MURRAY River Organics (MRO) has started sowing the first organic hemp crop on its organic-certified Nangiloc property.

The planting will result in the largest organic-edible hemp crop in Australia, according to MRO, which said it is now looking to capitalise on growing demand in global markets for hempseed.

MRO Chief Executive, Valentina Tripp, said growing demand for organic hemp-based foods was an emerging trend in the food industry due to the popularity of vegetarian-based diets, and increasing consumption of plant-based protein.  

“Hempseed is becoming the go-to product for health-conscious Australians looking for the next superfood, and is lauded as a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids,” she said.

“A 30-gram serving of hemp seeds contains around 11 grams of protein – similar to grass-fed beef, and more than almonds, and due to its protein composition is far more digestible and is high in antioxidants, vitamins E and C, calcium and iron.”

Ms Tripp said that the global market for organic hempseed is currently estimated at being worth more than $6billion, with numerous new products still in the development cycle. 

“As well as being in-demand as a standalone superfood, hempseed is being used as a protein infusion to a range of other food categories to boost their health and wellness credentials,” she said. 

“Hemp now appears in products such as kombucha, chocolate, cereals, protein powder, snacks, cooking oils and even hemp-infused spring water.  

“As a highly versatile ingredient with a pleasant flavour, the usage of hemp in new product development is endless.

“The domestic retail market for consumable hemp products is growing rapidly, and there is strong interest from MRO’s international customers for unique Australian Healthy Organic Hemp products. 

“As part of our strategy to develop market-leading purpose-driven organic brands, MRO has branded hemp products currently in development…”

Ms Tripp said that hemp is one of the crop options identified for MRO’s Nangiloc property, which has 2300 hectares of arable, vacant and organically-certified land to be developed over the next 10 years.

She said the site has the potential to deliver more than $100million in revenue.

The initial organic hemp pilot will cover 32 hectares, and is expected to produce approximately 30 tonnes of harvested seed with the potential to rapidly scale up to produce more than 100 tonnes each year.

The first hemp crop will be harvested in March, with MRO targeting from 0.7 tonnes to one tonne per hectare.

“Working closely with hemp industry specialists, the hempseed variety sown was selected for its suitability to the Sunraysia climate and growing conditions,” Ms Tripp said.

“Sunraysia benefits from being a unique climatic region, which allows for multi-cropping cycles through the year in rotation with other potential grains of value to MRO’s vertical food-processing business.

“It offers a perfect organic production environment for this type of crop, complementing MRO’s existing stable of DVF and fresh produce.”

Ms Tripp said the potential of growing organic hemp on MRO’s farms aligned with the company’s strategy of producing highly nutritious, organic crops commanding premium prices.

She said that the company was optimistic about broader opportunities in hemp.

“We are extremely supportive of the Victorian Government’s Hemp initiative in setting up a cross-party taskforce to investigate the industrial use of hemp and identify opportunities to grow the industry,” Ms Tripp said.

“While the current focus in Victoria is on hempseed used for food, the taskforce is examining a variety of potential applications across a diverse range of products, including textiles, bio-composite plastics, paper, automotive, construction, bio-fuel, oil and cosmetics.”

Ms Tripp said that MRO will participate in the taskforce-related research and development as part of its large-scale pilot for organic hemp.

“The company is particularly interested in the use of hemp for products such as composite biodegradable plastics, as environmental sustainability is a key platform for our research programs,” she said. 

“We are committed to initiatives that replace or reduce the use of single-use plastic.”