The Summer of Seed – Hemp Field Trial report 2023

Hemp Combine

A grant from the Dorset National Landscape Farming in Protected Landscapes Fund (FiPL) has helped Wessex Community Assets Ltd (WCA) work with a group of West Dorset Farmers to explore the logistics of Hemp as a break crop and undertake field trials in growing, harvesting and processing Hemp.

With more farmers involved and another year of challenging weather there was much to be learnt about the value and challenges of growing Hemp in West Dorset. From information collected throughout the project period the hemp field trials in 2023 can celebrate the following achievements:

  • 9 Farmers engaged in the WCA Hemp Group. Two new cultivation licenses secured to grow a total of 8 Ha Hemp in summer 2023.
  • Over the two years of hemp field trials we can say that Hemp is a relatively easy crop to grow in West Dorset conditions. The challenges are with harvesting. This is partly about getting the right machinery or adapting existing machinery but also about timing.
  • This summer all farms had issues with high levels of humidity during the early autumn. The hemp seed struggled to reach maturation with periods of wet weather and wind. Harvesting is problematic at higher humidity and at least 1 farm spotted signs of mould in the seed. Ground conditions were the other key factor. The Clayey soils get to the point where machinery can’t get on to complete harvesting.
  • Most farmers would want to try sowing Hemp early in mid April to improve chances of dry, low humidity harvesting. This approach risks issues with frost but many feel this is the lesser issue when compared to wet harvesting.
  • Approx 1 ton of Hemp stalk was harvested, retted and processed. Though not in ideal storage conditions the harvested hemp will be used in construction projects to be undertaken by WCA.
  • Approx 8 tonnes of Hemp seed was harvested. This was cleaned and dried to 8% by a local contractor before sending onto UK Hemp Ltd, Warminster for processing into Hemp oil and powders. We anticipate producing 250 bottles for sale through the Symondsbury Estate.
  • Soil samples were taken for all sites before and after hemp growing to add to the data we have on the relationship between hemp and soil health.
  • Local Interest in hemp continues to grow. WCA held two events attended by over 100 people – A Hemp Growing in West Dorset film show on October 4th was attended by 60 people. Some 30+ people attended and got hands on with small scale processing of hemp fibre at a second Hemp Fibre Workshop on November 4th 2023. Use was made of the Hurdmaster machine to decorticate the hemp plant ahead of manual scutching and heckling. We were able to demonstrate spinning and cording hemp in preparation for possible use in textile fabricating machinery.

WCA and an extended group of local farmers are keen to undertake further field testing of Hemp growing in 2024. The approach in this final phase of trialling would explore hemp as a natural textile.

More information:

View the latest report in .pdf form here: 2023 FiPL report

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