How long has your family been farming in north Norfolk?
My Grandfather bought this land in 1982.
Do you grow a mixture of hemp and other crops?
As well as hemp, we grow malting barley, wheat, sugar beet, vining peas and linseed, and we rent land to others who grow potatoes and parsnips.
Why did you decide to grow hemp?
I initially thought that CBD extraction would be legalised by now and thought that I should apply for a licence and start learning about the crop. I thought that in the meantime I could start my own range of nutritional hemp products and set out to try and find someone to create them for me – so I approached Steve Glover. We got talking and I decided to join British Hemp Company. Reason being I wanted to find another crop to diversify away from the traditional crops where the growing costs are always increasing and the prices seem to always be declining, which means our margins are getting very tight on some crops. I needed to find something that my land would be able to grow, that I could harvest using the machinery I already have. And I wanted something that was sustainable, viable and subsidy free. We are losing the BPS payments very soon (The Basic Payment Scheme. This is the biggest of the rural grants and payments that provide help to the farming industry) and it will have a huge impact on our profitability. Growing hemp was attractive as it could be grown with no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, which is great for biodiversity and also keeps costs of production low. And of course it is amazing at taking carbon out of the atmosphere. We grew our first crop in 2020 which was 12 hectares of Finola seed, and we are looking to grow 45 hectares of Henola this year for The British Hemp Company.
What are the challenges of growing hemp?
It is hard to judge when to harvest the crop but I think this will come with experience. Also drying and handling the seeds at harvesting can be challenging as the seed can go off (mouldy) if you don't get air blowing through it.
Are you part of a community of hemp farmers?
Since being part of BHC I'm talking to more and more growers all the time about how they are getting on with seed rate, variety, yields, drying facilities, combining techniques and storage. And I’m sharing information about how we’re getting on, and the techniques we’re using, with new growers.
Do you constantly have to deal with people ribbing you about smoking weed?
When I tell people I grow hemp they immediately say can you smoke it and I have to explain that it is Cannabis Satvia and not marijuana. This means it doesn't contain any THC and won't get you high! The variety we grow is from the 'EU Approved' seed varieties list of low THC Cannabis (hemp). It's only used for the purpose of cultivating industrial hemp for oil and other nutritional products from the seed. These approved varieties are also very low in CBD.
What happens during harvesting?
This is when things get busy. The seed needs air blowing through it within hours of it coming off the combine. We use an on-floor drying system with stirrers to dry ours, this way we could spread it out on the floor thinly and blow either ambient air or heated air to start the drying process. Hemp seed needs to be 8% moisture or less to store stable and not go off.
How do you see the future?
I would like to see more hemp being grown for the environmental benefits, and in the hope that it can start being used for paper, toilet roll, packaging and plastics etc. The research and infrastructure is not quite there yet to develop these products but it’s progressing. The good news is that there are a number of government schemes that reward ecologically minded farmers, and sustainable industry.
In terms of our farm, hopefully we’ll be growing more hemp to provide the raw products to the companies making the above products. Our hope is that the farm stays in the family forever.