EIHA Conference

As the global hemp renaissance continues to thrive we look at

The rapidly developing face of the European Hemp Industry

The Hemp Company is a member of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) and we have been regular attendees at their annual conference. The demographic of the people attending has certainly changed over time and big business, big finance, tobacco, and pharmaceutical giants are moving into hemp.  In the early 1900s,  big business interests drove this once thriving industry into anonymity when at that time they spearheaded a strategic demonisation of this most beneficial plant in favour of petroleum-based fabrics, plastics and other materials. In 1970, the European Commission reintroduced the crop to European farms and has supported the growth of the sector with subsidies and incentives to drive innovation in the agricultural sector. Recently the EU Commission said that its investment in the hemp sector over the past 50 years looked like it would now be paying dividends. While the hemp crop remains niche compared to other more conventional crops, the unique sustainability credentials of the crop and its extraordinary range of use potentials means it is now one of the most valuable crops for Europe’s farmers in this era of Climate change.  Against this backdrop the 2022 European industry conference got underway in Brussels, a two-minute walk from the European Parliament building -These are the Major takeaways from this year’s conference.

Together is better – there is only one planet

EIHA has spearheaded an amalgamation of international hemp organisations from around the world to galvanise the global hemp industry — The Federation Of Hemp Organisations will reach unified positions on hemp to assist international efforts to harmonise the global hemp supply chain, the huge increase in farm level hemp production and the expanding global trade. Working together to ensure the huge opportunities are realised far outweighs the need for competition between representative bodies.  Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities for every country everywhere on the planet and in all of the diverse sectors where hemp is now used.  At national level hemp farmers,  processors, rural communities, and small/medium business operators need to be supported with an even playing field to ensure the vast economic, social, and environmental benefits of this amazing agricultural crop are fully realised.

Gearing up for carbon-efficient EU agriculture

The European Commission arrived for Hemp Federation Ireland’s groundbreaking presentation on the role of industrial hemp in Europe’s newly synchronised, and seriously monetised agriculture, agri-food, land- use, and climate policy objectives. Chris Allen, the director of Ireland’s national hemp industry representative body, advised that the EU Sustainable Carbon Cycles policy underpinned a new global currency where the reserve is held neither in oil or in gold but in the value of the carbon sequestered by Europe’s farmers in the ground beneath their feet. She described how industrial hemp will provide all three of the world’s future food basket needs, while also providing the biomass for carbon neutral industrial materials which will replace fossil carbon at every level of the EU Sustainable Carbon Cycles ‘’cascade’’.

Chris highlighted that although the carbon sequestration potential of hemp outstrips the sequestration potential of forestry, the carbon sequestered in hemp is not yet included in carbon accounting practices. The industry must therefore insist that hemp is treated similarly to wood-based products to avail not only of the financial benefits for farmers but also the environmental potentials of the crop. Further, it is essential that the prioritisation of food and carbon-negative industrial materials is privileged over fuel production. Hemp is unique in that after harvesting the food aspect of the crop you can then utilise all other parts of the plant in a cascade of multi-purposes.

The re-establishment of Industrial Hemp, (currently identified by having a <0.2% THC threshold), as a valid agricultural crop by the EU Commission allows the subsidy instruments that assist farming through the CAP, (Common Agricultural Policy), and CMO, (Common Market Organisation), to be available to all European farmers. This should effectively remove any confusion among Member States as to the position of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop and remove barriers to its cultivation and development.

Hemp food is front and central

Despite the numerous applications of hemp plant products, by far the most important one is the plant’s capacity to provide us with an immensely nutritious food source. Challenges to food sovereignty and security are increasingly becoming matters for everyone’s concern. This is due not only to the obvious problems raised by the war in Ukraine, the bread basket of Europe, but also the ongoing environmental crisis that many people are yet to realise is deepening in its urgency, especially in relation to food supply. Around 1.27 million acres of land have burned across the EU countries this year with food crop yields seriously compromised by high temperatures. 

Several European countries including Poland, Romania, and Germany have made considerable strides in the development of their hemp foods sector. A significant trend towards plant-based foods in general, especially those with highly nutritious protein profiles of which hemp is king, is underway. However many governments are only beginning to realise the massive role hemp foods can play in that context. Despite Ireland being well ahead of the curve, having had a thriving hemp food base for over a decade, the lack of state financial and regulatory support is stifling the sector here. It would be great to see this imbalance being rectified as we could be using the knowledge and expertise of our pioneering hemp farmers to advise and educate the army of Irish and European farmers looking to transition to sustainable agricultural food production. Throughout the EU, hemp farmers and processors are encouraged by increasingly supportive policies to grow their farms and market their products with the same encouragement and support as all other EU agricultural crops.

Developing machinery for hemp

Many countries are also now continuing to develop further the farming equipment and the processing machinery required for the hemp industry, fuelled by the increase in financial support available. Rather than reinventing the wheel, farming and machinery development, having always worked in tandem, are also looking to adapt and evolve existing farm machinery to the new demands of industrial hemp cultivation, harvesting, and materials production. France and Roumania have always maintained their hemp textile industries and now the agricultural universities in Belgium are extensively researching the potential of Hemp for textiles based on adapting knowledge and expertise from their existing Flax industry. It makes sense for those countries with a history of textile production and processing to continue to develop this sector.

Developing genetics of hemp

Hemp, which is a member of the Cannabacae plant family, boasts an incredibly large and complex amount of strains all of which will have slightly different properties and applications. Thus working with the genetics of this versatile agricultural crop for scientific research and development purposes is an area of exponential growth for Departments of Agriculture and Universities around the globe. There definitely appears to be no shortage of investment in this aspect of the industry and we can expect to see the further development of new strains in Europe. Again it should be important to ensure that the expertise and knowledge from hemp pioneers and generations of hemp farmers and processors in countries like Ireland, where hemp has been grown for the past fifty years, is not lost. It is very important to strike a balance between the innovative and traditional knowledge and experience especially as the sustainability of the crop must be preserved to realise the environmental benefits.

The Hemp Company are looking forward to the continued rise of hemp as the world’s most useful plant.