Monday, February 01, 2010

The BBC has a show called Farming Today, and about once a year they discuss hemp. Recently Peter Tat of the BBC contacted me and picked my brain about the state of the industry in the UK, and I gave him a rough history and told him rather candidly what I thought, which is along these lines:

Hemcore, a company started in the '90s, had the monopoly over seed sales, and the gov regluated which varieties, so only about 19, out of 1,000, could be sold. Basically Hemcore farmers produced low grade fibre for insulation and/or seed for oil. Paper and textiles did not catch on. I know a few people who would like to start these up, notably Jane Pasquill in Cornwall, but this takes more commitment than just chopping up bast for car door insulation. Paper would be easier, but even when I made 3 tons, or rather commissioned 3 tons under the aegis of the well known and colourful character John Hanson of Lyme Regis, we bought French (they are the largest EU hemp growers) hemp and had it pulped in Spain. It got made in Scotland, that was a decade ago. I still have a bit left.
So why are there not more? Most hemp businesses can buy processed goods from China, and most companies in the UK are low budget affairs, I believe Sativa is the most well funded and well run. Two brothers in West London, which became the hub of the hemp industry, with them and THTC, myself and my co-authors, and Bobby Pugh who lives and now warehouses his stock in West London. So Hemcore sold seed, dealt with farmers, did some of the middleman bit, and then went bust I understand, though I cannot in all fairness speak for them. We are sort of on other sides of the fence, as the Guardian article pointed out. We talked and got along, but they did their thing and I did mine. Obviously the issue of farmers not getting paid recently has caused a dent in the overall confidence in the hemp industry, and caused others to state that there ought to be more companies that sell seed. I understand there was a company that did, but it was not well funded.

The future holds a bright possibility - as hemp, without human bickering, politics, etc., is a simple crop - 80-100 days, easy to harvest, etc. My suggestion has always been grow it for seed, as there is a proven market (over 12 seed/oil bottlers in the UK, they seem to do well) and then use the stems for paper, then rough textiles.

Why? Because then a proven product can make the money while other products which require experimentation, milling, etc. can be worked out. Years ago BioRegional made field trials and only went for textile hemp, which as I told them, would not work out. The UK is not a milling country. They could, however, have made coarse matting, rugs, etc., and/or paper.

Peter asked about the future of the hemp industry in the UK, and I told him the future is what we make of it. With greater understanding, and a more realistic and gradual approach, we can make of it an industry that will provide much needed jobs in the UK. I recall also mentioning that there was little support from the Labour government! I got more from the Lib Dems, people like Baroness Jenny Tonge for instance, and the Tories - Boris Johnson took my book and even sent a copy to his illustrious dad, Stanley. Are the Tories going to get in and grow more hemp? I hope so, but we will see. Some of the BBC's questions remain to be answered.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Give a fool enough rope and he will hang himself...................................................