Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in conversation with Ed Hanbidge, Kiltegan, Co.Wicklow, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment. The hemp farmer discusses establishing the enterprise, selling products direct to consume, its untapped potential in Ireland and the future of Irish agriculture.
“Farming has always been in the family, both on my mother’s and father’s side, for eight generations in total.
My earliest memories are draining the land in the 80s, building the slatted shed and filling bags of pulp nuts for ewes on the hill with my grandad.
I run Keadeen Mountain Farms with John, my father and Spencer, my brother. The enterprise spans around 550-acres altogether, 80 of which we have devoted to forestry.
I farm 120-acres, but I hope to increase my land base to 170 next year. On the other hand, Spencer has 180-acre, and John has the remainder.
We grow certified organic hemp on our home farm and harvest, press and produce a range of products whilst promoting its multitude of health and environmental benefits.
I sell products directly from the farm gate and on the website – thehempfarm.ie – and they include:
- Gold organic hemp seed oil balm 60ml;
- Green organic hemp seed oil balm 60ml;
- Organic Cannabinoid and Terpene Full Spectrum Oil 10ml;
- Organic Cannabinoid and Terpene Full Spectrum 30ml;
- Organic hemp fibre 100g pouch;
- Organic hemp protein powder 500g;
- Organic hemp seed oil 250ml.
I first came across hemp in 2007 when it was brought to my attention you could build an entire house from hemp. It sparked my interest then, so I started looking into how it was grown and where.
I wanted to do something different, something that was niche. I also had to see if all that you read about was true, and the only way to find out is to do it.
The seed is one of the most nutritional foods on the planet. If there were ever a plant designed for humans, it would be the hemp plant.
Most animals will eat it, including fish, and a canary will not sing unless it eats hempseed.
The hemp plant has a tap root that aerates the soil. It will go deep and mine minerals and bring them closer to the top.
As it grows, it loses the fan leaves, putting organic matter back into the soil. It grows very well in sandy soil and is very drought tolerant.
It is a crop that you could very easily include in any farming system, and it can be sown in May & cut in August/September.
Moreover, it would be a better option going forward for carbon sequestering than trees, as it absorbs as much as a 10-year-old forestry in 4 months, and it is an annual.
It can be grown easily in Ireland and grows well, but it is a crop that needs fertility. It is a crop that grows as quick and, as it is tall, needs nutrition.
A lot of misconceptions out there claim it can grow anywhere. The truth is that it will not; it might grow, but it will not perform, nor would it be profitable.
I jumped in with both feet before looking. I wanted to see if I could grow it. But, I assumed it could be easily sold if you had it, but I was naive.
Then when I had it ready for harvest, I realised it was not so simple. I had to work hard then to find markets and get it sold.
I had to start processing it to make a product that could be sold and add value to it. Out of necessity and sheer determination, I established the hemp farm.
You have to work it into the rotation; it grows well after grass/legumes and before grain.
The seed must be dried, so only grow as much as you can dry, and you must dry ASAP to 8% moisture.
A year in summary:
- Get your licence application into HPRA in January;
- Get your seed order in February;
- Graze off the field and get ready to slurry, lime, plough, till, sow, and roll in May;
- Combine in September;
- Clean the seed and store it.
Stubbornness, determination and a thick skin are key in becoming a hemp farmer. So, essentially it is the same as any business.
It is not rocket science, but it is tough to sell because it is still new, and the awareness is not there. If people knew how good it was for them, there would be greater demand.
It has been reported that the crop could potentially make upwards of €10,000/acre; however, it depends on the end use. For fibre, no. For seed alone, no. For food products and food supplements, yes.
There are not many hemp growers in Ireland; I would say there are around 70 growers, on average, every year. I am a member of the Hemp Cooperative Ireland, Teagasc, the IFA and the Dexter Society.
My ultimate desire is to farm like my grandfather, where there was a small amount of everything produced.
To me, sustainability means being self-sufficient, so growing all feed for all animals. Hemp is an excellent source of protein. I would like to expand and include more farmers to produce more seed.
More farmers in Ireland should consider hemp farming because the processing facilities are coming on stream soon, so they will have an outlet, a price, and it will tick every green agenda box.
Hemp has a role. The seed is a more digestible source of protein than soya that can be grown here. We can also use it to build houses, retrofit houses and improve energy efficiency.
Ireland is a country that will benefit from growing this crop because we can and do it very well.
I feel that farming is a great way of life, but appreciation for food is not there. I feel we have become too reliant on payments; a cheap food policy is not a good policy for the farmer.
Also, I think supermarkets have consumers spoiled for choice, and we no longer eat seasonally and become too dependent on imported foods with a just-in-time supply chain.
I think if we can be realistic about carbon, Ireland has a chance, but I think the policymakers are getting bad advice and making bad decisions.
Farmers need to come together and stand up for the way we farm in this country. If Ireland could produce all or most of our inputs here, then we can reduce our dependency on foreign inputs, and it is possible to do without culling the herd.”
See more Farmer Focus profiles.
To share your story like this hemp farmer, email – [email protected]