High time for hemp in the Clarence Valley?
THE industry is growing like weeds in Northern NSW but is it time to bring hemp to the Clarence Valley?
According to Eliza Priddle, the plant has been a lifesaver for many struggling farmers on our doorstep.
Ms Priddle began working for Hemp for Horses, an offshoot for Northern Rivers-based agricultural business Broadleaf Hemp, six months ago after she saw their vision in action.
She said the "co-op"-style business run by Dylan Wood and Chris Fair allowed farmers to grow hemp for Broadleaf on their own land using the business's permit.
"One of the biggest limits to growing hemp is the set-up costs and getting the permits are quite difficult and expensive," she said.
"The reason it's making such a difference is it is grown organically and spray-free and it rejuvenates the soil. So all the issues that we're having with soil being depleted, the hemp is actually turning that around."
Ms Priddle said with drought conditions dire, young farmers were "leaving in droves because there is no money in it". But hemp could change that.
"It's an industry that's interesting to younger people, they are having good results getting young people back on farms to grow hemp," she said.
Broadleaf Hemp is working with farms in Casino and wants to expand the business throughout the state. The question is, could the Clarence Valley be next?
The growing industry is one James Maloney has considered delving into, as his family has been farming his Tyndale property for more than 150 years.
He said in the farm's long history it had sown many different seeds and although sugar cane was a reliable crop for now, he could be growing something else entirely in 50 years - something like hemp.
Mr Maloney said if the market continued to grow and transport for the plant became more accessible, he would start thinking green.
"I think it's a good fibre industry and there is real potential for it here," he said.
However there was one major issue standing in the way of Clarence farmers taking up the crop. Industrial hemp was intolerant to waterlogged soil, a problem Mr Maloney said was currently too big of a risk for a crop situated on vast floodplains.
"We're having drier drys and wetter wets and it's about having a sustainable crop," he said.
"If you're planting an entire crop and you might not get it, well, sugar cane is an incredibly durable crop that has been sustainable here for a long time."
Clarence Valley Council director of environment, planning and community Des Schroder said the council had been approached by several organisations in recent years to grow crops on its land.
He said the council would welcome the new industry as long as it was legal and regulated by the State Government.
"The hemp industry, it's got a few more hurdles from a regulation point of view," he said.
"We're supportive in the right circumstances."