Challenges & Opportunities of Hemp Production in Scotland

Hemp has the potential to make Scotland’s agricultural sector carbon neutral as well as providing huge economic benefits.

These are the results of a new report Potential Market Opportunities for Hempseed and Fibre in Scotland . The report is a collaboration involving the University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), partnering with the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) and the Scottish Hemp Association (SHA).

Cultivating Hemp as a crop came from Asia where it had been farmed over 3,000 years ago. There is evidence of it being produced in Scotland from 11th Century. It continued to be used until it was replaced in the 20thC by cheaper products.

Today the UK is a net importer of hempseed and hemp fibre. In Scotland its development as a crop is limited by:

  • low profitability
  • lack of technical support
  • weather limitations
  • lack of financial assistance
  • stringent legislation.

The report is part of a Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI) fellowship scheme aiming to identify current and potential market opportunities and describe the supply chain for hempseed and fibre in Scotland.

 Dr Wisdom Dogbe of the Rowett Institute explained:

“The information gathered was used to carry out a full assessment of the challenges and opportunities faced by the hemp sector.

“We know that world production of industrial hemp has been on the decline since the 1960s due to an unfavourable political climate regarding the cultivation and use of the crop as well as legislation. However, the hemp plant has the potential to be a cost-effective, carbon neutral, and environmentally friendly crop for farmers.

“The UK is among the top five countries launching hemp-based products in the world. The majority of the products launched are in the category of snacks, nutritional drinks and beverages, health care, breakfast cereals, and baked goods.

“The top five facts associated with hemp-based products are that it has low, no, or reduced allergens, is vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian and can be grown organically. It truly has the potential to be a cost-effective product bringing both health and environmental benefits.”

Hemp can sequester more carbon dioxide than is emitted during the production process; having a long tap root, it is able to loosen the soil and improve biodiversity of soil making it an important crop to include in rotational cropping; and it performs well in contaminated soils and can extract toxins from soil through phytoremediation.

Potential Market Opportunities for Hempseed and Fibre in Scotland

A significant barrier to the development of Hemp sector in Scotland is the limited supply chain with no well-established market routes for farmers.

Dr Cesar Revoredo-Giha of SRUC said:

“Our research has provided strong advice on necessary steps to take to progress the Scottish hemp sector. These include, in the short-term, strategies that can be adopted by stakeholders such as using hemp as carbon credits crop as well as the provision of educational/technical support to hemp growers.

“Medium-term strategies involve relaxing the regulation of hemp and establishing a strong hemp processing sector.

“Long-term strategies to revamp the hemp sector include establishing strong vertical and horizontal linkages, a seed production centre and a well-co-ordinated hemp association.”

The report calls for “a review of the licensing system may enable new or existing farmers to better benefit from the environmental advantages offered by the crop”. There also needs to be provided more information on the growing needs of the crop and a reconsideration of the restrictions of where Hemp can be grown.

There is the need for the Scottish Hemp Association to consider establishing permanent hemp processing facilities and seed production sites to ensure a sustainable hemp sector is developed.

Potential Market Opportunities for Hempseed and Fibre in Scotland
Potential Market Opportunities for Hempseed and Fibre in Scotland

Personal Chair Professor Wendy Russell of the Rowett Institute, who has worked with farmers to support hemp production in Scotland and developed the project with partners, added:

“We have already demonstrated the health benefits of this important environmental crop and will continue to support our farmers and processing sector on this exciting journey. Hemp oil, which has an optimal ratio of omega fatty acids has already been produced in Scotland, but this report also demonstrates the wider societal and economic potential of hemp production in Scotland.”

Fiona Grahame

2 replies »

  1. Interesting that this has been looked into. Especially in the isles where one could assume that restrictions (access etc.) could easier be controlled, there might be opportunities, although the weather could be a challenge.
    But there could be another problem (from an island perspective at least): Could this aggravate the goose problem? Aren’t they (like many other birds) after the seeds?

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