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A CROP development company wants to recruit farmers to grow cannabis.
The Yorkshire-based Springdale Group Ltd says growing finola hemp, otherwise known as cannabis sativa, could help farmers to achieve new highs - but only in terms of the income.
While it looks like the plant that produces the recreational drug, it cannot be used for that purpose. But the similarity presents British farmers with a significant market because the United States Drug Enforcement Agency bans American farmers from growing it.
Clifford Spencer, chairman of The Springdale Group, says the crop offers excellent financial returns because the oil and fibre it produces are in great demand.
Yet it is simple and quick to grow, requiring comparatively few inputs and is harvested conventionally by combine.
"We have excellent markets for the seed and the plant," said Mr Spencer.
"The seeds are crushed to produce oils for various food and neutraceutical uses, while the seed husks are used in animal feeds.
"The plant fibre is one of the longest and strongest natural bast fibres which is used in everything from fashion textiles to a replacement for fibre-glass, which it outperforms on several levels."
A typical crop will produce 1.5 tonnes/hectare of seed and a similar quantity of straw. The seed is worth ?350/tonne and the straw ?70/tonne, producing total output of some ?630/ha. Growing costs (seed, fertiliser and sprays) account for ?176/ha, leaving a gross margin - without any subsidy - of ?464/ha.
Hemp grows in most soils, preferring loamy types, with seed rates of about 25kg/ha. Sowing between mid-April and mid-May, it reaches maturity in 130 days, so it can be harvested any time between mid-August and mid/late September.
It only requires 60kgs to 100kgs/acre of nitrogen, which is normally applied in the seedbed. Organic farmers can grow it following peas or clover, which produce the equivalent of 60kgsN/ha. It does not respond to phosphate and potash if soil indices for both are two or above.
"Despite being an old plant - hemp has been grown for 4,500 years - it is a crop with a real future and with real potential," said Mr Spencer.
"We expect many British farmers to consider growing it as they reconsider their options, as it fits easily into existing rotations and offers real commercial opportunities."