Reaping the rewards of hemp
HEMP Harvesting is in full swing at Clones farm
By Gemma Good
Hemp harvesting is in full swing at a farm in a secluded part of Clones. The delicate process of harvesting by hand began last Thursday, where a clutch of workers gathered amidst showers in the rush to pluck the plant.
Kate Mullaney and her husband, Marcus McCabe are the faces behind the business in Burdautien, which has been operating since 2013, with experience growing hemp since 2006.
Kate walked through hempless fields as she explained the Government has made hemp growing particularly difficult this year with a “very strict” licence, which only permitted growth of five acres. The organic farm extends over 160 acres, the rest of which is used for growing oats and rented out to others for grazing.
A citrus aroma suddenly filled the air as we turned a corner leading to rows of hemp perched high on the Clones hills. The dwarf variety called Finola, stands at one and a half metres tall, and is the most common variety of hemp grown in Ireland.
The seeds can be sown in early Spring, although Kate explained they waited until June considering the risk of frost which has the potential to wipe out the entire crop. Otherwise Ireland’s climate of sunshine and rain presents the ideal conditions for growth. The plant prefers sandy loams with the ability to hold moisture.
Finola is a “fifty-fifty” variety, as there is no way of predicting which gender it will yield. A flower forms on the male plant which is necessary to pollinate the female variety.
At around day 55 after planting, a seed forms on the female plant.
The female plant has the beneficial trait of growing larger with distance from the male plant, as it is “constantly looking for a male.” The larger the plant the better.
Harvesting takes place around the three month mark, bringing with it a panic among workers.
“They come quickly, we don’t have a lot of time,” Kate warned as the leaves of the plants can rapidly turn yellow. The Celt could see a few plants, mostly male obviously withered, and some other plants sporting the occasional yellow leaf. Only the lush green leaves were picked to fill the meal sacks by the harvesters in Clones.
Kate and Marcus planned to get a machine this year to harvest, however they could not risk a delay in its arrival.
“It’s a bit like silage, you only have a window.”
Also, Kate explained the leaves can get “mangled” when harvested by machine. Torn and broken leaves will wilt quickly whereas if they are kept in tact, they will last a few hours longer.
“We want them as pristine as possible,” she said.
Kate demonstrated the harvesting process which consists of stripping the leaves and seeds from the bottom of the plant up.
This is the precious seed from which the farm, which operates under the business name, Kamaceuticals, produces their Kama Hemp juice.
In the juicing room, Marcus was busy feeding the harvested hemp plant into a grinder, which has more strength than any animal’s teeth.
“It’s rubbing the fibres and squeezing out all of that juice,” he explained.
“That’s the juice there,” he said, pointing to a pot of thick green liquid. The next stop for the juice is the freezer, where it is frozen to retain its nutrients. It may also be freeze dried and used in powder form or capsules, among other products.
“The food value is very high,” Marcus pointed out.
For those interested in trying it, he recommends taking only a “small amount” of juice (10, 20 or 40 ml maximum) mixed with water, apple juice or orange juice.
“It’s like oil,” he explains, “nobody drinks a cup of oil.”
Kamaceuticals in Clones claim to be one of only two hemp juice businesses in the world.
Remarkably, Marcus reports vitamin B12 has recently been found in hemp. He says that previously the vitamin had not been discovered in plants, but insists “independent third party labs” have confirmed the surprise finding.
“It’s definitely in there,” Marcus affirmed.
There’s countless articles penned outlining hemp’s health benefit claims - everything from pain relief and better sleep to improved digestion and healthier hair and nails.
Kate highly recommends the juice for people who are in pain. Having suffered from a broken knee and later arthritis in both of her knees, she reaps the rewards of her juice, noticing the pain returning if she stops taking it.
She relays that some people who have approached her “have never taken a [hemp] juice in their lives”. They need a “easy and quick” solution to their pain, but are reluctant to commit to taking a juice every day.
“All they want is a medicine that’s not a ‘medicine’.”
She observes that illnesses occur in the first place because of the foods we consume, smoking or alcohol, and suggests the food industry has “a lot to answer for”.
“Try it for at least for a week and see how you get on,” she encourages those thinking of trying hemp juice, mentioning they “educate a lot of people” who return wishing to buy more products.
Despite the seemingly many success stories, Kate says support for the industry from the Government is not forthcoming.
Kate is also concerned by how the law regulating hemp is being applied by the criminal justice system, going as far to allege that “guards have been arresting hemp consumers”, explaining it is being labelled “herbal marijuana.”
Although none of her customers have been affected, Kate says she is aware of eight ongoing court cases for hemp use.
“I’m talking about hemp, I’m not talking about anything else,” she asserted.
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in November last year that anything with a THC concentration below 0.2% is hemp and can be processed.
“It’s below 0.2% THC,” she assures of their product.
She laments that the authorities are too focussed on this trace quantity of THC.
“But in Ireland they’re saying: ‘no, there’s THC in it and it has to be classed under the misuse of drugs’.
“That’s why the guards can arrest people for having hemp because in Ireland’s eyes, it’s THC.”
Kate finds this behaviour “crazy”.
“It’s an opposing view to the whole of Europe for God’s sake,” she fumed.
“We’re a food business,” she stressed.
As Chairwoman and founding member of the Hemp Federation of Ireland (HFI), she reports the Government “haven’t once” approached the industry.
“We want regulation,” she said.
“We have practically been on our hands and knees saying please talk to us because you’ll get it wrong,” she said, explaining the Government need input from the indigenous industry in order to regulate hemp properly.
“If the Irish Government would just let this happen, it would be great for the farmers.
“They haven’t stopped us but they’re preventing the industry by not letting us get investment,” she said, explaining there is no banking support or grant aid available.
Truly passionate about the industry, Marcus said he would love to see other farmers growing hemp. The plant can be grown in addition to dairy or beef farming, as he explained it does particularly well on land that has been tramped down and fertilised by cattle.
“It’s only a three month crop so it fits in very nicely into farming.
“It means that the farmer could make a cash crop of hemp and work it in,” he explained.
Hemp can also be used as an animal feed with people incorporating it into a silage mix.
“It’s great for the animals, they love it,” he said.
“It’s a multi-billion economy and Ireland is only getting the tiniest bit of it,” he said, with the hemp market growing rapidly globally.
“There is an enormous demand.
“There’s an awful lot of CBD products being imported from North America and Eastern Europe and the Irish farmers are missing out completely.”
On a positive note, Marcus forecasts a change for the future.
“I think eventually we will see an industry developing here in Ireland,” he said, adding: “If the Government were making positive noises instead of negative noises then we would be a lot further on.”