The first hemp crops to be grown in Victoria since legislation changes late last year are now ready for harvest.
Legislation that came into effect on November 12 made hemp legal for human consumption in Australia, and the budding Australian industry is experiencing an increase in interest in the product from both ends of the supply chain.
Growers, manufacturers and retailers have all experienced an increase in demand for the product since the changes came into play.
James Hood, a farmer from Victoria’s western district, founded his own hemp company, Australian Primary Hemp, after trialing the crop on his family property.
Mr Hood identified a gap in the market and, recognizing the international demand for Australian-grown products, combined his family’s farming history with a viable supply chain.
Mr Hood’s company supplies farmers directly with the seed and purchases the crop back off local farmers once harvested.
The seed is then dehulled and processed in the family’s Geelong facility before being turned into edible products such as hemp oil or protein powder.
Hemp products on the menu
The entire supply chain is certified Australian and the products are on the shelves as far afield as London and closer to home in Brunswick.
“Now it’s legal to eat as of November 12, we have seen it popping up in cafes,” Mr Hood said of the rise in hemp products.
“There is a number of cafes in Melbourne and Geelong that have added it to their menu.
“We are also seeing it in pet foods, and bakeries [are] putting hemp bread on the menu. It’s going to be an interesting space to watch.
“There are certainly a lot of innovative people out there working with it at the moment.”
Next health food craze?
Christopher Anderson and his business partner Danielle stock hemp in their wholefoods store in Brunswick, Melbourne.
“It is very popular at the moment. We’re selling out of it regularly and we also have [products] in our café, and Danielle actually designed our smoothie,” Mr Anderson said.
“It’s called Banana in Hemp Pyjamas,” Danielle said.
Mr Anderson and Danielle said they had experienced more consumer interest, and anticipated hemp could be the next health food craze, alongside produce such as quinoa and kale.
“They [the customers] were just like ‘Yep, cool, this is the new food trend and we’re on it’.”
Mr Anderson said customers were intrigued by the plant often associated with marijuana.
“They just really want to know what is the benefit of it. It is the mystery sort of plant in that it’s been confused with its cousin marijuana,” he said.
“We’re explaining the benefits of it, which are the omega three, six and nine together as a whole unit, and the full amino acid profile.
“Obviously we have to explain to them that it does have that sort of very raw green taste to it.”
Interest from local farmers
Since hemp became legal to consume, Australian Primary Hemp has experienced an increase in interest from farmers interested in growing the plant.
Charlie Mann, a farmer from Derrinallum in Victoria’s south-west, is about to harvest the hemp he recently integrated into his farming business.
“We were just looking at diversifying even further and looking at things that are being done elsewhere around the world that we aren’t doing, and saw it as an opportunity,” Mr Mann said.
“It’s turned out to be a good one. It’s the same as growing most crops, just that there’s a lot more hype around it and a lot of interest around it. It’s quite good fun really.”