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Hemp growing opportunities in Yorkshire

Last month saw the inaugural meeting of the BioVale Roundtable, a select group of key regional stakeholders brought together to provide expert opinion, share knowledge and create opportunities across the bioeconomy.

We were pleased to welcome representatives from organisations from across the bioeconomy spectrum including Simpson, City of York Council, Grow Yorkshire, NNFCC, AB Agri, University of York, Drax and Fera Science. The diversity of backgrounds and new perspectives that were brought created a stimulating discussion and we were thrilled at the useful connections that were made between people who may not have ordinarily linked up.

The intention for every meeting is to have a topic for discussion that is currently hot in the bioeconomy and pertinent for the region. For this meeting we discussed the opportunities around hemp and invited Mark Blakeston from Grow Yorkshire along to be our expert. Grow Yorkshire supports farming and food business across the Yorkshire region seeking innovation and greater profitability by signposting them to the extensive resources available.

It was interesting to learn from Mark how Grow Yorkshire had recognised the potential supply chain opportunities for hemp growing in the region. A report they commissioned entitled Yorkshire Hemp Supply Chain showed that there has been a regional increase in demand and interest in hemp growing because of the crop’s environmental benefits and wide range of commercial uses.

Hemp is an interesting opportunity for carbon capture because of its potential to absorb more carbon dioxide than trees. It is estimated that for every tonne of hemp that is grown, 1.63 tonnes of carbon dioxide is removed from the air. Meaning that this crop could be useful for helping the region to tackle climate change and achieving ‘net zero’.

Hemp also has particular features that make it an attractive prospect for farmers to grow:

·        Hemp helps to regenerate the soil that it is growing in. As the seeds ripen the hemp leaves fall to the ground returning their nutrients to the soil.

·        Hemp is quick growing, only taking four months to grow to maturity. This makes it ideal for use in crop rotation. It also quickly smothers surrounding weeds reducing the need for weed killers.

·        Hemp’s natural resistance to pests means that no pesticides are needed.

·        The roots of the hemp plant can grow to nine feet deep, making it great for reducing soil erosion, a key issue facing farmers today.

Hemp has a wide array of commercial opportunities not least the controversial CBD oil which can be used for a variety of medicinal reasons from relief of anxiety to period pain. CBD oil can also be used in cosmetic treatments for the hair and skin. Grow Yorkshire’s report found that the UK CBD market is worth £300m and set to reach £1b by 2025. However, UK policy limits the amount of hemp that is grown in the UK meaning that we rely on imports from US & Eastern Europe.

Hemp can also be used in ‘hempcrete’, which is a sustainable building material that can benefit the thermal efficiency of the buildings that it is used in. Grow Yorkshire’s report showed that hempcrete is a particularly interesting opportunity for the region as there has been an 100% increase in demand for it over the last 5 years.

Other not so well known uses for hemp include textile production and in food. Hemp seeds can be eaten or ground into a protein powder.

Mark explained to the Roundtable that Grow Yorkshire see hemp growing as an excellent opportunity for the region and are keen to support the growth of the sector. In their report, Grow Yorkshire have put forward recommendations as to how this support can be delivered. The recommendations include funding for a development programme and the creation of a Special Interest Group (SIG), led by us here at BioVale.

The Yorkshire Hemp Supply Chain report forms part of a wider programme by Grow Yorkshire to support farmers and growers to deliver a ‘net zero future’. You can read the report and more about Grow Yorkshire’s work on their website.

Sara Goodhead, BioVale

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