They might look like something Bob Marley would have growing in his garden, but these plants could be a chance for Hunter farmers to make more money.
Vacy farmer Bob Doyle has been watching his 30-hectare crop of industrial hemp rapidly grow in recent weeks.
Crops that he planted last October are now more than three metres tall.
Mr Doyle said the hemp industry, which became legal in NSW in 2008, gave farmers an opportunity to increase their profits in a sustainable way, because there was market demand and few producers in Australia.
“The potential is huge; it’s not going to be in competition with anything else,” he said.
“In this area around here, there are not too many agricultural enterprises which will match the return that industrial hemp can give.
“This crop, ideally, is grown in rotation and that depends on what the farm’s other interests are.
“It’s ideal to break weed cycles. Here, in our shire, it can be used to manage noxious weeds like giant Parramatta grass and it can be used to naturally get rid of summer grasses that are a major issue with lucerne.”
Mr Doyle said farmers were most interested in the stem, which was known for its strong fibres.
Hemp clothing is not manufactured in Australia, but the stalks can be broken down and used in the construction industry.
“Our markets are housing, using it as a replacement for bricks and concrete in walls - it has very high insulation properties,” Mr Doyle said.
“As a very cheap market, it will go into horse bedding.”
While hemp and marijuana are both types of cannabis, the hemp variety has a different chemical make-up from its illegal cousin.
Hemp has low THC levels, so it cannot be used for a high like marijuana.
Mr Doyle and some associates have bought the old Maxwell’s Timber Mill in Dungog and plan to lodge a development application with Dungog Shire Council to set up a processing plant at the site.
Hunter MP and opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon recently threw his support behind industrial hemp farming after he visited a processing plant on the NSW north coast.
He said industrial hemp would provide untapped opportunities for farmers.
This story first appeared in The Maitland Mercury.