Last year, after a license was granted by Health Minister Andrew Green, three former firefighters began planting hemp at a previously secret location, which is now known to be the former States nurseries site, Warwick Farm.
Just 2½ vergées were planted but now, following the success of the first crop, which was recently harvested, 277 vergées are due to be planted at a number of locations around the Island.
Seeds from the hemp plants are pressed locally to make hemp cooking oil and cannabidiol (CBD) oil – a substance thought to have medicinal properties which has increased in popularity in recent years.
It is not the first time hemp – which is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species – has been grown locally. During the late 19th century the plant was grown extensively and, once harvested, was used to produce rope and sails for ships.
The idea of growing hemp is part of a larger initiative to diversify Jersey’s agriculture industry, with tea and honeyberry crops also being planted in other parts of Jersey.
One of the farmers behind the hemp project, Dave Ryan, chief executive of Jersey Hemp, said that the first crop had grown extremely well despite having to endure spells of poor weather.
‘We brought a hemp farmer over from the UK to help us harvest the crop and he was amazed at how well it had grown,’ he said.
‘We planted around 30 days later than the UK farms but he came over a month after we planted and he said our crop was already much bigger than other farms.
‘We had all sorts of weather, from 30°C heat to really windy storms, but the plants just breezed through it.’
Mr Ryan added that he was now waiting for fields to dry out and Jersey Royals to be lifted so that he could plant his next crop, expected to cover around 277 vergées.
He also said that sewing and harvesting hemp was not labor intensive and could instead be done with machines.
‘We have been speaking with a number of potato and dairy farmers about using their land to grow hemp,’ he said.
‘When the potatoes come up we will put the hemp in, harvest it and then give the fields back again before the next potato season.
‘We are also waiting for our new growing license to be issued, as we do not want to fall outside the law.’
The three former firefighters – Mr Ryan, Kevin Mars and Blair Jones – are also working with Dr Christopher Callaghan, an environmental plant biochemist from Newcastle University, to produce hemp oil.
And Mr Ryan said that he had already received significant interest from people wanting to buy his products.
‘We have had a lot of interest from people who want to use the plant for various different things and we sold out of our first batch of oil.
‘When we eventually have crop going in on a regular basis and more continuity we should start being able to sell it to local shops and wholesalers. It is very exciting.’
Meanwhile, in a field above Bouley Bay, the Jersey Royal Potato Company is continuing its trials of tea plants, with the first harvest expected in May 2019.
William Church, the director of sales and marketing at the company, said that the plants were growing well and they were already planning on increasing the number of crops.
‘We planted in an area last year and thought that they might be ready to pick this year,’ he said.
‘After engaging with our consultants we learnt that we needed to prune them more, which has caused a slight delay and we are not likely to get any production this year.
‘We are aiming to increase our growing area from five to 25 vergées but we have got to get it up and running and off the ground first before we do much more.’
A small number of honeyberry plants have also been planted but, like tea plants, take a number of years to mature and produce fruit which can be harvested.
Environment Minister Steve Luce, who has been heading the project to find alternative crops for the Island and was recently re-elected unopposed as Deputy of St Martin, said: ‘There have been a few trials around the Island, including one in front of Howard Davis Farm and a few corners of commercial fields.
‘They have not really grown yet. Like the tea plants it takes a number of years before they are ready.’