Gesco Network to pioneer biomass field trials of hemp

FIELD trials of industrial hemp are taking place in Ireland to see if it is suitable as a biomass crop.

Green Energy Growers Association (GEGA) has secured an exclusive agreement for Ireland from the European Union licensed National Federation of Producers of Hemp in France (FNPC).

The agreement enables GEGA, through its associated Gesco Network, to provide farmers and growers across Ireland access to a range of industrial hemp varieties and technologies.

GEGA, based in Carrick-on-Suir, has also been appointed as a representative for Ireland to the EU Common Market Organisation for Flax and Hemp.

Hemp is one of the world’s strongest natural fibres. It has been used to make cloth and rope for more than 10,000 years.

It can be used to make virtually anything that is made out of cotton, timber or petroleum. It is used a lot in France to insulate houses.

Gesco said more than 25,000 products are made or manufactured from raw materials derived from the industrial hemp plant, which is an environmentally friendly crop.

Industrial hemp is genetically related to cannabis and cultivation of it is regulated in Ireland by the Irish Medicines Board under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

There is also some input to the licensing scheme from other Government departments.

Under licence, growers can plant from a pre-approved list of varieties, which means essentially that the crops have no associated psycho-active properties.

GEGA said it has facilitated a licensing scheme for its growers with all relevant authorities.

The relationship with FNPC in France ensures that Irish growers get the benefit of EU-approved varieties.

Traditionally in Europe the crop has been produced for fibre and seed but, when left to mature naturally, produces woody material.

The company’s national director Ann Kehoe said industrial hemp is a very promising crop, well suited to Irish growing conditions.

“When harvesting is complete and assessed, we will be able to evaluate the crops potential fully,” she said.

Ms Kehoe said the indications are the crop is expected to be able to compete with most arable crops and other farm production systems in terms of net return to the farmer-grower. Once established, it requires no inputs until harvesting.

For anyone interested in growing biomass it provides the ideal opportunity for a short-term (one growing season) crop without the long-term commitment required with other biomass crops such as miscanthus, she said.

Gesco Network, a countrywide network of companies, is primarily focused on establishing viable long- term green energy supply services.

“The main aim is to develop real business opportunities for rural communities in the developing green energy market and to ensure that rural communities continue to benefit long-term from energy production,” she said.

Gesco said the industrial hemp crop has the ability to produce in excess of 17–20 tonnes of biomass per hectare. The raw material is ideally suited as an ingredient for blended pellets.

The crop returns three to four tons per hectare of biomass to the soil when shedding its leaves before harvest and this is a significant contribution to soil organic matter content and residual nutrient.

“The biggest benefit of industrial hemp as a break crop is the ability of the plant roots to aerate the soil and to allow following crops to be more efficient at nutrient uptake.

“This makes it an excellent break crop option in intensive tillage rotations,” the company said.

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