South Australian Hemp Industry Progress

Industrial hemp in South Australia
Image: South Australian Research and Development Institute

The total number of industrial hemp licences issued in South Australia have doubled since trials kicked off in 2018 – but the state’s hemp industry is still very much at a nascent stage.

According to the Adelaide Advertiser (paywall) 21 businesses are now approved to produce or process hemp in South Australia (19 cultivators, 2 processors) and the Marshall Government has confirmed a fourth season of hemp trials will proceed in the state’s South-East.

The trials are led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regions SA’s (PIRSA’s) research arm, the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

The latest SA Industrial Hemp Trials update report released in September states over three seasons trials have clearly shown industrial hemp can be grown very successfully in South Australia.

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The trials have been focused on evaluating varieties and times of sowing for optimal industrial hemp production in the state. A total of 14 different industrial hemp varieties have been trialed, sown across a range of different sowing times – from late October to mid-January.

Among the varieties tested in 2019/20 were Han NE and Han FNQ, which have performed well. However, the report notes these varieties should be used with caution in South Australia, stating:

“The base THC levels of these varieties is relatively high, and variation in THC production due to climatic or other influences has the potential to push the THC levels above 1.0%.”

Above 1% and hemp is no longer legally considered hemp; but marijuana – even though even at 1% it has no recreational value. Above 1% and a crop is considered “hot” and must be destroyed. Such a scenario can also have legal implications for farmers.

While things are looking promising for a health hemp industry in South Australia, the experience hasn’t been positive for all participants. In April last year, we mentioned the plight of a farmer who had given up on hemp – not due to government red tape or market conditions, but because of “relentless” interference from the public in the form of theft. It’s a problem not confined to South Australia or Australia by any means; many farmers in the USA have been victims of hemp theft.

The stakes are high in Australia for clueless hemp thieves. If caught, not only can they be prosecuted for the theft, but also for breaches in industrial hemp legislation. For example, in South Australia there is a maximum penalty of $15,000 and may also include up to 12 months imprisonment. It’s a big price to pay for ripping off a plant that won’t give you a buzz.