After several decades of neglect, industrial hemp growing is making a come-back in Wallonia, with a few hectares under cultivation since 2006. CRA-W is playing a part in this resurgence, in close cooperation with the Walloon hemp association (Chanvre wallon).
220 hectares were cultivated in Wallonia in 2013, mainly to supply defibration lines in Flanders and elsewhere. The renewed interest in hemp is due to farmers’ desire to diversify and to invest in processing their products, the attractiveness of the crop and its derivatives with regard to sustainable development, and the range of potential outlets for the crop.
Industrial hemp is easy to produce and can be grown anywhere in Belgium on land that is not subject to flooding and has a good soil structure and a pH between 6 and 8. Once the April sowing has emerged, farmers wait until either mid-August before harvesting the unthreshed hemp (straw only) or mid-September to harvest the threshed crop (mature grain and straw).
Hemp growing offers a number of advantages, and CRA-W is providing its expertise in particular through field trials covering all the stages from sowing to harvesting. Advantages include no plant protection product application, a deep root system, rapid growth that can compete with weeds, smooth integration into crop rotation and increased biodiversity. From an environmental point of view this crop is particularly low impact in terms of greenhouse gas production, as it stores a large amount of CO2 in its biomass and releases very little while growing.
So far, four Walloon companies have definitely invested in hemp production and processing (construction, horticulture, food): Chanvreco SA, PurChanvre SPRL, Belchanvre SC and Isohemp SPRL.
The hemp industry is currently buoyed up, on the one hand, by players won over by a relatively straightforward crop that offers both environmental and agronomic advantages and, on the other, by emerging markets with potential for big sales capacity.