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This sheep farmer is leading the push to set up Ireland's first hemp co-op

Ed Hanbidge says there’s the potential to turn the crop into a major farming industry.

Image: Hemp Cooperative Ireland

A GROUP OF farmers have come together to form the Irish Hemp Growers and Processors Association, with plans also underway to establish a fully recognised hemp co-operative.

The body has been established in an attempt to promote the hemp industry in Ireland and co-ordinate the processing of plants already being grown.

Hemp is currently produced in Ireland for use in a number of different goods, including food products, clothing and even building materials.

However there are restrictions on the growth of the plant. In the Republic, cannabis sativa – hemp – is categorised as a controlled drug as part of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations.

Hemp plants with less than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in cannabis, can be grown.

At present, most hemp used in production processes in Ireland is imported. The newly formed association, which is being chaired by Ed Hanbidge, aims to create a viable market for hemp that will encourage farmers to grow the crop.

Hanbidge, who is also a sheep farmer, started growing hemp in 2015 and decided to rally together growers and processors due to the lack of opportunities to bring the crop to market.

“The problem was that when I grew it, there was nowhere to go with it,” he told Fora. “I was trying to get different buyers and made very little progress. There is very little of a market in this country.”

Colorado Hemp Farm Source: RJ Sangosti/Getty

He said he looked for groups to help him sell his crop, but no suitable bodies existed.

“The group I came across was the Irish Hemp Society that was set up in Dublin at the end of 2016. I went up to those meetings and they sounded great, but they wanted to promote hemp instead of create a market.

Then I came across the Hemp Co-Operative which was trying to get set up. They were more about getting the markets going, and that’s what interested me because I wanted to get rid of the hemp. There’s no point growing it if you can’t sell it.

Stigma

Due to its association with cannabis, hemp has a stigma attached to its products that can be hard to shake, according to Hanbidge.

“Sometimes you’re talking to people and ask them about the hemp, they either don’t know what it is or would say, ‘Is that the cannabis stuff?’

That stigma does seem to be dwindling, but that might be because I’m looking at it from rose-tinted glasses, I don’t know.

Nevertheless, Hanbidge said both the association and the co-operative have the support of the Irish Farmers’ Association.

Industrial Hemp Source: Associated Press

Getting approved

Since he was introduced to Hemp Co-Operative Ireland, Hanbidge has become an executive member of the body, which has recently filed paperwork to become a recognised member of the Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society.

He added that the goal of the co-op is to set up a number of different hemp hubs and partnerships between growers and processors across the country.

“When you have a hub, the idea of it then is to take in the hemp from the farmer and then it is weighed and checked for quality.

Then different products of the hemp can go to the different hubs that specialise in one of those specialist areas that hemp covers.

Hanbidge said the group could establish as many hubs as they needed to cover the different types of hemp growers in Ireland.

“We will have to adapt to what the markets needs, but you could have the seed processors in the good growing country around Carlow, so all hemp seed produced around the country would be sent there to be processed.

The same over the west, you could have the building side of it, and another place for the fibre and another for the oils.

“It’s all about creating business and creating local employment – it could mean young workers won’t need to go off to Australia because they can have a job here growing hemp.”

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Written by Killian Woods and posted on Fora.ie

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