Forget potatoes, wheat or barley… hemp is the newest crop gracing the fields of the north west. About a dozen farmers in County Londonderry have started to grow the plant – a variety of cannabis – for its non-intoxicating uses.
The material is primarily used in the building industry, but can be found in everything from pharmaceuticals to food.
Robert Moore grows 300 acres of hemp at his farm at Ballougry outside Derry.
“I’m licensed from the department of health and from the police, and before anybody starts coming up to pinch some, you could smoke it from now to Christmas and it wouldn’t give you any sort of charge.
“There is no drug value in it all,” he said.
Mr Moore said that hemp as a crop has “huge potential”.
“You can use the fibre as roof insulation or wall insulation, and it’s a very environmentally-friendly product.
“I think there are over 2,000 different uses – I even saw hemp oil when I was at the Balmoral Show last week.”
Marcus McCabe is from Hempire Building Materials in Limavady.
His company has spent the last few years experimenting with ways of processing hemp, including mixing it with lime to create plaster.
“We certainly have enough hemp to plaster 4,000 houses between now and next year.
“When we need is to get architects involved, councils involved, even individuals involved.
“Anybody who is building, we need them to think about these sustainable materials,” he said.
Derry farmer John Gilliland specialises in sustainable crops.
He said hemp is a great crop for the environment.
“It locks up the carbon dioxide in the hemp itself, so it’s a very useful tool to both provide a fibre and help the environment.”
Robert Moore is convinced the crop has huge potential.
“I would love to see 3,000 acres of it rather than 300, because it works for us and it has the environmentally-friendly aspect as well,” he said.