First SA industrial hemp harvest under way

While initial results of the state's first industrial hemp harvest have been positive, the growing season has not been all smooth sailing, with reports of theft and recent untimely weather.

Bordertown processor Mick Andersen said the SA harvest was about halfway through, starting in late February, and yields had been pleasing.

He has five SA growers delivering the oilseed to his Good Country Hemp business, from the 11 licences issued across the state. 

"After the seed is dried and cleaned, we are getting results of 900 kilograms to one tonne a hectare, which is fantastic," he said.

"We had budgeted on 0.8t/ha so it's great to be over budget. It means farmers can make some decent money and see value in growing the crop for another season."

Good Country Hemp expects to process about 80t this season, which will be sold to health food stores and supermarkets as either cold-pressed oil or hulled seeds.

Mr Andersen hopes production will increase next year, with nearly all farmers reporting positive experiences in growing the crop, particularly in the South East.

Unfortunately, the growing season has not been as positive for Fleurieu Peninsula farmers Robert and Dianne Mignanelli, who will not grow the irrigated crop again at their Hindmarsh Tiers farm.

Mr Mignanelli said despite spending more than $20,000 on security measures to protect his 40ha crop, thieves were still trespassing at all hours of the day and night.  

"We expected some interference from the public, but not to this degree - it is relentless, 24 hours a day," he said.

"We're losing hundreds of plants and thousands of dollars from theft.

"Under our licensing agreement, we must notify Biosecurity SA and the police if the crop is tampered with, which we do, but police patrols have been minimal.

"We need more support against this harassment, but we are made to feel like we are the nuisance, not the trespassers."

Mr Mignanelli believes the state government also needs to help growers more, possibly through further education in the mainstream media or farmer subsidies.

"If they want the industrial hemp industry to take off in this state, then they need to help," he said.

Industrial hemp has less than 1 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol content, which means a "high" can not be achieved from smoking or eating the plant.

But this information has not stopped the thieves.

"We have multiple signs outlining this, along with electric fencing, barbed wire, locked gates, security cameras, we patrol the area and our neighbours do too, and people are still trespassing," Mr Mignanelli said.

Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone said it was not the government's role to protect crops, but mainstream advertising was worth considering.

"Growers have to understand it is a misunderstood crop so discreet locations may need to be considered to reduce the instances of theft," he said.

Mr Mignanelli said if they wanted to continue in the industry, they would have to consider moving, after farming in the Hindmarsh Tiers region since 1976.

"Otherwise we would have to spend another $20,000 on security, if we wanted to go again," he said.

"We would also need more local police patrols to deter potential trespassers, or at the very least, act on any reports received from the growers or public."

SAPOL said police patrols were "paying attention" to the rural properties involved and asked locals to report any suspicious activity.

Mr Whetstone said the industry was still a "work in progress" with government trials continuing to look into varieties, different environmental situations and future fibre production.

He said industrial hemp licences were available from PIRSA.

Pitfalls of keeping valuable crop safe

The Mignanelli family's industrial hemp harvest started at Hindmarsh Tiers last week, with yields up to one tonne a hectare.

Reaping "couldn't come soon enough," said Robert Mignanelli, who was keen to get the crop off before trespassers and untimely weather did any more damage.

Uneven plant heights, ranging from 1 metre to 3m, also made harvesting difficult, he said.

"The plants also range from green to dry at harvest, so there has been wrapping issues," he said.

But all that trouble has value, with processor Good Country Hemp paying $3.50 a kilogram for dried and cleaned seed, or $3500/t.

Mr Mignanelli said dairyfarmers should consider using their irrigation to grow the crop, as it had a 12-week growing season.

"They could put in 5-10ha without losing milk production and make a quick dollar to help pay the bills," he said.

"You just have to be wary of your location. We struggle being surrounded by public roads and we are too close to major towns and the CBD."