HEMP could become a more common feature of the countryside, our diets and everyday life, thanks to a new £1.1m research partnership.
The two-year project between Aberystwyth University and industry aims to make hemp a more valuable crop by increasing the amounts of compounds used to make a variety of food, health and pharmaceutical products.
Hemp is currently used in specialised fire-resistant fabrics, mattresses, building materials, insulation, animal bedding and biofuel.
An environmentally friendly, natural material, it is seen as a crop that can replace petrochemical products.
Hemp fibre has been used extensively throughout history, with production climaxing soon after being introduced to the New World. For centuries, items ranging from rope to fabrics, to industrial materials were made from hemp fibre.
Hemp was also commonly used to make sail canvas. The word “canvas” is derived from the word cannabis.
Pure hemp has a texture like linen.
Because of its versatility for use in a variety of products, today hemp is used in a number of consumer goods, including clothing, shoes, accessories, dog collars, and homewares. For clothing, in some instances, hemp is mixed with lyocell.
The new PHARMHEMP research partnership will develop the crop’s compounds sustainably; making them from parts of the plant that are currently left unused.
The research will also make the crop more valuable and allow use in more industrial and non-industrial sectors – making it more attractive to farmers who are keen to include alternative crops when rotating the use of their land.
Aberystwyth University’s involvement has benefited from the Welsh Government funded SMART Expertise programme.
Alan Gay, Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University commented: “We’re delighted and excited about this new partnership. We will use our long-established expertise here in Aberystwyth to help spread the benefits of this crop to many more people.
“We also hope to contribute to improving awareness of the crop among both consumers and farmers.
“The project is also an economic boost: supporting highly skilled jobs in the west of Wales. As well as the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical uses, we will also explore industrial applications, which would significantly reduce the need for expensive imports.”
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University commented: “The Pharmahemp project builds on IBERS expertise in developing new opportunities for Welsh farming. It also represents an exciting opportunity for us to revisit and tailor a highly sustainable and versatile crop for the 21st century.”
The project links a number of the UK’s experienced operators in Hemp with the specialised breeding expertise of IBERS, Aberystwyth University.
The commercial partners are: TTS Pharma, specialists in pharmaceutical and health products; Voase and Son, specialist hemp growers; Elsoms Seeds, who develop and distribute seeds to the farming community; and GrowPura®, experts in controlled growing of plants where high levels of control are required.
Mark Tucker, Chief Executive at TTS Pharma, added: “This project builds on the foundations we laid in 2018 with Aberystwyth University, along with our other research projects.
“The resources and expertise at IBERS in Aberystwyth are particularly well suited to this research. They will help us to develop new cultivars, optimised for the UK climate and the end-use.
“We are delighted to have such strong partners to deliver the project’s objectives. We are confident that this project will contribute significantly to improving existing yields. It will also accelerate the introduction of a domestic supply chain and help eliminate the importation of illegal and non-compliant materials from China, South and North America.”
David Coop, Director of Elsoms Seeds Ltd, commented: “Elsoms Seeds is the UK’s leading independent seed specialist and plant breeder. We breed, supply, and treat high quality vegetable and agricultural seed throughout the UK, using the latest in plant breeding research and seed technology.
“We are looking forward to working with IBERS and our partners on this project, and one day providing UK farmers with high quality seed of the new and innovative varieties which will result from it.”
Nick Bateman of Growpura added: “In the pharmaceutical industry, the all-year-round production of materials under well-controlled conditions is important.
“With this project, we are keen to see how this plant can be adapted to growing in our high throughput sterile growing conditions, so that high quality products can be produced right throughout the year.”
Industrial Hemp Grower Nick Voase said: “We have been growing and processing industrial hemp since 2002 but have seen little development of the crop in the UK.
“We are happy to be involved in this project which will adapt the crop to new uses and is specifically aimed at optimising yields from UK grown crops.”
Despite a common misunderstanding, the industrial hemp strains grown in the UK are all varieties with negligible levels of the psychoactive substance THC and are selected from an ‘Approved List’ and only grown under Home Office licences.
Economic value of red meat sector rises
HE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.
Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.
Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.
Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.
“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.
Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future
THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.
Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment. Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.
“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.
“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers. These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”
Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.
“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support. Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.
Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.
“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.
Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.
“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management. Whilst we acknowledge that agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.
Excellent Easter for lamb sales
Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.
At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.
In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.
Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.
“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.
“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”
Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.
Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.
“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”
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