The secret world of growing hemp

The cannabis revolution is real here in the UK and you will pass every health food store and you will likely catch a glimpse of the famous green leaf on all types of products.

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Although marijuana is still illegal, products made from hemp, the legal cannabis strain, are growing in popularity – and the market is huge.

Despite its popularity, hemp remains tightly controlled by the government and only a handful of producers are allowed to grow it legally in the UK.

This is partly because it looks and smells just like marijuana and could potentially be used by criminals to collect illegal products.

However, more and more people are becoming convinced of the purported health benefits of hemp, with products like CBD oil being particularly popular.

One of the entrepreneurs turning to hemp is based here in South Warwickshire and the Herald visited the site this week.

Farmer Marcus Patrick (not his real name) started Bouncing Bear Hemp Botanicals in 2019 to diversify away from crops as agricultural subsidies dwindle.

Defra certainly supports what Marcus is doing as well, contributing around £ 40,000 of the £ 100,000 invested so far in the business, but it doesn’t stop the bureaucracy and the growing locations are tightly controlled and logged by the Home Office.

Marcus said, “I really believe in this plant, I think it has incredible health properties, but that’s a big risk to me, it’s a big endeavor and it’s a lonely path that no one can take care of you. The Home Office won’t say how many breeders they have licensed in the UK, but I think it’s probably between 30 and 40.

“One of the problems is that there isn’t that much knowledge to fall back on because it is built by so few people that there aren’t many people to ask for advice.

“It grows well here, it’s not called grass for nothing, but it’s not all easy. In the first year we did very well, last year it eased a bit and this year we had 90 percent crop failures. We think it’s probably due to the wet weather we had in early May.

“But if people don’t try to do these things, farms like these won’t survive and I like to think outside the box.”

The structure at Bouncing Bear is impressive: After the harvest in autumn, the hemp seeds are laid out on a specially built drying floor that is fed by a wind tunnel and heated by a gas burner before they can be processed.

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When the seeds are cleaned and then crushed, about a third is oil, while two thirds come out as a so-called cake, which is made up of hemp protein and the seed coats.

The oil works well for low temperature cooking and gives a great nutty taste, and Marcus also carefully mixes some with cannabidiol (CBD), which was imported from America to make CBD oil.

CBD, which in turn does not have the psychoactive effects of marijuana, is said to offer a number of health benefits, although currently it cannot be legally harvested in the UK because it is extracted from the flower head and leaves of the plant, which are under the control of abuse the drug regulation.

Not only is the oil useful, Marcus also extracts the hemp protein from the cake, which can be taken as a supplement by gym goers, vegans, and other healthy food lovers.

Everything is laboratory tested, while Bouncing Bear’s products are also classified as food and the processes are controlled by the county council.

Because of its resemblance to marijuana, hemp growing areas in the UK are fairly discreet, away from streets and sidewalks, and Marcus says he needs to think carefully about how to shield it with other plants to stay out of sight.

On the plus side, however, Marcus says it’s an incredibly green plan that absorbs a large amount of carbon dioxide and emits very little carbon when processed.

There are many things to think about, but hemp is undoubtedly big business and only getting bigger.

Marcus said, “I think there is a younger audience for this type of product because it is seen as something new and trendy, but the group that will likely benefit the most from it is the elderly with health problems. Such people might be put off by the sight of the big green cannabis leaf, so we don’t overdo it in our branding. We prefer to think of Bouncing Bear as a botanical company with hemp as its centerpiece. “