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New Tropical Industrial Hemp

T. Jobling, P. Warner.

Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture,

PO Box 426, Ashgrove, Qld, 4060, Australia. phone +61 7 3366 0889 fax +61 7 3366 0890 email:


Industrial hemp trials in Australia have previously been limited to using European certified cultivars which are specifically adapted to long summer daylengths for production. In Australia, these varieties flower prematurely thereby limiting yield. Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture (AHRM) has developed subtropical cultivars and in the summer 1999 – 2000 conducted a comprehensive variety trial near Toowoomba. The subtropical variety INSX achieved yields over 10 t/ha DM harvested stalk, with all subtropical variety yields higher than those of European cultivars. The trial used staggered sowing dates to co-ordinate maturity of early flowering and late flowering varieties. The results are discussed with respect to sowing dates, THC concentrations, harvesting times and maturation.

Key words: Hemp, Cannabis sativa, bast fibre, cultivar, yield, THC concentration Introduction

Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture (AHRM) in summer 1999/2000 completed its first breeding/production trial program of industrial hemp in mainland Australia. These trials were the first trials of subtropical hemp varieties in Australia. Hemp has been investigated as potential new crop for Australia since the early nineties. Small-scale trial programs were permitted in Tasmania from 1991, and then other southern states from 1995, using European cultivars of known THC level (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component) (Ditchfield et al. 1997, C. Bluett, pers. comm.). These trials showed that although the industrial hemp varieties available did grow in Australian farming conditions, they were limited by short summer daylengths, unsuitable irrigation regimes in the dry- summer regions and a lack of agronomic experience amongst researchers. These trials encouraged hemp researchers to work further towards developing the industry through further research into processing technology, suitable varieties and agronomy (Ditchfield 1999).

Enabling Legislation and Policy

Australian legislation does not yet differentiate between the marijuana type (higher THC) and the industrial type (lower THC) of the Cannabis sativa species. It is banned as a plant species (and in some states as a fibre product) rather as the drug and this ban is within state legislation rather than federal law. To date, Tasmania and Victoria have reviewed their legislation and crops of industrial Cannabis sativa with THC lower than 0.3% are permitted. In other states, most of which are currently reviewing legislation, trials have been conducted under special licence exemptions from illegality. In most cases these licences limit growers to cultivars of THC concentration known to be below 0.3%, effectively limiting trials to European cultivars. In Queensland, AHRM has negotiated a breeder’s licence that permits outdoor trials of varieties of THC concentration up to 1%. This enabled, for the first time, subtropical hemp varieties to be trialled in Australian subtropical cropping regions.

Background to trials

Given legislative limitations, AHRM began development of a tropical/subtropical hemp breeding program at Norfolk Island, outside the mainland Australian legal jurisdiction. In 1998, germplasm considered to have potential was grown in glasshouses in comparison with European cultivars. The subtropical accessions flowered in 61+ days from sowing (cf. 16 to 36 days for European cultivars) and reached heights over 2m (cf. 50 cm for European varieties) (Ditchfield 1999). Seed of these accessions was multiplied and imported into Australia for variety trials in summer 1999-2000.

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