Wanted: farmers to grow 5,000 acres of hemp for Westmeath firm

At the moment nine farmers around the country are growing hemp for the company, and DeDanu is looking for farmers to grow 1,500-2,000 hectares of the crop.
At the moment nine farmers around the country are growing hemp for the company, and DeDanu is looking for farmers to grow 1,500-2,000 hectares of the crop.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

An Athlone-based company is looking for farmers to grow thousands of hectares of hemp.

DeDanu, which produces Cannabidiol (CBD)-based products from hemp, is planning significant expansion over the next year.

At the moment nine farmers around the country are growing hemp for the company, and DeDanu is looking for farmers to grow 1,500-2,000 hectares of the crop.

Hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant with lower levels of THC - the psychoactive component - and growing it is regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

There is 370ha licensed by the HPRA to grow hemp in Ireland, according to Leah Fletcher, who set up DeDanu with her husband, having worked in the hemp sector in Canada before moving home to Westmeath.

The company is launching a funding round as well as a drive to recruit more hemp-growing farmers.

The ideal growers, Ms Fletcher said, would be certified organic already and ideally can harvest and dry the hemp.

"Ideally we could set up a co-op and farmers could drop off the biomass - the flower, seed and leaf," she said.

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Hemp grows well, to over 6ft, in well-drained, loamy soils and likes a pH level of 6.5, she said.

"There's no exact answers for how you sow it or the soil [type needed], as we have very little research on it and some of the best crops we've seen have been sown by hand and rolled in gently, so the seeds were only about a quarter of an inch in the ground," she explained.

"It needs to be planted well after frost, so mid-April to mid-May would be the time to sow."

Finola is the plant that's most popular in Ireland, according to Ms Fletcher; it takes around 90 days to reach maturity. Hemp seeds cost in the region of €160/ac or €400/ha.

The company is looking at contracts for hemp flowers for next year.

"If a field tests at 2pc CBD content, a farmer would get €10/kg. So an acre might get you €2,250 for the top part of the plant," said Ms Fletcher.

At the moment there is no real market in Ireland for the stalk, according to Fletcher, but it can be used in insulation or bioplastics.

The seeds are suitable for cold pressing for oil or as a food, while the leaf is used in teas and for juicing, and the flower is used for CBD oil.

The company plans to have two consultants working with farmers next year, as part of its expansion plans.

Ireland's agricultural reputation, Ms Fletcher says, means it is an ideal country to produce hemp in. "We are looking at selling hemp into European markets."

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