Hemp offers share of profit
Devolution and the
economic crisis mean that
these are changing times for
Welsh agriculture. From
LFAs and the National
Assembly to marketing
initiatives and the internet,
Robert Davies takes a
look at the key issues for
the Welsh industry and at
some of the opportunities
open to farmers
WELSH farmers are expected to benefit from a £1.6m investment in a flax and hemp processing plant at Caernarfon.
About 170 growers will make money by growing the crops on contract, and have the chance to share in profits by purchasing some of the 40% of the shares of BioFibre Ltd that are on offer.
Manager Gary Newman has already signed up 12 producers, who planted about 202ha (500 acres) last April and May. His target is to take material harvested from 2828 contracted ha (7000 acres). To minimise transport costs he hopes to attract farmers mainly from Anglesey and Carnarfonshire.
The plant received £250,000 in EU Objective 5b cash, and financial support from the Welsh Development Agency, Gwynedd County Council, the national assembly and the enterprise agencies Menter Mon and Cymad. It is already processing hemp and flax grown on contract for other end users.
Mr Newmans own company at Holyhead will further process much of the fibre extracted from crops grown on farms linked to BioFibre into a range of biodegradable products. End users include the motor industry and garden centres.
The firm is also working closely with Bangor Universitys Bio-Composites Centre to develop novel ways of using the fibre produced.
Mr Newman says north-west Wales is a good area for growing both fibre crops, but admits farmers are wary of getting involved in unfamiliar enterprises. "We can offer full technical back up, provide the seed and put them in touch with experienced contractors," says Mr Newman. "They will be paid by the weight of crop delivered to us and, depending on how much of the work they do themselves, their gross margin should be between £360 and £480/ha (£150 and £200/acre).
"The EU also offers incentives to farmers who grow natural fibre crops. Farmers can be reassured that a large market already exists and it will expand further with the development of new products, so the price paid to growers is likely to rise."
He estimates that if the target number of growers is achieved, hemp and flax growing could inject more than £4m a year into the local farming economy.
Robert Elias of the BioComposites Centre said: "This is a very exciting development and the initiative will establish north-west Wales at the forefront of natural fibre processing. We are delighted that the centre has been able to assist with the project and will continue to develop new products and applications through collaborative work programmes." *
An opening for farmers. Welsh agriculture secretary Christine Gwyther (right)at the opening of Biofibres new hemp processing plant.