Industrial hemp harvest

Short history of hemp in Australia

Some historians maintain Australia was established as a hemp colony to supply fibre to an increasingly fibre-hungry world. Sir Joseph Banks supplied hemp seed for the First Fleet. Free seed was given to settlers by early governors to encourage cultivation.

The production of hemp was one of the prime motivators for the invasion of the continent that became known as Australia. Historical documents and accounts have shown large tracts of New South Wales (NSW) were envisioned by the British not simply for the purposes of housing prisoners. Rather, this land was to be developed into a ‘productive’, hemp-producing powerhouse.

Upon settlement, Australia would be intended to supply fibre for ropes and sails to British naval fleets. Throughout the early nineteenth century, Australia was an important producer of hemp for the rest of the world. It was grown up until 1937 when the government agreed to follow the United States (US) by prohibiting cultivation. 

There is little history available on the Australian hemp industry, but it was known to have been grown around the Northern Rivers, New South Wales (NSW) and resilient Hunter River varieties exist. In November 2008, NSW was one of the last states in Australia to pass legislation to allow for the cultivation and use of hemp under licence.

In April 2017, ministers responsible for food regulation considered Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s (FSANZ) approval of a proposal to permit the sale of low-THC hemp seed foods. Ministers did not seek a review of the decision and the Food Standards Code was amended to permit the sale. 

The Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance (AIHA) reported that in 2018/2019 the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) estimated 2,500 hectares were grown nationally. Data collected by the CSIRO shows that 4,220 hectares were grown in 2019/2020. New South Wales grew 1,900 hectares, Tasmania 1,569 hectares, Western Australia 344 hectares, Victoria 240 hectares and South Australia 112. Queensland grew just 55 hectares.

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