The Australian industrial hemp industry is earmarked as having high growth potential within the AgriFutures Australia Emerging Industries Program.
In March 2022, the publication of the Australian Industrial Hemp Strategic RD&E Plan (2022-2027) was crucial to identifying growth drivers and enabling industry to tap into this potential. The Plan was the result of extensive industry research and stakeholder consultation both identifying research needs and prioritising investments.
To achieve the growth target for industrial hemp, an increase in the scale of production, access to regionally suitable varieties, better understanding of the agronomy, more efficient mechanisation for harvesting and processing, and established long-term markets to assist hemp to become a valuable crop in Australia have been identified.
One specific, high priority activity identified was the development of a nationally coordinated industrial hemp variety trial covering current and future, major production environments. The IHVT project will address two goals outlined in the Plan.
Firstly, to enable growers access to hemp varieties suitable for profitable fibre and seed/ oil production, and that have the traits and characteristics required for adaption to the potential production environment. Secondly, to ensure industry participants have a good understanding of prioritised hemp product qualities with regards to functionality and source of variation (genetic, environment, management, processing).
National trial to aid ambitions
The IHVT program was launched in 2021, co-funded by AgriFutures Australia and the participating state and territory government agencies, to address and overcome the challenges facing the industry around varietal selection.
Historically, limited research into production in Australia, and differences in methodology (varieties, timing, data collection) have made it difficult to compare results between studies. The key outcome of the IHVT is to provide individual variety recommendations and times of sowing, across diverse geographic regions of Australia.
Providing a coordinated approach across trials in different regions of Australia and providing access to comparable data will enable growers to make informed decisions on-farm.
Seven sites across three climatic zones
The IHVT was launched across seven sites within Northern, Central and Southern Australian climatic zones. For consistent results, each trial site must adhere to agreed conditions outlined in the Trial Protocols.
The trials are being conducted over a three-year period. Additional trial sites may be added in future, with encouraging discussions for sites in NSW and Qld.
Mark Skewes (South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)) and John Muir (Hemp Farming Systems) are the Trial Co-ordinator and Trial Agronomist respectively.
The Trial Coordinator undertakes variety selection each season and provides guidance on trial design and data collection, whilst the Trial Agronomist provides technical advice to trial site operations, including site visits throughout the growing season, and facilitates capacity building for trial staff.
Mr Skewes notes the importance of the program for industry development is significant and key to answering two fundamental questions posed by potential growers “what industrial hemp varieties should I plant in my region?” and “when is the best time to plant industrial hemp in my area?”.
“The information developed by the IHVT will provide answers to these questions and will give new growers the best possible chance to make a success of industrial hemp. Once these basic questions are answered, there will be opportunity to address further questions, but these two are some of the most basic,” added Mr Skewes.
The yield to date
The results of the trial are still being compiled at the earliest trial sites, and sites in the Northern climatic zone are to be harvested in late 2022. Early data from Southern and Central zones indicate good yields of grain are possible at those trial sites.
The development of the IHVT has been welcomed by the industrial hemp industry stakeholders. The opportunity to access clear scientific data comparing varieties and sowing dates provides the industry with robust evidence to make selections, providing for greater confidence across the industry.
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