Tasmanian Researchers Studying Hemp As Sheep Feed

Hemp as sheep fodder
Image: Christels

Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) researchers are investigating hemp’s potential as a dual-use crop – sheep fodder as well as seed.

The research, led by Dr Beth Penrose, will occur over two years and involve trial sites established at TIA’s Forthside research facility situated on Tasmania’s north-west coast  and a commercial property near Cressy, which is around 35 kilometres south-west of Launceston.

There’s a complication with this research though –  grazing of industrial hemp is not allowed in Tasmania currently (or anywhere else in Australia for that matter). Instead crops will be cut at different heights to simulate grazing activity. One of the reasons there is a ban on livestock chomping down on hemp are concerns over tetrahydrocannabinol tainting  meat and milk; even though THC levels in hemp are extremely low. However, not all sheep are grown for meat – so it’s a bit an odd ban in that respect and could be another case of legislation needing to catch up in this new post-hemp-demonising world.

Industrial hemp grown in Tasmania must have not more than 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in the leaves and flowering heads. Any seed used for planting crops must be certified and typically produce hemp plants with a THC concentration of not more than 0.5%.

This new initiative builds on a recent TIA honours project that studied the nutritional value of industrial hemp as animal feed.

“We are building on this research by looking at five varieties of industrial hemp and assessing the effects of genotype, grazing time and environment on the nutritional value,” said  Dr Penrose. “We also want to find out the impact that grazing has on the yield of hemp seeds, and whether it could potentially increase the yield and the overall value of the crop.”

According to President of the Tasmanian Hemp Association (THA), Tasmania currently supplies more than 80 per cent of Australia’s hemp seed used in food applications. The THA is one of the funders of this project, along with Agrifutures; an Australian Government backed organisation with an objective of growing the long-term prosperity of Australian rural industries.

The Tasmanian effort isn’t the first significant research project in Australia to assess hemp’s suitability as sheep fodder. In February we mentioned the Western Australia government was backing hemp-as-fodder research; but we haven’t heard how that is progressing.

There’s certainly precedent for feeding hemp to livestock – farmers in The Netherlands have been feeding cattle industrial hemp fiber as a supplement for many years.

In Tasmania, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) is the agency responsible for administering the state’s Industrial Hemp Act 2015,​ which authorises the supply, cultivation, manufacture and research of industrial hemp in the state.

Discover more about agricultural uses for hemp.