Increasing demand for renewable building materials means there could be more opportunities for UK producers to grow hemp, according to Hemcore.

Work on a new £4million factory near Halesworth in Suffolk that processes dry, un-retted hemp straw is due to start next spring and the firm will need around 50,000 tonnes of straw per year, the firm’s Mike Duckett told delegates at this week’s National Non Food Crops Conference (NNFCC)/ Crops conference.

“Because we will be able to process un-retted straw, there will be less risk for growers,” he suggested.

As well as traditional uses in car panels, much of the straw would be used in the bio-composite building blocks called Hemcrete® – a blend of a lime-based binder and hemp shiv (the processed woody core of the plant). “Hemcrete can be used for walls, floors, roof insulation and plasters,” he said.

Crops supplying the new factory would be grown under contract to Hemcore, with the firm supplying the seed. Straw prices were set before the crop was sown and were likely to be around £130/t for October delivery, with an extra £1.50 per month thereafter to cover storage costs, he said.

Mr Duckett said the firm was also keen to increase the amount of hemp grown for seed to around 800ha (2,000acres) next season. “There are some potentially very good returns, but the risks are a lot higher. Hemp seed is unstable and you have to dry it within eight hours of cutting. With a September harvest, this can be easier said than done.”

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Don’t miss out on huge opportunities from non-food crops
National Non-Food Crops Centre Grasping the Green Agenda conference