The old Maxwell’s Timber Mill in Dungog could soon be a hemp processing facility.
A group of Dungog farmers who bought the mill last month believe they will be the first in the world to commercially produce high-strength hemp planks to make pallets for transporting goods.
Farmer Bob Doyle told the Mercury the group would lodge a development application with Dungog Shire Council to set up a hemp processing plant at the site to make the planks.
He said many farmers in the Dungog area already had licences from the state government to grow hemp plants – a relative of the illegal cannabis plant.
While Mr Doyle said the facility would mean more employment for the shire, he would not speculate on the number of jobs.
“We’ve got crops in the ground now, but we still have to get approvals from Dungog Shire Council for processing,” he said. “We are right at the very start of this whole exercise.”
Mr Doyle said farmers in the Hunter began to grow hemp in 2008 on a trial basis for Jerrys Plains-based company Eco Fibre.
But the trial didn’t lead to permanent contracts because they were too far from the Eco Fibre processing plant.
Mr Doyle said the farmers experimented with methods of hemp crop growing in the years that followed.
They were approached by another company, Bio Fibre, earlier this year to produce high-strength hemp planks for pallets.
Mr Doyle said there had been international interest in the product from the USA to China and domestic interest from the CSIRO.
He believed the Dungog farmers would be the world’s first commercial producers of the plank.
“We process the [hemp] fibre into a plank that is 70 per cent hemp stalk,” Mr Doyle said.
“There has been a market for three years, but no growers.”
The mayor of Dungog, Cr Harold Johnston, said no formal application had been lodged with council.
But he said he would support new industries that meant more jobs for the shire.
Smoke it? You’re kidding
Hemp receives unfair publicity because of its close relationship to the illegal marijuana plant, hemp grower Bob Doyle says.
The Dungog farmer is among a group of producers who have been growing hemp in the Hunter for about three years.
Hemp plants have a much lower concentration of THC than the illicit drug.
THC is the chemical that causes the drug-affected state brought on with the use of marijuana.
But Mr Doyle said anyone who smoked a hemp plant would not get high but instead would get a splitting headache.
“The sooner people see the crops on the side of the road and knock a bit off to smoke, the better,” he said.
“All they will get is a massive headache and they won’t do it again.”