Written by Emma Luimes
The ABC reported last week that Councils around Tasmania are supportive of the prospect of an industrial and medical industry in Tasmania to combat the state’s employment problems, particularly in regional areas, where traditional means of employment such as forestry and mining are declining. Last month, Minister for Primary Industries Jeremy Rockliff assured the establishment of a hemp industry in Tasmania would be a priority.
Primary Industries Jeremy Rockliff said that the establishment of an industrial hemp industry in Tasmania, although in its nascent stage, could provide a huge opportunity for the state in terms of fibre and food production.
However, the development of the industry is facing significant hurdles and restrictions. Jan Davis from the Farmers and Graziers Association said that these restrictions are “unique to Tasmania”, and that “you can grow industrial hemp in most other places in Australia without anywhere near the drama that goes on here”.
The State Government recently rejected a medicinal marijuana growing trial that was to be conducted in conjunction with the University of Tasmania. Troy Langman, CEO of Tasman Health Cannabinoids, said that they are being forced to continue their trials interstate, which focuses on the treatment of side effects involved with chemotherapy.
Unemployment – particularly youth unemployment in Tasmania has been highlighted in the media recently. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott said during a visit in Hobart that young, unemployed Tasmanians might have to leave the state to find work. Similarly, Employment Minister Eric Abetz said that young Tasmanians should pursue work in fruit-picking and in the dairy industry.
DairyTas chief executive Mark Smith told the Mercury that plans for a $350 million expansion was being hindered by a “severe shortage of workers” in the state, which would include “hundreds of labouring jobs” a year.
According to a report released by the Australian Dairy Industry in November last year, “by generating $13 billion in economic value, dairying makes a vital contribution to the nation and, in particular, regional communities”.
In 2012-13, the dairy industry created 43 000 direct jobs, and 100 000 indirect jobs, as well as “produce retail and food service products, including drinking milk, milk powder, butter, cheese, yogurt and desserts, as well as specialised ingredients”.
The World Wildlife Fund says that because dairy farms are often local and family owned, they are seen as essential for rural employment. The dairy industry, as the WWF says, “poses a number of challenges to the health of the environment”, due to the high methane emission during cows’ digestion process.
The dairy industry also uses large volumes of water to “grow feed, manage manure and process products”, the WWF says. The industry is also responsible for habitat conversion, as well as being one of the main catalysts for soil degradation and air pollution around the world.
Hemp, aside from its myriad of uses, is far more sustainable to produce. It is resilient to cold temperatures and is not reliant on pesticides. Hemp is also credited for aiding crops grown after it because it loosens the soil, supresses weeds and has a positive effect on soil cultivation.
As Forbes pointed out last year, the hemp industry is continuing to evolve and can be used in countless products like “health foods, organic body care, clothing, construction materials, bio-fuels and plastic composites”.
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, found in some nuts and oily fish, but is a far more sustainable food source compared to the fishing industry. Hemp seeds are also one of the few plant foods that contain all the essential amino acids that make it a complete protein.
Tasmania was a pioneer in the licencing of hemp production in the 1990s, and now has the chance to be a pioneer in combating youth unemployment in a far more sustainable way than pushing young people into the dairy industry, it would also complement the states ‘clean and green’ ambitions.