based Agri Fi­bre In­dus­tries, David Gille­spie, says the re­gion is at the fore­front of breed­ing the ver­sa­tile plant and on the verge of an in­dus­try boom.

There’s a world­wide mar­ket for hemp foods and the rotational crop grows in ev­ery sea­son bar sum­mer, tak­ing just three months from plant­ing to har­vest.

“Agri Fi­bre In­dus­tries are gear­ing up this au­tumn to go into enough prod­uct to pro­duce unique foods such as hemp milk, muesli bars, hemp ice cream, raw ker­nels and hemp oil for con­sump­tion later this year,” Mr Gille­spie said.

It is now le­gal to con­sume hemp as food.

Changes to fed­eral leg­is­la­tion late last year mean it’s now le­gal to con­sume food va­ri­eties of hemp, bring­ing Aus­tralia into line with coun­tries such as China – the world’s sec­ond big­gest econ­omy – where hemp has long been grown and pro­duced for food, fi­bre and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Canada’s hemp in­dus­try, which started for food and grew into pro­duc­tion for prod­ucts such as fi­bre­glass al­ter­na­tives, tex­tiles and in­su­la­tion, raked in $34 mil­lion from ex­ports to the US in the first four months of 2015 alone.

With 17 years of hemp re­search un­der his belt, Mr Gille­spie is sure Aus­tralia can lead the charge from Bund­aberg.

The hor­ti­cul­tur­ist has de­vel­oped seven reg­is­tered va­ri­eties in­clud­ing the coun­try’s low­est THC va­ri­ety – Bundy Gem.

THC, te­trahy­dro­cannabi­nol, is the chem­i­cal com­pound in cannabis re­spon­si­ble for a eu­phoric high.

With strin­gent test­ing and laws around THC con­tent in food plants, min­imis­ing its pres­ence is a key fac­tor in hemp farm­ing.

Nor­mally, breed­ers would need to send off for tests from the De­part­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries in or­der to se­lec­tively breed low-THC plants, at a cost of $238 a time.

But Mr Gille­spie de­vel­oped his own test to weed out the plants with high THC lev­els quickly.

It’s cost him just $90 to test count­less plants.

“I’ve got a col­ori­met­ric test, it’s ba­si­cally a spe­cial dye with some sol­vents that I drop on the seed,” he said.

“I can do hun­dreds in a day, that’s why I’m ba­si­cally ahead of most oth­ers in Aus­tralia.

“I screen the male plants and throw away any with high THC.

“Bundy Gem is the low­est, that’s 10 times lower than the cut-off mark that the Drugs Mis­use Act 1986 states.”

Mr Gille­spie hopes to see hemp be­come a reg­u­lar crop in the re­gion.

“You can just eat the raw ker­nels with your ce­real, you can make hemp milk which is a bit like al­mond milk so we hope to make a good mar­ket in Asia,” he said.

“The other health ben­e­fit is they’re high in un­sat­u­rated, fatty acid.”

Hemp oil con­tains a high per­cent­age of pro­tein and a full range of amino acids.

Pests are ef­fec­tively con­trolled by bi­o­log­i­cal means, us­ing in­sects to keep other in­sects at bay.

Mr Gille­spie said some day he hoped to see the in­dus­try branch even fur­ther into creat­ing build­ing ma­te­ri­als.

“I have pro­duced a cou­ple of fi­bre va­ri­eties,” he said.

The plants’ stems, ac­cord­ing to Mr Gille­spie, pro­duce the strong­est known nat­u­ral fi­bre and can even make heat-re­sis­tant tiles.

“You can do al­most the whole house, apart from the frame, from it,” Mr Gille­spie said.

“It’s quite sound-proof as well.”

It can also make biodegrad­able plas­tics and a kind of con­crete termed “hempcrete” when mixed with hy­drated lime.

“Its uses are al­most end­less,” Mr Gille­spie said.

“We could end up grow­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of acres of the stuff and hav­ing green houses.”


FU­TURE GROWTH: Hemp breeder David Gille­spie is think­ing big.


FU­TURE GROWTH: Hemp breeder David Gille­spie with the plants he is work­ing with.

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