UK farmers praise hemp as "wonder crop" due to boost it gives to other crop yields

·3-min read

Hemp has boomed in popularity in the UK with farmers praising the "wonder crop" - amid hopes it could help save the planet.

The cannabis crop - known as hemp when it is grown for manufacturing - has surged in popularity in the past year in Scotland due to the boost it gives to other crop yields.

Studies have shown it enhances pollinators such as bees, and the potential to be used for eco-friendly packaging which biodegrades.

Hopes are high it could contribute to a homegrown UK CBD market - with most products brought in from Europe or America due to legislation.

Kyle Esplin, 39, of the Scottish Hemp Association, believe cannabis will be legalised within two to five years due to the interest shown by pharmaceutical companies - and says the booming 'wellness' industry is likely to surge if that does happen.

He first used CBD in 2013 after giving up his job as a cruise ship entertainment due to becoming ill the year before from a respiratory virus, and was motivated by the health benefits when he tried it in Holland.

Nearly a decade later, Kyle has become a forerunner in the UK CBD industry and has his own firm, Holistic Highland Hemp.

Kyle said: "You can't buy CBD extract in the UK, it's all coming from hemp fields in the US and Europe.

"One of the main benefits of hemp is it removes carbon - it takes one season of hemp to remove the same amount as 25 years with trees.

"It can be used in insulation, and the environmental benefits show it improves the yield for other crops."

There are now seven hemp farmers in Angus, where Kyle is based, and another three in Aberdeen, while traditionally the main industry has been based in England.

Studies in Colorado have shown new species of bees attracted to hemp, while in Poland bees exposed to hemp benefited from an improved lifespan.

The species grown in the UK is a low THC variety - THC is the active ingredient which causes a high.

It originates from Finland and is so hardy it can be grown in the Shetland Isles.

Other crops grown by hemp farmers in Scotland include barley, wheat, blueberries, and as well as arable farming some producers also keep livestock.

Kyle had planned to return to entertainment work last year but covid meant that never happened, and instead he invested his energy into the hemp industry.

His tasks include liasing with Food Standards Scotland, as hemp is considered a 'new' crop and is subject to the Novel Foods Process required of things not common before 1997.

Kyle believes the stigma around the cannabis leaf needs to end, and said it is a resource which has barely been tapped into in the UK.

He said in the 1930s and 1940s it was branded a "wonder crop" and was a commonly used natural resource.

Kyle said: "Back in the 30s and 40s it was advertised as a 'billion dollar wonder crop'.

"It was used for rope and other products.

"It is biodegradable so has a lot of potential for packaging.

"With all the interest in COP26, hemp is one of the best crops for the environment.

"In the last few years there's been more attention, thanks to CBD products.

"It's brought the cannabis leaf design into people's kitchens.

"There's the potential for a big wellness market."

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