Making a Difference: The Hemp Cooperative Ireland
The Hemp Cooperative Ireland is a member-owned, registered cooperative with the aim of creating an infrastructure for farmers and local businesses to develop the hemp industry in Ireland. Hemp Cooperative Ireland will support farmers to access resources, equipment, and markets through a national body and local hubs. A cooperative is a business owned and democratically controlled by the people who use its services, in our case our members.
One of our main aims is raising awareness within the farming community and the general public about the benefits of the industry. Ireland is renowned for its farming, however many farmers are disenchanted with the systems that govern food production.
Ireland has a large beef and dairy sector, and silage and grass production are a large part of the Irish agricultural system. Ireland produces a small amount of vegetables and a lot of the grain grown is used on-farm or for feed production. https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-eii/eii19/landuse/
Hemp is a unique opportunity for many farmers to branch out into a new sector, and there is plenty of curiosity about hemp among the community. However, the lack of infrastructure is a huge stumbling block in any discussion about farm diversification.
We are actively developing a community of 175+ farmers and businesses to assist in the growth of the sector. Skill sharing and local knowledge is key in Ireland, as we experience a range of climates and markets unique to each area. Ireland is split into four provinces, Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster. We operate a hub in each area, offering farm walks, hosting face-to-face meetings and facilitating networking.
Many farmers are put off by the licenses required to grow the crop. In Ireland, we have to apply for a license to grow hemp to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) under the Health Service Executive (HSE). Farmers must provide details of the land used, any rental agreements signed, end-users for the hemp and folios for the farm. This can be daunting for a farmer who is simply experimenting with an acre or two. However, the HPRA has been very helpful to all who apply and guides them through the process as the sector grows and more license applications are made every year.
The Cooperative is in constant communication with local and national authorities to ensure that hemp farmers and business owners are aware of and adhering to legislation and standards. We provide a support network of growers and businesses, but are also trying to iron out the kinks with the relevant departments in government.
Part of the reason why the HPRA requires a license is to ensure that the flowering tops of the hemp plant are not supplied onwards. The license requires that these are destroyed on site, and are not in any way processed beforehand.
Trace amounts of THC in products are considered under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to be illegal: therefore, a crop with less than 0.2% THC in the field is licensed, but once the flowers are harvested, they are considered a drug.
We believe there should be a minimum limit placed on THC in food and cosmetics to remove the grey-area confusion. CBD products can stay below a certain level, and this needs to be communicated effectively to business owners stocking products, and the departments responsible for regulating hemp-based products.
Opening the Industry
However, the Cooperative is delighted to be able to work freely with seed and fibre. We are aiming to ease licensing requirements for fibre growers in some capacity and hope to have in place the necessary infrastructure to process what our farmers grow. There is interest from the building sector in the products made from hemp, which is vital for the value chain to be continued. Manufacturers of hempcrete, for example, are importing their hurd and fibre from Europe and the UK, and we can simply work with them to supply existing businesses.
The ’Chicken and Egg’ dilemma, as in the United States, applies to Irish growers. If a farmer grows hemp without an end-user, there is no profit. If a business starts a decortication plant, and there is no hemp to put through it and no buyer for the hurd, there is no profit. If a plasterer wants to use Irish hemp without a grower and a processor, there is no way to get materials.
The cooperative model allows for communication up and down the value stream, ensuring personal connection between businesspeople and their suppliers and buyers.
This is why creating 100% Irish-grown markets from seed to shop is our final aim: we hope that through the continuing efforts of the cooperative members we can bring the hemp value chain into existence in Ireland.