Regenerative food and agriculture group Wide Open Agriculture (ASX: WOA) has been granted a licence allowing it to cultivate and harvest industrial hemp at its pilot shade house site near Arthur River in Western Australia.
Today’s announcement comes just two weeks after the company revealed it had lodged its licence application with the state’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
Work will begin immediately on sourcing suitable hemp varieties for a research and development program to trial and assess industrial production under both protected cropping and open field conditions.
Pilot shade house
Wide Open constructed its pilot shade house in Wedgecarrup near Arthur River in December 2016.
The ‘house’, a 5,000sqm protected cropping system with a retractable roof, began growing high-value vegetables including tomatoes and capsicums in January 2017.
Since then, the company listed on the ASX (in July 2018) and undertook a rigorous assessment of different crop options for the pilot shade house.
Wide Open managing director Dr Ben Cole said industrial hemp was identified as an “ideal opportunity” that matches the growing conditions of the southern Wheatbelt and does not require cold storage.
Industrial hemp also has the capacity to play a role in improving soil health, he added.
Research and development program
Industrial hemp yields a high-protein seed containing omega-3 that can be used in food, non-dairy milk and oil production.
Fibre may also be extracted for textiles, building materials, paper and rope. Hemp seed oil has even been processed into fuel.
Wide Open’s research and development program has been designed to measure seed yield, growth rates and root penetration outputs at both the automated shade house and in adjacent open field conditions.
“This information will allow us to pinpoint the industrial hemp varieties that respond best to various growing conditions and will be vital to developing a business case for large-scale production,” Dr Cole said.
“The Wheatbelt has some of the world’s most efficient and innovative broadacre farmers, so there is real opportunity to scale up if open field trials are successful,” he added.
The industrial hemp licence has a two-year expiry and is renewable assuming Wide Open complies with the conditions of the licence and the Industrial Hemp Act 2004.
The licence only applies to the company’s research and development site in Wedgecarrup, WA.