Australia's Hemp Industry Gets Head Start

02:19PM Feb 11, 2019
Hemp Farming
Hemp farming
( MGN/Aleks CC BY SA 3.0 )

As the U.S. hemp industry finds its legs following legalization in the 2018 farm bill, in Australia, it's been legal to consume hemp food products for about a year.  There, Hemp oils, seeds and protein powders...all sorts of products can now be found in local supermarkets. The market is gradually growing, but there's work to be done explaining what the new food is all about.

Now part of the landscape, protein-rich hemp plants have been growing on farms around the state of Queensland since November 2017 when the national food legislation was changed to authorize such crops. Since then, the hemp industry has been steadily increasing acreage and products.

Lauchlan Grout farms hemp in Australia and says the market is emerging. 

"We've seen a shift in demand for human consumption products as well as cosmeceutical products," says Grout.

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant without the psychotropic chemical THC that's found in marijuana. Until the change in the law, industrial hemp could only be used for clothing or building material in Australia. Now that it can be grown for food consumption, farmers say they have access to a multi-million dollar global market.

"The demand for industrial hemp in Australia is great, there's always a demand for it because there's hardly any supply," says Grout. 

And new products like cold-pressed hemp milk are finding their way supermarket shelves.

Dr. Gary Mortimer with Queensland University of Technology Business School says it, consumers are still wary.

"Without conducting independent and robust research, it's very difficult to articulate your value proposition," says Mortimer.

Industry experts agree that research is greatly needed both there and here at home. Hemp foods and hemp oil, known as CBD, make a lot of promises, but soon a flood of researchers will join the conversation as limits on working with the products are lifted. Food companies will also need to figure out what customers want.

"In the next twelve months, we hope to see customer purchasing behaviors, data trends and key trends that people can use to bring out products that people are asking for," says Tegan Scates, one of the co-founders of MaMilk, a hemp-based beverage.

While the number of growers in Australia is still small, acreage is expanding as farmers and food companies scramble to get a handle on the future of hemp.

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