Australia’s Northern Territory Passes Hemp Bill

Northern Territory hemp industry bill
Image: NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources

Farmers in the Northern Territory could be growing hemp as early as next year after the passing of the Gunner Labor Government’s Hemp Industry Bill last week.

The Bill, which was introduced in May, legalises growing and processing industrial hemp for food, fibre and seed production purposes in the Territory and creates the required regulatory framework.

“The development of this industry is a real green shoot for the jobs and export economy here in the Northern Territory – diversifying our economy and creating local jobs,” said Minster for Primary Industries and Resources, Paul Kirby. “As an emerging superfood with many other uses, this industry will develop and grow as soon as next year, seeing our pastoralists given a new opportunity to diversity their crop offerings here in the Territory.”

The government believes the Territory has an advantage in Australia, in that it could supply seed to other states and territories as its crops will be grown in the dry season that runs from May to October. Given the duration of the dry season, it may be possible to harvest two crops a year.

No Cannabidiol Extraction

Any crops grown in the Territory will need to have a THC concentration in the leaves and flowering heads of not more than 1% and in the case of seed, levels under 0.5%.

As for any hope of extracting cannabidiol from hemp crops, that has been dashed with an accompanying document noting:

“The introduced Bill specifically excludes the extraction or diversion of any cannabinoids for medicinal purposes.”

While cannabidiol is where the big money is at, hemp grain is also quite valuable and currently fetches farm-gate prices of around $3,000 per tonne. Estimates of potential yield vary wildly – a 2012 report prepared by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences notes:

“Hemp seed yields of between 400 and 700 kilograms per hectare are typical. However industry sources believe that an average of around 1 tonne per hectare would be achievable as expertise develops.”

The NT Farmers Association says its members are keen to have a crack at the crop.

Industrial hemp has real potential in our current climatic conditions and could be a viable new industry on a broadacre scale which is an exciting proposition,” says CEO Paul Burke.

As we’ve previously reported, some industrial hemp trials have already occurred in the Territory under special licences and permission from the Department of Health – and those trials have indicated dry season crops could do well. The first NT  hemp trial kicked off in 2016 – so, it’s been more than 3 years to get from that point to here.

The NT Hemp Industry Bill and accompanying documents can be viewed here.