In Fields and Markets Alike, Hemp Grows Fast

By Oliver Bennett, Special Contributor to New Frontier Data

As countries across Europe clamber slowly out of the economic wreckage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, recovery and reconstruction are on policymakers’ and government figures’ minds. Two issues are key: the green/sustainability agenda, and the need for construction projects to help “build back better” – to use the recovery buzz phrase gaining currency in both the U.S. and U.K.

The combination should afford hemp a big advantage in the years to come. In the European Union (EU), where hemp cultivation is well established, the crop already has newly raised potential for sustainable industrial crops in the fiber and bioenergy sectors (according to an agricultural survey from the European Commission (EC), and of the various crops cited it is hemp which by far has the biggest role. That is partly due to hemp’s versatility across so many sectors — from various CBD verticals such as food supplements and cosmetics, to industrial applications such as biocomposites, textiles, paper, and construction materials. That range of applications is attractive enough for producers and investors, yet there are other hemp-related factors that make it a powerful proposition in the post-COVID recovery.

As the survey further suggests, hemp has an ability to clean heavy metals from soil, commending it as “a perfect fit in the EU’s vision for agriculture and to support the Green Deal policy”, namely, the EC’s initiative aiming to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050 — for which end the EU has subsidized hemp. Thus, hemp cannot only create innovative products, but also bring environmental benefits from carbon capture, revivify contaminated land, and add green value by taking market share from petroleum-based products.

There is already strong hemp production throughout the EU, with France being its primary producer, followed by Italy, the Netherlands, and the Baltic region. There is a long history of growing hemp in Europe for fibres, construction material, and textiles, but it has shown a sharp uplift in recent years, spiking 250% over the past eight years.

Construction is poised as a key sector for Europe’s hemp industry. As the reconstruction effort grows, companies such as Netherlands-based HempFlax (reputedly the continent’s largest independent grower) is set to major in hemp construction materials. And while Hempcrete has achieved a niche in construction, there are signs that it is going to grow much more popular. Belgian Hempcrete producer IsoHemp, for example, has raised nearly $8.24 million to build a new factory. In the U.K., meanwhile, though the country has somewhat lagged in embracing  industrial hemp, a farmer has launched the British Hemp Company with the specific intention to grow it at scale with a view to reducing the U.K.’s carbon footprint. It claims to be the first such company in the country, with licenses for 12 growing locations.

The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) hopes to highlight the benefits of the European hemp sector in assisting the transition towards a zero-emission, bio-based, and sustainable economy in line with the European Green Deal – adding that hemp brings social benefits as well, by offering the promise of rural regeneration, while bringing sustainable growth and the creation of skilled jobs in marginalised rural regions. Another advantage is derived from avoiding the cost of sprays, both a financial and environmental plus.

With its range of industrial applications, hemp is showing well in investment circles, with investors eager to make ethical investments into the recovery space. In one example, investment company World High Life PLC (listed on London’s Aquis Growth Exchange with investments in medicinal cannabis, hemp, and CBD companies) has reportedly seen its Love Hemp subsidiary enjoy a strong increase in demand during the pandemic, to the extent that the group will be renamed Love Hemp Group PLC to build on that end of the business.

That the word itself is earning cache toward hemp’s branding is apparent to Trevor Yahn-Grode, data analyst at New Frontier Data. “Decarbonisation has reached its moment as a policy choice, and hemp — including for construction and other purposes — should be carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if you do it right,” he explains. “With hemp, you can literally take carbon out of the atmosphere and turn it into useful products. With decarbonisation an inevitability, hemp is an obvious choice for producers.” Yahn-Grode adds that hemp construction and products such as Hempcrete also reduce the construction industry’s concentration on carbon-intensive drywall and insulation products, and helps reduce deforestation by replacing lumber products for paper pulp.

“It has a lot of environmental promise,” he concludes. “Not just in construction, but also in biocomposite automotive parts, and the replacement of plastics.” For the cleaner, greener world set to emerge following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, hemp is growing as an obvious choice.